The workshop was one of many projects of the Principals Academy Trust, which when it was launched in 2012, focussed initially on the leadership development of school principals.
Over time, however, the Academy has broadened its scope to include support designed to help teachers improve their classroom practice, with a special emphasis on Language and Mathematics in the early years of schooling. Each of the 3 presenters, all retired Foundation Phase specialists, work with groups of teachers from schools whose principals are part of the Principals Academy’s leadership development programme.
Attendance was voluntary, and although those attending were provided with tea or coffee and a biscuit at the break, it was not the food that brought them there on this Saturday morning. Rather it was their expectations based on their first-hand experience of the work of the 3 presenters, all of whom work, on a daily basis, with teachers from many of the schools represented. They work side-by-side with the teachers in their classrooms, helping them to develop and hone their teaching and classroom management skills. They understand the context of each school and the difficult circumstances that many of these teachers face when dealing with children from poor and socio-economically deprived backgrounds. The teachers were there because these 3 ladies have helped them to rediscover what brought them to teaching in the first place – the pleasure and reward of working with children and in guiding their physical, emotional and cognitive development.
The workshop consisted of 3 parallel sessions, making it possible for participants to attend all 3 presentations. Renè Sinclair, who works with schools in Mitchell’s Plain and Gugulethu, arrived at the workshop loaded with examples of everyday objects, including fallen autumn leaves, for her presentation with the title “Fun-filled meaningful learning”. She focussed particularly on classroom organisation with many useful tips and ideas on classroom layout and on how best to structure the daily lesson programme in ways that promote meaningful learning.
Jenny van Velden, on the other hand, brought nothing but her cell phone and a small portable sound-system for her session, which was aptly titled “Moving to learn”. She soon had the teachers stretching, bending and dancing as she took them through a series of exercise that they should form part of the daily routine of every Foundation Phase classroom. As she went through the exercises she explained the purpose of each. Some helped children develop the muscle tone they need for good posture, others improve coordination and fine motor skills, most importantly, if practiced daily, contribute significantly to the proper cognitive development of children.
Pat McKensie used her session, “Planning for meaningful learning: Work smarter, not harder”, to demonstrate how, at very little cost, everyday objects could be turned into useful teaching materials. In her presentation, she emphasised how using everyday objects, which were familiar to the children not only saves costs, but also helps make learning more real for children. The session was practical and hands-on, and helped teachers to appreciate that a resource-rich classroom is possible even where funds are limited.Did these presentations have an impact? Undoubtedly. Information filtering though in the week that followed, told of teachers waiting excitedly for the arrival of their coaches, ready to demonstrate how they were applying what they had learned in their own classrooms. Principals also reported positive feedback from those of their teachers that had attended and some disappointment from those who could not, or chose not to attend.