Exploring Indonesian Principals’ Leadership Practices in Islamic-Based Senior High Schools (Madrasah Aliyahs) : Address Challenges and Enhance School Performance

  • Ummi Kultsum

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This research explores the ways in which school principals’ leadership practices address challenges and develop the performance of Madrasah Aliyah (Islamic-based senior high schools) in Indonesia. Islamic-based schools are significant educational institutions since they provide Islamic education to the people of Indonesia, which is a predominantly Muslim nation. However, the principals face substantial challenges, such as school infrastructure and learning facilities, finances, leadership, teachers’ professional development, and community engagement. As the senior leader in a madrasah, the role of principal is significant. Principals are catalysts for change among staff, students, and other stakeholders.
    The overarching question of this study is: How do principals in Madrasah Aliyahs address challenges and enhance their schools’ performance? The first sub-question is: What are the strategies implemented by principals to manage Madrasah Aliyahs and address the challenges? The second sub-question is: What leadership practices are implemented by principals to develop principal–teachers’ engagement, and principal–community engagement? This research study examines the perspectives of leaders and teachers in Madrasah Aliyahs and investigates the school environment by observing madrasah facilities and infrastructure. The research is significant in fulfilling the gap identified in the literature regarding leadership practices, especially in the context of Indonesian Islamic schools. This study also provides an in-depth analysis of indigenous leadership practices in leading Islamic-based schools, from the perspectives of principals and teachers.
    A multiple case study was conducted in two areas of Indonesia: South Tangerang and Bekasi. A qualitative approach to data collection and thematic analysis was used. The primary method of data collection was in-depth interviews and observation. This method provided opportunities for seven Madrasah Aliyahs with eight participants from each school (56 participants in total) to share and discuss their experiences, opinions, and contributions to their schools’ performance and leadership practices. The participants consisted of a principal, a deputy principal of curriculum affairs, a deputy principal of administration and finance, and a deputy principal of student affairs, as well as two permanent and two honorarium teachers. Interviews were conducted in Bahasa Indonesia by the researcher, and the transcripts were translated into English, by Indonesian-speaking academics, for analysis. A manual process of cutting and pasting (Basit, 2010) was used to help data coding.
    Major findings reveal three classifications of Madrasah Aliyahs: developed, emerging, and challenging schools. The classification is based on four factors, including school finance, infrastructure and facilities, leadership approach, and community engagement. A predominance of Islamic values and the uniqueness of Indonesian cultures shed light on the indigenous leadership practices of catalytic, servant, and kinship leadership.
    Catalytic leaders enact their leadership to recognise opportunities that have value and mobilise stakeholders to collaborate effectively and productively. In this study, a school principal who is a catalytic leader is described as a change agent, entrepreneur, collaborator, mediator, and buffer. The primary principle of servant leadership is demonstrated by leaders who provide service and tend to guide followers to improve their performance. In the context of Madrasah Aliyahs in Indonesia, some principals displayed a servant leadership approach through offering stewardship and sympathy, while being a listener, mentor, and friend. In kinship leadership, a leader creates kin-based relationships with their followers, as well as a sense of unity, by developing equality among members in an organisation. The findings of this study show that principals in Madrasah Aliyahs unite their members by showing themselves as role models and father figures, and by being trustworthy and humble.
    These research findings reveal that community engagement influences school performance. For instance, well-educated and wealthy families that are interested in acquiring religious knowledge are often found in communities around a developed school. However, low socio-economic status (SES) families that lack motivation for learning about religion are more common in the communities around challenging schools.
    Finally, this research contributes insight into leadership development, school improvement, and community engagement in Madrasah Aliyahs. The study has potential to contribute to the academic discourse on indigenous leadership in the Indonesian school context. Catalytic leadership can lead to the improvement of school performance. Servant leadership helps to empower high-quality school staff. Kinship leadership strengthens the emotional relationships among members in the school.
    Date of Award2020
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorTing Wang (Supervisor), David Paterson (Supervisor), Deborah Hill (Supervisor) & Eleni Petraki (Supervisor)

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