Eastern Cape Teachers visit Floreat, Square Hill and Cafda SOS

A few of the Eastern Cape Educators

Today was an exciting day.  Our Circuit in Metro South Education District (MSED), hosted 8 of the 51-strong teacher delegation from the Eastern Cape.  The teachers are all senior management team (SMT) members at their respective schools.  The schools that hosted the Eastern Cape group were Floreat Primary School, Square Hill Primary School and Cafda School of Skills. After their 3-hour visit at the host schools, Noel Isaacs and Lavinia Davis joined us at Cafda SOS for a reflection session. We were keen to hear what their experiences were like.
Rhoda Manual( Deputy Principal) Leonard Hendricks(Principal, Cafda SOS), Kay  Spiers

During the reflection session we learned these five lessons:

LESSON 1: Teachers know what they need and what they want.

In the absence of a pre-determined programme, Noel, Lavinia and Leonard and their visitors negotiated the terms of reference to maximise their time together.  What was powerful was that all three teams had central thrusts: how the SMTs worked at their host school, demonstrations on the financial management, the management of staff development and requests to observe classroom practice.  All these requests were honoured although everybody reported that the time was way too short.  There is a definite hunger for information of practical, implementable strategies by our Eastern Cape counterparts. At each of the schools each of the teams requested hard copies of all organisational and management planning documents.  The three teams expressed their appreciation for demonstration sessions on the areas that they had highlighted. What was a wonderful expression of comraderie was the Welcome Gift pack that each school presented to their visitors. One educator boasted about his Square Hill branded peak cap he had received and others showed off their packs with pride. Can you imagine how proud we were of our ambassadors?
Lavinia Davis (Square Hill Principal) and her two Eastern Cape visitors

LESSON 2: The crisis indications of our education system and our society cut across geographic space.

We were reminded that we indeed share common challenges despite the fact that we, a metropolitan district,, are in a relatively well-resourced province and our colleagues hail from the deep rural areas of the Eastern Cape. High rates in teenage pregnancy, learner dropout rates, learner retentions and overage learners are similar challenges.  We can't compete with their pervasive abject poverty and the high numbers of child-headed households and they comment on our dangerously high gangsterism culture.  There is a tacit understanding that we are on a slippery slope but there is not a single indication of throwing in the towel.
Noel Isaacs(Principal of Floreat Primary) and his two Eastern Cape teacher visitors.

LESSON 3:  Advocacy for Technology Literacy is non-existent

We learn that at most schools in the Eastern Cape schools, only the principal has a laptop that is being used for administrative purposes. Learners and teachers do not have access to computers at their schools, nevermind their homes. The irony is that here in our schools and in the metro at large, teachers and learners are literally surrounded with computers and technology, yet there is no urgency by many to use the advantages of these.  Here we have a group of educators who is eager to have access to digital technology! One of our SOS deputy principals had expressed surprise that none of the educators had a flash drive in their possession. This explains why they wanted hard copies. At one point one of the Eastern Cape teachers said: " I was feeling guilty because of all the copies they had to make for us, I was worried about the photocopier and all the paper they were using, but we also need the samples."

I laughed along at this remark, but deep inside me my agitation rumbled.  How on earth are these teachers in deep rural areas expected to cope with the information overload, the need to access resources out there or network with peers if there is not a concerted effort to fast track their access to modern technology? They need it more than we do. We are within walking range of so many resources - human and otherwise -  and if this kind of information about teachers  is not shared with us, we may be lulled into thinking everybody has access as we do. It is during such exchanges with colleagues from other parts of South Africa that we stop making them invisible.

Also, teachers are already battling with the curriculum changes and we know that many of our teachers do not have the knowledge of curriculum content and teaching methodologies to help them teach. Our teachers rightly complain about the pace and the limited mediation of the CAPS curriculum,, but what about these teachers?
Lavinia Davis and Noel Isaacs with Eastern Cape teachers in front of Ottery  office

LESSON 4; Teacher resilience and passion for teaching are universally still evident

Despite all the odds, our group of 8 teachers did not on one occasion show a victim mentality. They were here in Cape Town and they wanted to maximise their learning.  One of the teachers said: " When we get back, I am going to preach and preach and preach that we need to do things differently; that we also need SOS where we are."

Hello - can those who judge so freely that teachers are just lazy, provide evidence that this is indeed so?  And if they are, how is it possible that those who are placed to help schools turn things around, have not made a significant difference?  These are tough questions and we need calloused skins to deal with them, but we need to answer these truthfully.
Lavinia Davis, Sharon Lewin and Noel Isaacs enjoying a bit of banter 

LESSON 5: We must actively steer change.

The inter-provincial visit was a rich experience for all parties. The schools committed to strengthening their partnerships and we agreed the first 'touching base' contact will take place before end of term.  This is a good start.  There is a huge challenge ahead for all leaders, at school and at the education district. The time has come for us to dig deeply and to interrogate our current practices. Jim Collins speaks about the 3C's that all great leaders should have: competence, chemistry and character. I agree the 'lip-service'era is no longer relevant. We need to be bold, raise our own game, acknowledge our gaps, go out and learn what we have to and then start navigating the route to becoming strong mentors and coaches to our teams.

Our school heads continue to teach us a lesson or two. Lavinia Davis, Noel Isaacs and Leonard Hendricks were super ambassadors for Heads  who believe in sharing their gifts of leadership, citizenship and humanity. It is no wonder I remain optimistic about the possibilities of changing our schools into powerful, quality education centres.

Eastern Cape teachers during our reflection session


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