Kaija Teikari, MA
Institute of Educational Leadership
University of Jyväskylä, Finland
The purpose of this paper is to return to the concept of UBUNTU that I got to know in South Africa five years ago. Cape Town was the venue for ICP (International Confederation of Principals) in July 2005. About 2000 principals from all over the world had convened there, and probably wondered what the theme of the congress meant.
This paper shows UBUNTU in two roles: first, as recollections through key-note addresses and other presentations in ICP, and secondly, as an ethical principle worthy of high status in western moral philosophy. The core meaning of this Zulu word appeared in ICP lectures, both African and international:’I am because we are’. The present writer’s study on philosophical ethics of the education sector of a Finnish city also needed the idea of UBUNTU: togetherness and collaboration. These are among the characteristics of an effective school, and they are facilitated by an authentic and effective leader who knows how to do the right thing.
UBUNTU (I am because we are), philosophy, ethics, effectiveness, authenticity, leadership
What I know about UBUNTU today consists of what I learned in the ICP congress in Cape Town five years ago. I find the core meaning of this Zulu word most relevant in this ISER symposium, when effective schools and/or effective leaders are being discussed and defined. And, as a researcher on philosophical ethics of the education sector of a Finnish city I would like to include UBUNTU in western moral philosophy.
This paper shows first how 2000 principals were made familiar with the theme of ICP in Cape Town. Then it will proceed – not forgetting the magic words ‘I am because we are’ – to a few western researchers’ definitions of effectiveness. Finally, I will also stay in schoolworld and show the importance of ‘because we are’ through my research findings.
UBUNTU and ICP
Before sitting down in the opening session of the congress, 2000 principals had to pick up a plastic tube and a wooden stick from their seats. Short red tubes in one section of the huge hall, longer blue tubes in the other etc…No greetings were heard, but all at once, a lady appeared in front of the audience and lifted up a long blue tube and knocked it with the stick – so trying to make those with the similar tubes do the same thing! And then the short red tubes, long white tubes…sounds of knocking on them with sticks…and all together! Amazing: all the banging and knocking had been turned into a real tune…UBUNTU was born through us all!
After the musical opening the president of ICP, Mr David Wylde, continued with our initiation. According to him, UBUNTU is a value, but not a typical western value concentrated on measuring outcomes, but a value concerning human relationships. He reminded us of a Nigerian saying according to which you will need help from a whole village to be able to raise your child. In Tanzania people speak about dry sticks, which are unbroken when bound into a bundle. Mr Wylde asked us to get acquainted with each other in this enormous congress.
Dr. George K.T.Oduro (University of Cape Coast, Ghana) defined the western ‘self’: the one who is independent of his/her community or who designs his/her own personality. The African ‘self’ : communality is the basis of UBUNTU which underlines human dignity, group solidarity and mutual support. To put it metaphorically: ‘ A lone tree can’t stand the wind – it will fall’. or ‘Knowledge is like a baobab-tree – you couldn’t put your arms around it alone’. The African self was given more characteristics by Zandile Kunene (CEO, Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership and Governance) and Father Michael Lapsley (Director of the Institute for Healing of Memories), who quoted Nwoye’s definitions:
• the Embodied Self: the totality of an individual’s observable physical properties
• the Generative Self: a good life implies a life blessed with prosperity: wealth, children, healthy life, peace and joy
• the Narratological Self: storytelling consciousness: oral tradition
• the Melioristic Self: the capacity to operate as a ‘hope-propelled’ agency – the agony of today is foundation for tomorrow’s success
• the Structural Self: the seats of an individual’s thinking, emotions and character: head, heart, liver
• the Liminal Self: a typical African self regularly experiences the situation of being in crises and transitions
• the Transcendental Self: central to the African self: religiosity
• the Communal Self: adheres to the principle of complementary duality in successful human living
Because ICP was meant to be a social gathering for educational experts, several presentations on leadership were heard. African voices sounded a bit disappointed or worried. Ms Naledi Pandor, MP and Minister of Education, mentioned UBUNTU in a way, when she told about School Governing Bodies which were created ‘to bring nation into schools’. After ten years of independence, many things had improved due to the work of these strong SGBs. The quality of teaching and learning still needed attention, and especially the role of school leadership had to be strengthened. Ms Zandile Kunene and Dr. Martin Prew (Director, Education Management and Governance Development, Department of Education) told about the Advanced Certificate of Education (ACE), which referred to a new system of qualification for principals. ACE-courses served three types of school leaders: serving principals, newly appointed ones, and the future applicants who worked as deputy principals or department heads.The leaders who had ‘done well’ in their schools could act as mentors during these courses. As many as 20.000 principals were estimated to be in need of ACE-education, which was supposed to provide participants with positive impact on practical schoolwork, offer new ideas and connect personal professional growth with improvement of school.
How about western echoes of UBUNTU in keynote speeches on leadership?
Professor Pam Christie (University of Queensland, Australia, and visiting Professor, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa) connected UBUNTU and an ethics of engagement in education. She defined the concepts of leadership, management and headship as follows:
• Leadership is no position at schools – it can be found all over schools, and it should be dispersed through various persons and actions. It is a social relationship between people, but because it is concerned with exercising influence on others and aims at reaching certain goals, it is laden with visions and values.
• Management is the opposite of leadership, and refers to processes or structures needed in organizations, and, in fact, is connected rather with formal positions than with persons. Good management is essential for schools and other organizations.
• Headship (or principalship) also belongs to organizations, and has elements of accountability. As ‘leaders’ act through influence, ‘heads/principals’ might act through enforcement, contract or influence. A principal represents school formally and usually takes care of symbolic roles, such as meetings and ceremonies.
• Professor Christie went on wondering:”Leadership should be dispersed throughout the school; management activities should be delegated with proper resources and accountabilities; and heads should integrate vision and values with the structures and processes by which the school realizes these”.
Professor Andy Hargreaves (Thomas More Brennan Chair of Education, Lynch
School of Education, Boston College, USA) gave a presentation on sustainable
leadership. Sustainability and social justice appear in the following formulations:
• do not steal your neighbour’s skills
• use multiple indicators of accountability
• lay emphasis on collective accountability
• help your neighbouring school which does not fare very well
• influence the community that surrounds your school
• collaborate with any school situated in a different environment compared to your school
• collaborate with your competitors
Professor Hargreaves also mentioned four types of renewal of energy: physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual, and maintained that we learn more from people who are different from than similar to us. He finished his presentation by quoting Adam Smith (1809): “The wise and virtuous man is at all times willing that his own private interest should be sacrificed to the public interest of his own particular order of society.”
Strong shades of UBUNTU (and of effectiveness in my glossary) were heard in the address by Professor John West-Burnham (Senior Research Advisor, National College for School Leadership, UK). His presentation dealt with leadership development, which, according to Bennis (1989, 50), is a process of ‘Self-Invention’ and is clearly linked to the creation of personal authenticity. To become an authentic person is not a solitary process - UBUNTU captures the relationship between self and community: ‘a person is a person through other persons’. Authenticity is thus a product of the capacity of an individual to explore what it means to be me, and to recognize that becoming me is, in itself, a social process. Authentic leadership is about genuineness, connectivity and congruence – internal and external, intrapersonal and interpersonal, personal and social. According to Csikszentmihalyi (2003,81): (“Leaders)… are proactive and seek out whatever support they need, wherever they can find it. They are so determined to learn, to change, and to shape their experiences that whatever the situation in which they find themselves they will find a way to increase the complexity of their lives.”
Professor West-Burnham sent us home with Seneca’s words:
….while we live, while we are among human beings, let us cultivate our humanity…
UBUNTU and School Effectiveness
The word effectiveness has been defined to mean ‘doing the right things’, whereas efficiency means ‘doing things right’ (Hitt 1990,153). In this section both meanings appear, when I try to trace the idea of UBUNTU – that is, the ideas of togetherness and collaboration in a few western treatises on school effectiveness.
To prove that schools really matter, Charles Teddlie and David Reynolds in their robust encyclopaedia The International Handbook of School Effectiveness Research (SER), provide a huge variety of overviews of researches conducted on the topic. The early SER studies by Coleman et al. (1966) and Jencks et al. (1971) indicated that ‘schools make no difference’ – ie. students’ achievement was more strongly associated with the socio-economic status (SES) of families (Reynolds & Teddlie et al. 2000, 3-4). Later classic studies in USA showed marked differences in their findings between effective and ineffective schools. It must be noted that the school’s effectiveness did not depend on its SES-factors.
For my purposes, I will pick up a few UBUNTU-landmarks in effective schools, first among the findings by Brookover et al. (1979), (Reynolds & Teddlie 2000, 135-136):
• More time was spent on instruction and it involved active learning with teachers.
• Reinforcement practices were appropriate and consistent.
• Academic games were used to emphasize team learning.
• Principals visited often in classrooms.
• High commitment of teachers and administrators which was demonstrated by affirmative statements and warmth towards students.
Further results in another classic study from USA by Teddlie & Stringfield et al.
(conceived in 1980; analysis going on in 2000), (ibid, 138):
• Shared academic leadership with faculty
• Faculty is warm, friendly
• Assistance freely given to new faculty members
• Cooperative efforts to enhance teaching
• Students involved in running of school
Then a few noteworthy findings by Mortimore et al. (1988) in UK (ibid, 140-141):
• Purposeful leadership: the head teacher shared power with the staff by consulting them in issues such as spending plans and curriculum guidelines
• Consistency among teachers
• Intellectually challenging teaching; teachers stimulating and enthusiastic
• Children performed better the more communication they had with their teacher – for example, teachers who used to talk to the whole class by reading stories or asking questions, were more effective
• Parental involvement: parents encouraged to come to help in the classroom and participate in educational visits
• Positive climate: an effective school had a positive ethos
As for effective leadership, I will present UBUNTU disguised in various research findings (ibid, 143-145):
• ‘Leadership’ is now centrally synonymous with school effectiveness for many, including many operating within the school improvement paradigm also (US Department of Education, 1994; Hopkins et al. 1994 )
• Transformational leaders who build organizations characterized by simultaneous ‘top down-ness’ and ‘bottom up-ness’ (Murphy & Louis 1994)
• A participative approach: the deputy headteacher involved in the life of the school; all teachers felt represented; use of a senior management team and work with departmental heads (Sammons et al. 1997)
• Exhibiting instructional leadership by promoting an academic learning climate involving positive expectations for students, maintaining high personal visibility, promoting professional development for teachers, developing staff collaboration, securing outside resources to support the school and the forging of links between the home and the school (Murphy (1990a)
• ‘Management by Wandering Around’: popping in and out of classrooms, conversing informally with staff in routine operations, giving advice or help in decision taking (Peters & Waterman 1982)
In their concluding remarks of the section on the Processes of School Effectiveness, Reynolds and Teddlie confess that they currently do not know how to model the interrelation between school factors, classroom factors, student achievement, and other variables. More causal models will be needed for the operationalization of variables – especially in the emerging research on educational (school plus teacher) effectiveness. “Children learn in classrooms that are situated in buildings that are called schools – research design needs to in future appreciate that simple fact.” (ibid, 159)
When I chose the above UBUNTU-reflections, I did not pay attention to the research methods used in the examples provided by Teddlie & Reynolds. Terry Wrigley (2004, 228) calls them the chief international gatekeepers of the SER paradigm, and states that their SER Handbook is almost entirely devoted to quantitative SE studies. According to him, School Improvement (SI) studies should not be confused with SE studies: SI is not a subset of SE. SI tradition is characterized by ‘bottom-up’ orientation, a qualitative research methodology, and emphasizing the dynamics of organizational processes. (ibid, 228). Knowing the status of SE in Britain, Wrigley refers to his earlier comment on the topic (ibid, 242): “Most of the high-level government interest in school improvement has led to an intensification of teaching, accountability, league tables, teachers feeling deprofessionalized and disenchanted (or leaving), a relentless drive for more though not always better – and silence on the question of educational purpose…Have our schools been driven towards efficiency rather than genuine improvement?”
Wrigley seems to lament the situation: instead of doing the right things, many things have just been done right.
According to the British researchers Kathryn Riley and John MacBeath (2003,178): “The effective school is only one version of a good school and only one contributor to our understanding of what good schools are and how they come into being.” They mention a study for the National Union of Teachers (1995), the informants of which had been parents, pupils and teachers. These school ‘insiders’
defined good schools as those whose culture provided opportunities for growth, not only for pupils but for teachers and school leaders. A group of nine-year-old ‘experts’ described a good headteacher (ibid, 179 -180):
• is able to understand children – what they can do at different ages
• is easy going, but firm
• is able to make children, adults and the community feel confident about the things they do in school
• treats children equally
• is not racist and makes others see that the colour of their skin does not matter
• keeps in touch with the local community, letting them know what is happening in the school
What Riley & MacBeath learned from their international study (= school leadership in England, Scotland, Denmark, Australia) was that there is no one package for school leadership, no one model to be learned and applied for all schools (ibid, 174).Schools are constantly changing – so leaders have to respond to the school’s inner life and also to external constituencies. Good leaders share leadership and sustain relationships. They are continual learners (ibid, 180 -182).
I chose Raji Swaminathan’s article “It’s My Place”: Student Perspectives on Urban School Effectiveness to represent the final signpost to UBUNTU in this section.
To put it briefly: this article tells about a study from a Midwestern state on students at risk of failing to graduate, and who, after their experiences in previous schools, found an innovative school that felt like “my place”.
The Parkside Community School (= a pseudonym) was founded by five teachers in 1995. Its central idea was community service: developing internships across the city at several sites. This kind of experiental learning would link classroom work with real life. The founders recruited students from across the city. The school served only the 11th and 12th grades, and students’ age ranged from 16 to 21. In 2002 there were 127 students and eight teachers in the school (Swaminathan 2004, 43).
The students’ interviews show that they felt alienation in their earlier schools that could be characterized as ineffective. Definitions such as the following were given: boring, not responding to student needs, ignoring prior experiences and learning, and being unaware of the social context of students (ibid, 59).
Why could Parkside be called “my place”? Summing up with the researcher’s words (ibid, 60): “What students referred to as ‘my place’ came from students’ beliefs that they were valued, respected, and had the space to be creative without fear and had the opportunities to build alliances both within the school and outside in the community. In order to be effective with at-risk students, urban schools therefore need to pay attention not only to creating a caring climate or an engaging curriculum, they need to facilitate free spaces that students can call ‘my place’.”
UBUNTU and philosophy
In this section I will refer to my qualitative study :The Good and the Bad – but not in a Popular Sense - with the subtitle: A Study on Philosophical Ethics of the Education Sector of a Finnish City.
My informants in the education sector are principals, teachers, students and various collaborators inside and outside the schools in this city. The ordinary life of the schoolworld is my concern, but I interpret it theoretically when trying to answer the research questions: What is ethics? How are normative ethical theories referring to consequences, duties and virtues reflected in the informants’ answers?
When I started my research in 2005 (the year of UBUNTU for me !), my original idea was to concentrate only on principals’ ethics. But because of principals’ multi-faceted work, my study evolved into the whole education sector.
For this paper I will now connect UBUNTU, effectiveness and ethics by selecting a few answers by principals, teachers and students in my study. First, principals’ answers to the question: “What is an effective school like?” (the Finnish word tehokas can mean both effective and efficient : instead of either word I used X in my translation):
• The word X shouldn’t be used about schools…How do you measure the xness/ency of teaching…it is easy to tell the number of those graduating or percentage of drop-outs. The aim of school is not only to produce results counted numerically, it should guarantee the knowledge and skills of the curriculum and educate students to become civilized and tolerant citizens.
• X ness is like a two-edged sword – we should rather say that school is a place where children have enough time to learn things – not in a hurry or under stress. This applies to us adults as well: we should have a workplace where we could be renewed every now and then so as to be able to produce something new and nice.
• In school one must speak of learning – not about the subjects taught! The most handicapped children have the right to learn…so that there will be no negative learning experiences. A school is X when the staff acts as a model – I believe in life-long learning: I confess openly every day that I learn here. During our morning assembly today I said that our school is happy and open and safe – we regard change as possibility and we may learn a lot during these hard times.
• When schools stop trying to be very X, then they will become X! I am terribly annoyed about the continuos fussing about: lots of new projects and programs; different gadgets and machines! To meet the child and listen to him, help with learning – not by offering new machinery! To meet with each one of them personally – that is Xness!
Then a few students of various ages describing a good principal or a good school:
• Takes care of the teachers’ and the students’ job satisfaction.
• Comes ‘down’ to meet students.
• Would give my teacher a small note which would ask me to come and visit her just for fun.
• There are nice teachers (not too tight) and good food.
• There is no bullying. ( the opinion of 157 students out of 446)
And then the teachers’ opinions of their bosses (2+2+2 teachers from three different schools) :
• She is professional, resilient, but tough and strong-minded, determined. She is absolutely the right person to lead this kind of school with integrated general- and special education.
• She is enthusiastic, lively, happy. You can’t always be sure if things agreed upon today will be relevant tomorrow. When meeting her for the first time, you might sense a slight feeling of attack, but after a while, it will fade away.
• He is easy to get along with and easy to approach. Maybe he is too soft or weak sometimes: he could be stricter to us teachers. He sometimes shirks difficult situations.
• He is jovial, amiable, good-humoured, helpful. He wants to bow to every direction – so sometimes his actions lack clarity. It’s typical of him to speak using the conditional form. When he is at school, he is always very helpful – be it problems about money or kids or about arranging various school events.
• He is open, helpful and has a good sense of humour. I’ve always got help: be it problems with students or extra shelves for my cabinet.
• He is visible, present, fast – sometimes a bit too fast; but looks after his staff.
All the above answers appear in my study as references to the fact that consequences really matter in schoolworld. The section of my research called CONSEQUENCES provides my interpretations of answers on taped interviews, in questionnaires or short notes by students. There are issues connected with utility, values, justice, altruism, egoism – all of these referred to by relevant normative ethical theories. I deliberately chose these answers, because I find UBUNTU in them. I had interviewed the 11 principals of my study, and I could have printed here the remaining seven opinions of school effectiveness. All of them sounded somewhat disappointed: they seemed to speak of efficiency, but hoped for effectiveness. In their opinion, the right things that should have been done, were: nearness, togetherness, life-long learning, personal renewal in order to enhance emotional well-being of children.
I acquired data from 75 teachers through questionnaires. Among other inquiries, they were asked to characterize their principals. You could recognize two of the above principals in two pairs of teachers’ opinions, but the purpose of my study is not to compare teachers and principals school by school. It is the general ethical atmosphere that matters! And as for UBUNTU: teachers - sometimes a bit shyly - tell about collaboration and care.
During my visits to the schools I popped into some classrooms – with permission. The students of various ages were told that during that lesson (for 10 -15 minutes) they were asked to write down their opinions of a good school/ a good principal. I underlined the seriousness of the task: I wouldn’t accept any descriptions of good schools where students could play out all day or eat a lot of sweets. The abundance of ‘no-bullying’ – answers did not amaze me. Of course, there were real negative experiences, but also a slight feeling of trendy headlines in the media.
The role of the principal is important here: “he/she takes care of the teachers’ and students’ job satisfaction” (as one upper-secondary student put it). The effective and authentic principal is the facilitator who brings UBUNTU-like atmosphere into school. Starratt (2004, 65) regards authenticity as a foundation for moral leadership and refers to it (p.70) as “the human challenge of connecting oneself to a wider whole, of finding one’s life in dialogue with this wider whole…”
I chose UBUNTU because I am in South Africa again. Of course, I would like to know more about it. How is it referred to? Who speak about it? Teachers? Leaders? Is it still needed?
I chose UBUNTU because it fits well inside the concept of effectiveness in the sense of doing the right things. I did not mind Wrigley’s critique on Teddlie & Reynolds’ studies: they provided enough findings for my purposes in this paper. And Swaminathan’s ‘It’s my place’ was UBUNTU itself.
I chose UBUNTU because it is like a philosophical concept. According to Driver (2007, 3) :”…normative ethical theories give us some idea of how we ought to act…”
That is what UBUNTU does.
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