Floreat Primary School Head is setting the platform for 21st century teaching

I knew Friday 04 October was going to be hectic, but I got more than I bargained for.  I had three key engagements: a visit to Floreat Primary school in Steenberg where I was supposed to conclude the performance appraisal of Noel Isaacs, the Head of school. We had already spent three hours a few weeks ago on the process and agreed that we needed no longer than another two hours to wrap up the appraisal. Then I needed to complete important administrative tasks at our offices in Fish Hoek and later the evening we had our Schools Arts Festival at the Cape Town City Hall where I needed to be.

I had it all worked out and knew I would be able to tick off the boxes at the end of the day.  Well, life happens, you know and then the linear planning goes off the rails. That is exactly what happened to me on Friday morning till just before noon. I did start my day as planned, but that is as far as it went. So, here I give you a fairly diluted sequence of events once I arrived at Floreat Primary school. Try as I would, I could not shorten this post more than I did because too harsh a trimming would reduce a powerful experience.  Ready to go with me to start my Friday now?

Arriving at Floreat Primary School

Right, so off I went to Floreat Primary, arriving there at 7h40. There is a certain ritual that takes place when I visit the school and on Friday it was no different.  I chatted with the friendly security personnel and the ground staff en route to Noel’s office. We joked and laughed, sharing comments about the fickle weather and the joy of knowing that the December holidays were beckoning. Next I chatted with Tilly, the soft-spoken, gentle secretary of the school. Tilly (Mathilda) always welcomes me like a long-awaited guest. When she talks to you , you almost expect to be taken to your private holiday suite overlooking the Atlantic ocean! While I was waiting for Noel in his office ( the staff was having a World Teachers’ Day session), I picked up my mail on my Ipad. That was also the last time for the duration of the visit that I used my Ipad for word processing or as a link to the world out there.

IQMS forced to recoil and make way for 21st century citizenship

When Noel joined me in his office, I expected us to wade through the cumbersome triplicate set of IQMS documents for the next hour or so. Instead I receive a copy of the article, “Six simple steps to a positive state of mind”, another fairly regular practice Noel and I share. Somehow – I don’t quite know exactly when- the focus and energy in the room changed.

The conversation shifted to Thomas Friedman and his argument that the world is flat. Out popped the ‘post it’ notes and I sit there with  the book title,“ The World is Flat” scrawled on it. The next minute Noel had switched on his computer and the Youtube channel is on, screening the Thomas Friedman,” The world is flat” presentation. The sound is adjusted and in between Noel’s chatting and my commentary, we strain to hear the talk.

Top: Noel Isaacs ( Head of Floreat Primary) linking up with Youtube to screen The World is Flat
Below: Tilly, the ever faithful secretary and Noel at the start of our marathon session.

We moved on to a lengthy discussion about teaching, learning and leading in a digital age. Are we preparing learners for 21stcentury citizenship and do Heads of schools and their teaching staff have the digital skills set to steer this change? How do we prepare the landscape of our schools to operate within the framework of technology infused with art and the imagination, since creativity is seen as the ‘currency ‘ of the 21stcentury world? There is the acknowledgement that our teacher resource may be computer literate but the majority of teachers are not digitally-literate. If this is the case, how does the Head, as instructional leader, fast track his staff to become digital citizens themselves?

Is  21st century leading, learning and teaching being implemented at Floreat Primary?

During this supercharged dialogue, Noel is highly reflexive . I pose the critical question: Given all this insight, how is Noel aligning his school, Floreat Primary, to become a 21stcentury school as he had just described. By now, Noel’s desk is strewn with papers: copies of the school’s vision and mission statement for us to scribble on, my own scribble notes and the ‘post-it’ notes. And the computer screen flits from one document to another as we refer to ‘evidence’ of the Floreat’s current practices that are being tweaked and the collaboration with the staff to mediate the shifts.

Then I am taken on a STEEP learning curve when Noel describes the Systems Thinking model he applies to all organizational reviews and strategic shifts. My scribbling  and dendrites go frenetic as I try to digest ‘affinity diagram’, ‘ interrelationship diagraph’, ‘wicked problems’, ‘MOPs’ and ‘systems-in-focus’. I shift completely into learner mode and I am thoroughly enjoying the stretch, completely sold on the methodology embedded in this systems thinking model. Aaaah... here is a framework to apply Peter Senge's systems theory, I gather.
My gift and my notes - ironically scribbled while the Ipad  is set aside because of the 'rapid-fire' pace of the conversation!
Visiting the Feeding scheme lounge

As a fitting finale, I was taken to the newly-named  Feeding school lounge .  The walls of the once bland room mirror the souls of the creative artistic expression of the art learners. Art has been introduced at Floreat since this year. Here learners are being given the space to unlock their imagination. The art learners engage freely, happily explaining what inspired their artworks. What was fascinating is that the artists allow others to add to their artwork without visible displays of territorialism or having a desire to privatise the communal space they are privileged to use as a canvas. I was delighted.
gigantic murals and their creators

 Above: transformation on the go.
Below: the young artist is busy working on her flower made from beads.
Finally the visit comes to an end four hours later…

Needless to say, Noel and I did not even touch the IQMS documents. At 11h45, I gathered all my scribbled notes, drank my cold coffee, grabbed my cold hot dog that Tilly must have brought hours earlier and I playfully scold Noel for keeping me there for double the time we negotiated. Noel just smiled and said: We can always have the IQMS ‘event’ some other time. I agree, and half-run to my car.

Shoo… that was one phenomenal session of cooperative learning, of instructional leadership at its best. I am indeed blessed to work with colleagues like Noel who believe in ‘sharpening the saw’ in real life spaces that supercede those oft once-off contrived training workshops.

Lesson for all of us leading, teaching or managing educational spaces

Now, the challenge is: how do all of us- school leaders and district officials - start a deliberate, focused, measurable sustained plan to transform our schools and district offices into 21st century spaces?

Activity in the art space where learners happily add to their peers' artwork.


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