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Analyzing abusive school leadership practices through the lens of social justice

Shuti Steph Khumalo (Department of Educational Leadership and Management, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa)

International Journal of Educational Management

ISSN: 0951-354X

Article publication date: 7 May 2019




The present study contributes to the growing body of research on abusive supervision in school settings, particularly by principals. School leadership (principal) behavior has been a topical issue for decades in educational research. This paper attempts to add to scholarly knowledge in the area of school leadership and specifically the effect of abusive school leadership on organizational productivity and organization citizen behavior. Put succinctly, the purpose of this paper is to examine the implications of abusive school leadership on school performance and teacher behavior. Abusive leadership is attributable to behavior that is deviant, antisocial and counter-productive and that which is uncivil.


In examining abusive school leadership behavior and its effect on school performance and teacher behavior, this conceptual paper draws heavily from an in-depth analysis of extant scholarship and uses Rawls theory of social justice as a conceptual tool. Social justice theorists believe that social institutions are embedded with immense responsibility of dispensing justice, fairness and equity.


Building from these relevant literatures and grounding the argument from the Rawlsian perspective of social justice, it can be argued that abusive school leadership perpetuates unfair and unjust practices toward teachers, which negatively affects performance. Literature reviewed convincingly indicates that abusive tendencies are practiced in school by school leadership. Further, these abusive practices negatively impact on the following: teacher productivity, teacher turnover and, finally, staff members’ well-being and health. The findings confirm that these practices perpetuate social injustice. Schools are social institutions and have to ensure that justice is served on all members of the organization, and, for this reason, Rawls (1971) argues that justice is the first virtue of social institutions.

Practical implications

The findings of this study have a number of important implications for future practice. It is critical in this study to suggest that in trying to deal with scourge, tougher measures need to be taken by various education departments to ensure that the problem is dealt with effectively. One of the interventions that is suggested is tougher policy positions on matters related to abusive leadership. In education departments that have legislation regarding consequences regarding abusive school leadership practices, tougher action should be taken against leadership which practice abuse.


School leadership is a highly contested research space and this conceptual paper is of great value because it adds to the already existing insights and understanding in abusive leadership in educational settings. This paper is of great significance because it focuses on the effect of abusive school leadership on teachers’ behavior and school performance.



Khumalo, S.S. (2019), "Analyzing abusive school leadership practices through the lens of social justice", International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 33 No. 4, pp. 546-555.



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