TST: 10 of 2021

Hello Friends.

It was a great relief to watch the children making their way through the school gates last week. They greeted their classmates with such joy that it made me realise yet again how much they have missed the contact and interaction with children their own age. I also noticed the relief on the faces of many ‘covid fatigued’ parents! I hope you were able to use some of the time to rest and regain your strength after an exhausting term.

We start this new term on a slightly better footing with many educators and school support staff having received their vaccination. What we now have to do is pick up the pieces from the very abrupt ending that we had to deal with last term. Many of you might still have been completing assessments when you suddenly had no learners at school. Before we can move on, we need to tie up the loose ends that were left unfinished.

I do believe we have all become more resilient in these ever-changing times and we’re able to cope with the sudden changes more calmly than we did before. It’s the uncertainty that causes us anxiety. By reminding ourselves that we’re one of millions of people who are uncertain about the future, it becomes easier to shed some of the anxiety we feel. The most important task we have now is getting ourselves and our learners back on track so that quality learning and teaching can take place.

The children have not been in a formal learning environment for a few weeks and getting them back into classroom mode is not going to be easy. It’s crucial that we find ways in which we can balance work and other activities that we need to get through in a school day

Keep in mind the children’s need to move and have short brain breaks during the day in order to fully engage with what you are teaching them and to process new information. This might mean small adjustments to your daily programme. You need to be flexible and take your cue from the learners. If you are struggling to hold their attention, take a quick break. Move on to something different and come back to the original lesson at a later stage. We often find that, after clearing their minds for a few minutes, children are refreshed and can once again pick up where you left off. This is going to require some creative and ‘out of the box’ thinking – nothing you haven’t had to do before. Remember, completing a section of work enables us to put a tick next to it but it means nothing if the learners haven’t mastered it. We need to make every effort to ensure that quality learning is taking place. The learners need to be able to take the knowledge and use it meaningfully before we can tick it off.

Our learners watch our every move, and they learn so much from our interactions with them and from observing our interactions with others. These different times are a perfect opportunity for us as adults to model things like problem-solving, flexibility, compassion and kindness. For some of the children you teach, you will be the only adult to model these skills for them. We are, after all, educating the whole child.

The term ahead is not going to be easy, but we need to see the glass half full and make the most of the contact time we have with each and every child. We can’t allow ourselves to become so concerned about the fact that the children aren’t at the level we know they should be that we lose sight of the way forward. Don’t look backwards – that’s not the direction we should be moving in.

Let’s take our inspiration for this term from a very wise man –
It always seems impossible until it’s done – Nelson Mandela

Have a good week and an even better term.

Jenny (on behalf of)
The Teachers’ Support Team, Principals Academy Trust

The Toughest Leadership Test

Tough times. That’s a phrase I use to preface every letter I write because the principal’s office has certainly been a tough space in the last 16 months. The toughest leadership test – is the title of an article by three international McKinsey partners to help CEOs embrace micro-habits which can prove effective in the heat of a crisis. I’m using their insights to support school CEOs, many of whom have already changed their mindsets accordingly. Sadly, many others have been paralyzed by the enormity of the challenge facing schools in underserved communities. Those with ineffective management teams or systems which are not sufficiently functional or poor communication strategies have been the hardest hit by the crisis. There are national rescue initiatives, but they require each school, led by its CEO, to develop its own local response within every classroom.  

Developing the right micro-habits – daily routines and ways of working – can help CEOs seize the moment, stay ahead and take care of themselves in these difficult times. Even after more than a year there is much uncertainty. 

A primary school with Grade 1s attending on alternate days and making up for months of lost time has a whole new purpose, and the CEO, who simply has no choice but to qualify himself as a foundation phase expert, must articulate that new purpose clearly day after day. And not just articulate, but implement and supervise. CEOs need effective deputies and department heads more than ever, but there is simply a more intense level of direct CEO leadership and communication required right now. 

In these times of Covid confusion, teachers wait for principals to take the front-line lead. School CEOs will be remembered for how they acted and reacted in tough times. Be aware of what you say and do. Your community is taking careful notice.  And it’s not just your teachers that are watching you lead with an adapted style and with new priorities: the Covid-school CEO’s leadership is carefully scrutinized by wider community, by partnering organizations and by districts.  

Furthermore, a CEO’s personal sincerity and physical presence are also monitored. There have been many opportunities for compassionate leadership with so much illness, loss and anxiety. 

The best CEOs report that their team’s cohesion has been absolutely critical. Some team members have come to the fore as leaders with initiative and with the ability to stay calm under pressure. Shorter and quicker team meetings with a focus on operational rather than general issues should be happening multiple times per week. CEOs, have hopefully learned to voice and to show their appreciation at every opportunity. Of course, the true leader is looking beyond the daily detail, thinking and planning ahead. Times of crisis are often the opportunity for accelerating change. If your teachers are teaching as before, you are missing a huge chance to move your school forward. 

Key to leading in tough times is taking care of yourself. It is fine to admit that you sometimes feel powerless and unprepared. Find new simple ways of replenishing your energy and your spirit. Perhaps an unthreatening and supportive afternoon call to your mentor can help clear your mind. Don’t forget that exercise is a tested way to restore energy. Don’t create your own lockdown. Ensure that you break out of your isolation with a good friend, with another principal with whom you can share and with an unwavering commitment to established routines with your family. And remember, the best way to lead a balanced professional life as a principal is to stay close to the children. Chat to more than a few every day.  

In adapting this article I’ve used the title CEO to describe the modern principal, but I can’t help thinking that Headteacher is a more appropriate appellation for a school leader. It’s a value-laden title which connects the community and the office to the classroom in a way which emphasizes the art and craft and science of school leadership. 

Last week I was inspired by a principal who, having completed her preparations for the new term, designed her own screensaver as a daily reminder. It read:  

Note to self:  When things feel overwhelming, remember: 

  • one thought at a time 
  • one task at a time 
  • one day at a time. 

In turn she inspired me to share this article with you. 

Paul (Coach/Mentor) 

Principals Academy  

The Toughest Leadership Test, May 28, 2020, Homayoun Hatami, Pal Erik Sjatil and Kevin Sneader (all McKinsey partners) 

Keeping in Touch in Tough Times. #22 of 2021. 30 July.


TST: 9 of 2021

Hello Friends.

The term ‘glass half full’ is used to refer to an attitude of seeing the positive in a situation – in other words an optimistic outlook. On the flip side we have the ‘glass half empty’ attitude where one only sees the negative side of a situation – a pessimistic outlook. Are you a ‘glass half full’ or a ‘glass half empty’ person?

Being an optimistic person in a negative world is challenging but optimism is a choice. It requires us to work really hard at staying positive and taking others along with us. We need to change our way of thinking and ensure that we remain strong against the negative forces within our workplace or home. Being positive is also a natural motivator. For us to successfully negotiate our way through the challenges of our daily lives during this pandemic, we need to find things that lift our mood and make us feel more positive.

A good place to start is to recognise negative thinking and to see the difference between it and genuine challenges that can be managed. Constant negative thinking or pessimism is a roadblock in our path moving forward and we find ourselves not being able to see a way around it.

A pessimistic attitude can be very draining, and such people often find themselves sitting on their own in the staffroom as their colleagues don’t have the energy to expose themselves to this negativity day in and day out. Very often our attempts to discuss their negative approach are also waved off. If you find yourself being drawn into a negative situation, make an effort to remove yourself. Pessimism is also a choice – one that is not going to help you get through these challenging times.

I have found that focussing on what I am grateful for has helped me to keep seeing the glass half full. I try to find at least one thing every day that I am grateful for. I’ll admit that some days I have to dig deep, but there is always something. I’ve also found that it has made me look at my life with new eyes and I’ve realised that it’s really the small things that keep me positive. It’s an exercise that I challenge you all to put yourself through – you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you find makes you happy and positive enough to get through a difficult day.

Encouraging your colleagues to see the glass half full will improve the mood in your school and will make it a far more productive place. Encouraging your learners to see the glass half full will make them feel motivated and determined to keep on trying. Each time you acknowledge a learner’s effort, you top up their glass a little. This works particularly well with learners who are facing an uphill battle every day – in the classroom or at home.

Children are inclined to lose hope quickly and will give up trying for fear of failing in front of their classmates. By constantly encouraging them to reflect on what they have already achieved will make them realise that the glass is indeed half full.

Guiding others and yourself to see the positives in a particular situation will ground you and make you look at the problem sensibly, taking all factors into consideration. It also helps take the panic out of a situation which we all know just causes more chaos. Being overly positive and unrealistic can become a problem though, and people will find it hard to follow your optimism. Think carefully about how you approach and deal with what faces you so that this doesn’t happen. Always be realistic.

Helping others to see the glass half full means that you need to be a good listener too. Be aware of what is being said and done around you and be cautious not to let your optimism downplay a problem that someone else might view as very important. Rather help them to find the positives. You will be empowering them to see the glass half full and they’ll feel encouraged to start doing so on their own.

How about putting an image of a half full glass on the noticeboard in your staffroom as a reminder to everyone who enters to see the glass as half full rather than half empty. A constant reminder might do the trick and you could find that others start feeling more optimistic rather than bringing negativity to your staffroom every day. Remember, to encourage others to develop an optimistic attitude, you need to reflect this attitude yourself. You’ll be a happier person and a lot more pleasant to be around.

I leave you with this question: Is your glass half full or half empty? The choice is yours. Have a great week.
Kind regards

Jenny (on behalf of)
The Teachers’ Support Team, Principals Academy Trust

TST: 8 of 2021

Hello Friends.

We’re still early into the new term and we’re already detecting fatigue and a sense of mild panic amongst some of the teachers we meet. As I said in my last letter, we all need to work hard at keeping ourselves motivated and in turn we’ll motivate others. In challenging times, this is easier said than done, but we cannot afford to give up.

Classroom management is becoming more of a challenge as many of our learners are spending their ‘off day’ unsupervised and are getting up to all kinds of mischief. They are not keen to come back to school the next day either. A teacher recently said to me that every day feels like a bad Monday in terms of the children’s behaviour. Added to this is the problem that there are huge gaps in the children’s academic development that teachers are being expected to pick up and work with. This would take its toll on any teacher – you are not alone.

Rewarding children for their co-operation and good behaviour in the classroom is not my first choice as I feel acceptable behaviour should be intrinsic – children should all have a measure of self-discipline. However, nothing in our lives is normal anymore and we are at a stage where we need to use all the tools in our teacher’s toolbox in order to keep the children motivated and wanting to learn. If rewarding the children in your class works, then do it.

Rewards can take the form of a few extra minutes to play at break time, building a puzzle or playing a game that they enjoy, reading a book, writing a story or drawing. You could also have a ‘Teacher’s surprise Box’. Decorate the box so that it looks attractive and is appealing to any child. In the box you have a few meaningful activities that the child can do. These could include playing cards, word searches, times table activities and games, writing cards or even cards with interesting short stories or non-fiction paragraphs printed on them that the children can read and learn something new. These activities should not resemble extra work – they should be a real treat to do. Change the activities in the box every few weeks. The activities will vary vastly from grade to grade. Keep in mind that sometimes we need to reward the child’s effort and not only the end product. You will know which children in your class will benefit from their effort being recognised and acknowledged.

Teachers are also having difficulty getting schoolwork completed at home. Parents are either not interested or just don’t have the time as they’re working hard to make ends meet. Times are tough in the workplace too. Use your reward system, whatever it might be, to encourage and motivate the children to complete tasks at home. If you know that a particular child doesn’t have home support, try not to give him/her homework that will require adult assistance. Rather give him homework that he can do on his own and allow him to enjoy the feeling of success when it has been completed and returned to you. By doing this, you are enabling the child instead of setting him up for failure.

The academic gaps that we’re seeing are real and can’t be ignored. As experienced teachers, many of you are struggling with the fact that you have to press on in order to complete the curriculum knowing that many of the learners are not ready to move to the next concept or stage. They need more time and practice. This causes great anxiety in educators. You wouldn’t be the dedicated teacher that you are if you didn’t have these concerns. If you have done everything in your power to keep your learners learning during the pandemic, then you’re a great teacher. You can’t do more than your best for the children in your care.

Working with children in small groups might help those in need of extra assistance to catch up a little. Even ten minutes of attention in a small group with intensive focussing is better than nothing.

This is where you can use your reward system again to motivate and encourage the children to work hard while they’re at school. Be careful of allowing the more able children too much time doing meaningless things. There are more than enough meaningful activities available for them to be engaged in – just think out of the box!

Remember – we bring the enthusiasm to the classroom that motivates the children.

Bill Gates so wisely said this: “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting kids to work together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.”

If you are feeling down and need some motivating, draw inspiration from a colleague or a friend who might reawaken your enthusiasm. Most of all, let your feelings of guilt and inadequacy go. You are doing the best you can do, and your efforts are appreciated.

Have a good week. Kind regards

Jenny (on behalf of)
The Teachers’ Support Team, Principals Academy Trust

Skurweberg Secondary School shows marked improvement in results

Skurweberg Secondary School, one of the schools that we support, made number 7 on the list of public schools in the Western Cape (with 30 or more candidates) that have shown the greatest improvement in pass rate over the period 2017 to 2019.

From the Principals Academy Trust we would like to congratulate you Skurweberg!

This was announced on the 16th of January 2020 by Education MEC Debbie Schäfer and the Western Cape Premier Alan Winde. The criteria also include consistency in the number of Grade 12 candidates over the 3 year period from 2017 to 2019.

Well done acting principal Mr Mars and all staff members.

The full press release can be read here.

The previous principal of Skurweberg, Mr John Muller, was being mentored by Principals Academy Trust mentor Mr Ronald Balie until he sadly and unexpectedly passed away in 2019