I’ve said before that I became a teacher because I loved the vibe of a school and I became a principal because I felt I could influence that vibe and give it, substance, personality, and direction.
We all felt that buzz again on Monday when distance disappeared, and the two alternate schools became one school again after almost two years. One could feel that buzz in the playground, in the corridors and even in the principal’s office. Schools had rallied to move and clean furniture, to fine tune yet another timetable and to stretch a staff establishment to cover a learner roll which had somehow swelled during rotation.
The buzz belies the magnitude of the challenge to minimize the loss of learning and, like any business seriously affected by the pandemic, to heed the international call to build back better.
In the midst of all the optimism I read the media reports of the inaugural gathering of last week’s 2030 Reading Panel which aims to ensure that all Gr4s in South Africa can read with meaning by 2030. You all know the PIRLS 2016 finding that 78% of Gr4s cannot read with meaning in any language.
The panel’s experts explain what needs to be done. I can’t help thinking that all South African primary school principals should immerse themselves in the detail of that report. It’s clear that, over the last few years, so much has been done to understand the issues and so many resources have already been created. A switched-on, proactive principal, armed with an equally inspirational Foundation Phase Head of Department, can find those open-source affordable resources, and fast-track a campaign which can drive a school to hit that 100% Gr4 reading with meaning target long before 2030.
I have included the link to all the panel presentations as well as a media summary. Set yourself the challenge, become an expert, provoke your team, create a school buzz, consult your coach, and put in place a plan which will give your school an edge. Nothing you do as a principal will be more important.
Change in schools often happens because you use the buzz – that excitement and activity – to move quickly and get important things done. Critical changes like a more streamlined and appropriate subject package, Gr12 subject changes in those first weeks, more accountable subject or phase collaboration or a new commitment to subject-specific teacher development usually come about through the creative buzz of an inspired individual who does the research, persuades key role-players, and makes things happen. Don’t waste that buzz.
At the other end of the school spectrum, I witnessed that great excitement that accompanies the celebration of real success. As Chairperson of the Western Cape Education Council, I scored an invitation and a front row seat at the NSC Awards at Leeuwenhof last week. I was just an interested observer, but the marquee was filled with buzz.
The award-winning learners were, after a tough year, all smiles in the company of other top achievers; calm, yet excited at what lies ahead. The parents’ smiles were double the size. They just oozed pride. The principals relished the rarity of the occasion: happy learners, happy parents, happy department.
Like all principals, I have huge respect for realized potential, opportunities fully exploited, personal bests. It’s the consistency of the commitment, the self-taught, now in-built self-discipline, the daily Duracell spark that powers success that really impresses me.
I thought about the wonderful foundation that these achievers, from both advantaged and underserved schools, enjoyed in their early years at school which enabled independent, ambitious learning, especially the foundation phase teachers who taught them to read. I thought about the twenty or thirty teachers whose words and deeds supported each and every top achiever in their journey through school. I thought about the obvious resilience during the last two years of unprecedented disruption.
Gratitude towards the parents and, most significantly, the teachers was a major theme of MEC Debbie Schäfer, Premier Alan Winde and SG Brent Walters’ speeches. The principal in me visualized the proud, yet totally humble faces in smiling, satisfied staffrooms in schools in differing contexts.
When either celebrating or lamenting last year’s results, it’s always useful to remind senior learners that 2022 is a totally new group. All the 21s are gone. Now’s the time to create a whole new school buzz and to start a Gr12 campaign (or any other grade campaign) with energy, consistency and with a stamina that takes group effort to a new level.
Till next time
Keeping in Touch in Tough Times, #5 of 2022, 10 February 2022