This study forms part of three broader projects1 where school-based vegetable gardens have been implemented in nine primary schools in resourced-constrained communities in the Nelson Mandela Metropole, South Africa. The purpose of the current study was to explore teacher perceptions of the role of school principals in the success and sustainability of these school-based vegetable gardens.
For the purpose of my research, I followed a qualitative methodological approach, and relied on interpretivism as epistemological paradigm. I utilised a multiple case study research design, applying Participatory Reflection and Action (PRA) principles. I purposefully selected 36 teachers from the nine schools involved in the broader project to participate in this study. For data generation and documentation, I relied on a PRA-based workshop, semi-structured individual interviews, observation, field notes, a research journal and audio-visual techniques. I completed inductive thematic analysis.
Three main themes and related sub-themes emerged. The first theme highlights the value that teacher participants attach to school principals being informed and involved in vegetable gardens, by sharing the dream and being passionate, being informed of the garden team’s needs and challenges, and being actively involved. The second theme emphasises the importance of a principal providing support by motivating and encouraging teachers and learners to be involved, providing resources and fundraising opportunities, and networking with stakeholders. Finally, the last theme entails factors that may have a negative impact on the success of school-based vegetable gardens in terms of limited interest and involvement by the principal, and not recognising the value of the teachers or the school garden.
The findings of the current study indicate that the majority of the teacher participants acknowledged the positive roles that their principals fulfilled, which they then linked to the success and sustainability of their school-based vegetable gardens. Teacher participants indicated that effective leadership can be demonstrated when school principals lead by example, provide the necessary resources, are well informed and knowledgeable about school gardens, and show support to those involved.