As a principal I tried, with stakeholders, to develop a list of values to reflect what we were about as a school. However, over the years, we added and refined the list in line with the policies, programmes and projects we developed. At last count, our values – beautifully represented on all stairwell steps up to the first floor – included: integrity, excellence, expectation, can-do-attitude, opportunity, innovation, individuality, joy, questioning, service, style, camaraderie, respect and diversity. I can do a whole workshop about these fourteen values, explaining each one and giving many examples.
However, this list is more about a proud principal looking back than a 2024 school community looking ahead. School values should be specific enough to guide staff and students to model and shape school behaviour and professionalism. They should be easily memorable for maximum impact.
The WCED has adopted six core values to bolster its vision. You see them everywhere. Even on my morning coffee cup! What values have you, as a school, literally made your own to the extent that your learners bring them to life in the way they behave within and beyond the classroom and into their dreams and ambitions?
What got me thinking about values was my colleague, Sue Redelinghuys, sharing her old school’s values at a planning workshop and she dubbed them RICA values. Now, that, even I can remember and bring to mind every day.
RICA stands for RESPECT, INTEGRITY, COMPASSION and ACCOUNTABILITY. It may not encompass my fourteen, but it provides the basis for decent living and that includes leading, teaching and learning.
Values matter. Even just spending some time thinking about what matters to you personally or what matters to you as a school is an important and valuable exercise. The schools I visit often have values painted in bright colours in prominent places. In some school foyers, the value of the month is clearly displayed, but, too often, it’s the February value and it’s November.
The thing about values is that they have to be lived and that means striving, trying and re-trying every day. For values to matter in school they have to be modelled by committed leaders and professional teachers. They don’t become school values unless they’re seen and felt and entrenched in every classroom and learning setting. You’ll find them in schools that work despite their disadvantage because they are made to matter by driven teams who teach with energy, enthusiasm and hope.
RICA helps to keep it simple.
By now you might know that RESPECT is one of my favourite words in education. Respect for self is your personal morality and work-ethic, your self-discipline, your decision-making; respect for others is the dignity, the courtesy and the sincerity which define your personal and professional relationships.
INTEGRITY means principal, teachers and learners acting in a way that is honest, that is ethical, that is true to oneself, under any circumstances, even when no one is watching.
COMPASSION, in a school sense means creating a culture in which kindness is valued and practised. As teachers we know that a smile, a kind word or a compliment can be very motivational. But, in our socio-economic South African reality, compassion requires us to be genuinely concerned about others and their needs.
ACCOUNTABILITY is the crucial one in our schools – willingly accepting the responsibility to teach, teach and teach with substance and skill in a way which, in turn, gives learners the best chance of rising above their circumstances.
The point is that a school has the chance to define its culture. Good principals actually set the tone for how teachers feel in a staffroom. They don’t just read the notices for the day, they create a climate by greeting with sincerity, by taking an interest in their teachers’ lives, their teaching and their activities, by giving their teachers a voice in the school and by doing so with insight and personality.
If I think of the leaders in my last school management team, I can put particular values to each of the faces around the table. They all knew my core values, too. Together we committed to and worked towards a shared vision and, importantly, to protecting and ensuring its consistency, week after week.
When you reflect on something as positive and as powerful as your school’s values, you are taking real ownership of what you have and what you want. And, together, you are shaping the future.
Til next time.
Coach/Mentor: The Principals Academy Trust
22 November 2023
I know and understand that rugby and the Springboks are not universally supported in a country with as complex a history as ours, but, as a principal, I love the lessons for teenagers, and especially for a team of teachers, that three victories by a single point over the world’s best to win the World Cup again provide.
Last week I visited six schools and every principal had used one or other lesson from the Springboks in a staff briefing or in starting the Gr12 exam. One colleague said to me, “Look, I support the All Blacks but, for my children and my grandchildren, who are so invested, I would be happy with a South African victory’. Yes, as teachers say, and as Siyamthanda Kolisi, who has become a global leader, always says, we do it for our communities who have been through so much and who need us to give of our best.
On Thursday one of ‘my’ principals, who had just mentioned that he used my Sunday WhatsApp message to principals in his staff briefing, was called out to see to a private matric candidate who needed urgent help. I took the opportunity of writing these fifteen very simple Springbok/Staffroom points which I share with you.
Digging Extra Deep. Every successful classroom teacher understands this concept as does Deon Fourie who, at 38, had to replace Bongi Mbonambi for basically the whole match. He emptied every joule of energy or watt of power on that Parisian patch.
Working for Each Other. We do it, in great schools, when teachers are absent, but do we do it sufficiently when we share the same subject within a grade, when we support each other’s initiatives or when we unquestioningly support school leadership? Siya makes this point at every opportunity.
Putting Egos Aside. Do Cheslin Kolbe, Manie Libbok or Handré Pollard strike you as egotistical? Teachers, generally, understand humility and the idea of putting others, especially learners, first.
Experience Matters. We saw it, using many of the same players who had done it all before in 2019. That institutional and CAPS intelligence, high performance practice and matric marking experience are invaluable to a staff as a collective unit, especially a young one.
Leadership Matters. Siya is the ultimate captain, but, during the final, I saw Pollard organizing the backs, Etsebedi leading the forwards and Fourie talking non-stop to the referee. A school needs active leadership at every level.
Expert Coaching Matters. The RasNaber combination is the world’s best. Not only are they innovative high-quality analysts, they use evidence and make excellent on-field decisions. Every school needs subject and grade and other portfolio committees with the same expertise.
Understanding What Drives Us. Siya says other teams have no way of understanding this key difference. His point resonates with teachers who connect to their purpose and who strive to give children hope despite obstacles unimaginable to an All Black or a Tricolour, let alone an Englishman or Irishman.
Knowing and Relying on your Strengths. Well, defence was our strength, Ox Retshegofaditswe Nche and the scrum were our strength. What are your strengths as a school? Know them with the same clarity and advantage. Use them.
Minimising Weaknesses. We got catching the high ball right. Pollard missed not a single kick in those three one-point games. What are yours? As a school? As an SMT? As individual teachers? Have you had that discussion? How else do we minimize them?
Importance of a Game Plan. Going into a World Cup Final without a clear plan fully understood by all, would be disastrous. The plan is based on extensive analysis of detailed scientific data ahead of each match. A ‘game plan’ is the basis of any subject committee’s work to improve identified skills. It is also the basis of any lesson or set of lessons.
Knowing Your Role. Certainly, my favourite. You can’t defend a try-line for 90 minutes without every single player understanding exactly who to mark, how to regroup, when and where to fall back or how to anticipate the next move. An SMT member or a grade or subject head should understand what is expected and should not wait to be told what to do. Rather, at meetings, report on what has been done at your own initiative.
Finding a Way to Win. Cheslin’s charge down against France, Ox’s scrum penalties and Handré’s monster kick against England and Pieter-Steph du Toit’s twenty-eight tackles against the All Blacks simply made that collective winning difference by just one point. Cheslin’s block, in particular, showed that Small Things Matter. If every teacher looks to make that small difference every day with so much passion and commitment, your school will triumph, too.
Absorbing Pressure. During the campaign the Springboks had to withstand five of the top six teams in the world. Something like surviving eleven busy weeks in a term in a school in a seriously deprived community. Yet, still we make progress, we win.
Decision-Making is a Huge Skill. I’m not going to get technical about selections, the Bomb Squad and substitutions, but Rassie and Jacques made their decisions before matches carefully and during matches decisively. We learn so much from decisions. Those that work and those that suggest other approaches. Every good teacher makes critical instructional decisions every lesson.
First 10- Last 10 minutes. Any good teacher understands this reality. Think of any lesson or of the first staff meeting of the year. A school that gets the first ten minutes of every period right is a fully functional school. The Springboks showed they were on point from Damian Willemse’s confident catch-and-clear from the kick-off and they kept our hearts beating hard during those last minutes.
Huge Desire to Succeed. Did you see Cheslin cover his head with his jersey for the last ten minutes and did you see Siya run straight to him at the final whistle? Their desire to do it for their troubled country was a clear signal to each one of us. We are worth the sacrifice.
Yes, the Springboks brought us together as a nation for a week, but how they went about doing it for their country was inspirational. I just love how clear the lessons are for those of us willing to grow our mindset, to interrogate the many parallels and to find a way to win. Not just to win, but to save a generation of children.
I urge you to read William Gumede’s speech at the Drakensberg Inclusive Growth Forum, held under the auspices of The Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation.
Also Songezo Zibi’s https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2023-10-30-what-the-springboks-real-gift-to-south-africa-is/?. Zibi is the national leader of Rise Mzansi.
Til next time.
Coach/Mentor: The Principals Academy Trust
07 November 2023