IP CAPS Orientation Sessions are A RESOUNDING SUCCESS

Ordinary teachers do extraordinary things at CAPS Orientation Sessions: Viva to our Heroes!

I know the IP CAPS Training or Orientation Session is geared towards teachers because all teachers must be ready to teach the CAPS syllabus by 2013.  We flooded the teacher fraternity with reminders of the 'invitation' to attend the sessions. Yet, strangely, this flurry of activity excluded to a large extent the very leaders - the school principals and district officials - who have the responsibility to build on the foundation laid by the CAPS orientation sessions. Let me explain my soul-searching journey that is causing me to interrogate my role in our changing education landscape...

I was part of the CAPS 3-day Teachers’ Orientation Programme for Intermediate Phase hosted at Muizenberg Junior School. There were about 250 attendees who attended presentations facilitated by 24 Lead Teachers, the colleagues of these teachers.

The Lead Teachers who facilitated the CAPS Orientation at Muizenberg Junior School 

Lead Teachers thrown in the lions' den?

The 24 Lead Teachers tackled a herculean task. Here they were, with minimal training themselves, ready to mediate the 
CAPS( Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement) with their peers in preparation for the roll-out in 2013.  These ordinary teachers with their full teaching responsibilities, had to summon their creative energies and fast track their learning of a completely new CAPS curriculum within a month. In addition to the two-day training by the education department, they organized three sessions themselves and they prepared their own resources to supplement those provided.

Facing the resistance by their peers

Then at the outset, these Intermediate Phase CAPS teacher-facilitators had to contend with the pessimism, the resistance and often the open hostility of the participants. Many of the CAPS attendees were angry and directed this at the Lead Teachers. There are many reasons for these negative attitudes. Our teachers are weary of all the fast-paced curriculum changes they have to contend with. Our teachers are tired of being bombarded with the education policy overload. Life at classroom level is a huge challenge. Many of our classrooms are microcosms of our broken society, placing additional pressure on our teachers who have not been trained to manage the diversity and other conditions in a classroom. Given this setting, we were effectively placing the Lead Teachers in a precarious situation.

Debriefing becomes a part of learning and healing journey

Every day we convened a debriefing session with the Lead Teacher group. Day 1 was difficult. We listened as they poured out their mixed emotions. On the one hand, they were excited and felt adequately prepared while on the other, they were unnerved by the negative attitudes of their peers. There was still a high degree of apprehension. Our champions described their own trauma: they could identify fully with their peers when they lashed out at the ‘system’ because they were also ordinary teachers. They felt – I think – a sense of betrayal because their peers perceived them to be part of the ‘Department’ with all its negative associations.  They thanked Michael, the Circuit CAPS Project Leader, for preparing them well in terms of their subject content, for showing care and support by having all their conference needs covered and for his calm demeanour. This secure environment ensured that they were not set up to fail.

We saw the contestation –this is what change does and this is part of the healing process, the REAL learning. We acknowledged their rawness and saw the pain of change unfold before our eyes. We celebrated their victories of their successful presentations and their mediation of ‘difficult’ participants who challenged them.

 By Day 2 the debriefing comments shifted to the actual ‘subject’ presentations and the impacts. Interesting anecdotes of warm, engaging peer learning moments exceeded the comments of negativity. By Day 3 the Lead teachers had their peers eating out of their hands. Collegiality was high and most reported that they were complimented by their groups. Ironically, now the Lead teachers almost apologized, stressing that the positive comments were unsolicited. We found this amusing yet understood the complexities.
Action in the classrooms 

Watching the facilitators and participants during tea and lunch breaks, was an experience itself. There was unbelievable comraderie that increased as the sessions progressed. By the time we held our final plenary with the group, there was no evidence of the heaviness that hung in the air on Day 1.

Final debriefing by Lead Teachers

During our final debriefing session the Lead Teachers were lyrical about the experience. All of them spoke about the amazing personal and professional development they had experienced. Most of them described their journey of self-discovery – realizing that they are powerful and that they have influence to help others grow as well.  Fadli, our District CAPS champion, recited softly in my ear, the words of Marianne Williamson and the two of us chorused softly “ Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate but that we are powerful beyond measure”.

Lessons learned about Teacher Development and the role of Heads of schools and District Officials

  • Teachers are receptive to learning. They want to grow professionally and they want to be the best teachers they can be. Teachers learn far more and faster when they learn with peers and learn from peers. This we saw amplified over the three days  IP CAPS training.
  •  Teachers want to work  collaboratively. They thrive on networking with diverse colleagues and they grow in a caring, supportive , collegial environment. Again, we have seen the enormous wisdom that teachers have to act as Lead teachers and the authenticity they bring to training sessions. We should tap into the wealth of knowledge our teachers and schools have and facilitate the networking with their peers.
  • Teachers are tired of being given documents, powerpoint presentations and lectures of what should be done and how it should be done. There is a need for these support measures but within reasonable limits.  They need to be active participants in their learning and they want to learn with peers who are at other schools.
  • There is a need for activism from school heads and the education district support services.. If we apply the 20/80 rule here, only 20% of school leadership and district support for teacher development should be administratively driven including  once-off workshop style inputs.  80% should be peer-driven opportunities actively created and nurtured by all the leaders at all levels of education.

·  We should not become the teachers’ barrier or strengthen the barriers of schools. We should actively, ‘persistently and patiently’ (Fullan) help create and nurture peer networking opportunities if we are serious about our roles as leaders in this culture of change.
   We should actively help to increase teachers’ knowledge base of pedagogy. We have an obligation to encourage, debate and help our teachers expand their understanding of educational theories and teaching methodologies to help them become better teachers. We owe this to our teachers.  Anything less would mean we are redundant and an expensive resource for taxpayers to finance.

Of course, this is hard process work as we are being challenged to consider other creative alternatives to help schools to shift.  If anything, we will have to plan harder, work harder and suspend our own theories to try new ways of doing business. This is the challenge.

The advantage of having current successful models of engagement

Our IP CAPS lead teachers provide us with a powerful, almost undisputed model of the power of peer-learning.  If those teachers could help us orientate 250 educators in IP CAPS over 3 days and help to change the negative mindsets of many, just imagine the collective power we have to help transform our schools.  Those 24 teachers have set the benchmark high and we have no alternative but to rise to the challenge.

Shall we suspend our fears,our own frustrations and follow in the footsteps of our IP CAPS heroes?


  1. Hey Sharon. What a good read. Often a teachers authentic voice is more powerful than that of a curriculum advisor!

  2. Agreed, Johnny. We should definitely fast track our communities of practice (your favourite phrase) business processes.


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