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
It’s good to see how schools in the market for a principal or deputy are verbalising their needs. Here are a few phrases from adverts in one magazine.
Firstly, for a principal:
“…the ability to manage multiple competing operational and strategic demands and be able to win over the hearts and minds of children, staff, parents and the community.”
“…a visible, approachable and collaborative leader.”
“…the capacity to translate strategy into action.”
“…a firm fair and compassionate leader.”
Now for a deputy:
“The successful candidate will present the best possible example of professional standards to colleagues.”
“…an outstanding classroom practitioner able to model excellent teaching and learning.”
“…efficient management of academic departments.”
“… providing leadership, oversight and coordination of the day-to-day organization of key areas of the school.”
A current advert for a nursery school in the metro calls for someone who is “self-motivated, proactive and innovative”, who has a “robust understanding of the business aspects of running a school” and who plays a “pivotal role in ensuring a seamless daily operation”.
We put our names forward in response to adverts – not to fill promotion posts, but to take the lead, to build a team and to do the work of leading every single day.
Do you remember the day you submitted your credentials for your current position and the heavy sense of expectation you felt in your first year of principalship? I hope you feel they chose right.
What did I learn from researching this letter?
What struck me in one listing was the identification of decision-making as a critically important skill in instructional leadership. We normally think of decision-making related to spending, discipline, authorization and permissions. Obviously, when dealing with instructional leadership – influencing teacher impact and learner achievement in the classroom – decisions are critically important (and difficult) and need a high level of collaboration and buy-in from teachers and team leaders throughout a school. This requires a highly skilled principal who has a vision for classroom practice, for subject specializations and a flair for relationships. Making the right decisions with your team, your teachers and your governors makes you the right principal for your school.
But if you look at South African advertisements for principals, they are looking for CHANGE-MAKERS, leaders who make sense of their on-the-ground reality, who are motivated to make a difference through action, who are willing to tackle creative solutions with extreme tenacity and who, in the process, help teachers and learners to become change-makers, too. Anyone can be a change-maker. Are you one?
One of the first big challenges a new principal faces is the reality of staff mobility. When a highly valued colleague walks into the office and gives notice that a post has materialised closer to home or that a spouse has been transferred, you run the risk of taking it personally or seeing the move as a big loss or a huge disruption. I learned very quickly that staffing was not only a critical part of principalship, but that a vacancy was not a setback but an opportunity. You can’t sit back and wait to see who applies. You know what you are looking for and you and your stakeholder team get to work. Look far and wide. Don’t take the easy route.
If you are a high school principal, look to create your own nursery by appointing only teachers who are qualified and able to teach at Gr12 level. Sure, that’s often difficult in remote or less safe communities, but take time to make better appointments and use the flexibilities of the contract process to best serve your school and its learners.
I have huge respect for capable and thinking deputies who consider themselves more suited to that all-important role of the day-to-day leadership and management of the school rather than opting for the hot seat with all its diverse stakeholder expectations, unrelenting pressure and personal accountability.
I have tried to choose a few phrases related to school leadership which can be used for careful introspection and self-improvement. It is such a privilege to connect with today’s principals on a daily basis. I love sharing in each one’s personality, passion and perspective. That’s the leadership they bring to their schools, and ethical, competent and sincere leadership is what our country desperately needs at every level.
Til next time.
Coach/Mentor: The Principals Academy Trust
Keeping in Touch in Tough Times #16 of 2023, 23 October 2023
We recently acknowledged and honoured teachers on World Teachers’ Day.
During the day on October the 5th, I listened to children across the country being asked why they felt their teacher was special and needed to be thanked. The overwhelming response to this question was: ‘My teacher is kind.’
The dictionary describes kindness as ‘the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate’.
I believe that kindness is this…. and so much more. Children have different perceptions of kindness, depending on their age and circumstances. What doesn’t change is the how an act of kindness makes them feel. Nothing can take away the impact that a little bit of kindness, shown to a child in distress, will have. No matter where we are or what we are doing, there’s always an opportunity for kindness.
As educators, we have a blank canvas each day to show kindness at work – to the children that we teach, their parents or guardians, our fellow educators, and the support staff at our school. It’s a proven fact that a culture of kindness in the workplace can lead to greater success in an organisation – and it’s so easy to do. It’s a win/win situation because showing kindness to others makes us feel good too.
Kindness in the classroom and on the sports field gives children confidence to take part in group activities no matter what their skill level is. A kind sports coach will encourage an uncoordinated child to continue trying at his chosen sport without having to be the best. A kind teacher will say the right things to a child who is struggling academically that will motivate him/her to persevere. Kindness has no end – and it is within our reach as educators to model this value to our children every day.
Being kind doesn’t mean that all other values need to fall away. Kindness can run concurrently in your classroom along with being firm and maintaining good classroom management. This is achievable without compromising your role as the person in charge. As adults and as educators, we should be able to sense when a little bit of kindness is needed.
This term some of us will need to have a few difficult conversations with parents/guardians regarding their child’s lack of academic progress during the year. These conversations call for bucket loads of kindness! Parents are hurting for their children and are feeling enormously guilty for a variety of reasons. Try to keep your personal opinion and feelings about the situation at bay.
Show them some kindness for the sake of their child even if the parents are hostile and defensive to start with. You’ll be surprised at how a potentially volatile meeting can have a productive and positive outcome with a little bit of kindness thrown in the mix.
As I said before, kindness means different things to different people. It’s showing understanding and empathy in difficult situations. It’s not always easy to be kind but showing kindness when times are hard for you too, is even more meaningful for the receiver.
Being kind to ourselves always seems to come at the bottom of the list. Self-compassion is the term used for being kind to yourself. Without it, you can’t be kind to others.
Allow yourself some ‘be kind to me’ time too. It will make the world of difference to your well- being and your mental health.
Teachers are special people whose influence will stay with their learners for life. Thank you to those of you who have already shown your learners what kindness means.
Wouldn’t you also like to be remembered as the teacher who was kind? It’s easy – just try it.
Take care and have a great term.
Jenny (on behalf of)
The Teachers’ Support Team, Principals Academy Trust
16 October 2023
Watch our video version of this letter on YouTube: https://youtu.be/DbbqI8rfTs8
Looking back on our valuable experience as teachers and school leaders, we all know that, whether we have one or two degrees, our training as teachers only really started on our first day as full-time classroom practitioners. It’s in that cauldron – that forty-plus slice of life – at either a tiny tot or teenage stage, that our skills were honed.
The big question is what we, as school leaders, can do to make all our classrooms high quality teaching and learning spaces. I discussed this in depth with the ten principals I visit every fortnight. That word ‘visit’ belies an intensive session sharing our news, offloading, pin-pointing issues, finding ways forward, building professional capital in the team and setting meaningful targets. We always part company satisfied that we have zoned in on a fundamental element of school functionality. If I’ve done most of the talking, we’ve got nowhere.
The induction of the novice teacher was central in every discussion. We all know the value of mentors, but we need mentors, not necessarily departmental heads, who are experts in their subjects, in the practice of teaching and in classroom management. Mentoring happens in minutes spent daily and weekly in that first year. It’s not terribly time-consuming; it’s caring collaboration, identifying what worked and what didn’t, talking through the day and trying different approaches. Obviously, being open to learning and to being mentored is an indispensable requisite for the teaching profession.
We looked at what we tell our teachers about classroom management. Like ‘get there first, get them in, get on with it’. Like the three most important rules of classroom management. Be prepared. Be more prepared. Be even better prepared.
Like clearly indicating the learning at hand, the process to be followed, the expectations for today. Like having the best possible seating plan, even in the most overcrowded classroom. Like setting ability or progress groups; like careful separation of key disrupters in higher grades; like the avoidance of escalating disagreements with individuals in front of the whole class. Like getting to know the learners as individuals and building the quality relationships which underpin successful teaching.
I loved the simple example one principal offered. ‘When you ask a question and the learner gets it wrong’, she said, ‘go back and ask the same learner an easier question just to re-include and promote full participation’.
The point is that, just like the operating theatre or the car dealer workshop, the classroom has a clear protocol of standing operating procedures, and, without them, the impact on health, safety or learning is life changing. Classroom management is, clearly, that important.
One principal hit the heart of the matter. With honesty and humility, he said, ‘If I slack, I find my school slacks’. The point is we can’t expect teachers to manage their own classrooms, if the school and its extended leadership doesn’t demand and deliver the institutional rigour, routine and rituals conducive to a climate or a culture of excellence.
Let’s zone in on those four words. Institutional implies the total commitment to the functionality of the school day by the principal, deputy, the management team as a collective unit and the teachers’ attitude and focus both within and beyond their classrooms.
Rigour is, as you know by now, my favourite word in education. It’s that basic accountability to doing things properly, accurately, thoroughly and with firm and exacting standards – in this context, as a teaching team. One principal put it best. ‘It’s all about bringing our A-game to school every day’, he said.
Routine is the predictability, the structure and the stability which optimises instructional time and school functionality. But routines require principals and deputies to be out there at all the critical times. Sounds impossible. It’s not. It’s the only way.
Rituals are little things which build that culture of excellence like an assembly every term to honour the top thirty in a grade or the ten most improved this quarter; the way a school community unites in celebration, in promoting ethical behaviour, respect, heritage, wellness, fun and fundraising. There are classroom rituals, too, which high quality teachers use to include, to engage, to connect and to add colour and character to the classroom.
Teaching is a tough profession these days, but teachers must be tough, too. There are school-based support teams, grade heads and deputies in the background, but teachers must, most of the time, learn to solve their own daily classroom issues themselves. Being immediately punitive solves little. Teachers, with a growth mindset, rather find solutions which are caring, creative, inclusive and lasting.
Principals, tighten that institutional rigour, routine and ritual. You owe it to your teachers.
Til next time.
Coach/Mentor: The Principals Academy Trust
Keeping in Touch in Tough Times #15 of 2023, 18 September 2023