‘Beautiful strategies’: Reflections from two principals on school life after Edufundi
Different schools, similar challenges
Ludwe Ngamlana Primary School and Silverlea Primary School sit in very different neighbourhoods of Cape Town. They do have some similarities, however: Edufundi has completed its programme in both schools – and it was run in response to some very similar challenges that both schools were facing.
“I could pick up that teachers wanted skills in how to deal with difficult and challenging learners in the classroom,” explains Mrs. Sharon Brink, Principal at Silverlea Primary School in Bridgetown, Cape Town. With over 1,200 learners Ludwe Ngamlana also faced challenges with learner behaviour. “Learners in a big school can become chaotic,”explains Mr. Xolani Ndamane, the deputy principal, “and you have to spend a lot of time addressing this.”
Fast forward four years, and both schools are now running without the presence of the Edufundi mentors. We visited the schools to ask the principals how their schools are faring.
Orderly schools create a much-needed safe space for learners
Mr. Ndamane has seen, since implementing Edufundi’s ‘beautiful strategies,’ that discipline among learners has improved. Much of this is rooted in learners knowing routines and expectations. Learners at Ludwe Ngamlana now “know exactly what they have to do. They know when they come to the class, they must take out the books and be ready for the teacher.”
This sense of order has contributed to a general calmness in the school.
Meanwhile, at Silverlea, a push towards positivity has contributed to the creation of an optimistic space for learners. “I think we have overcome 80% of our challenges,” explains Principal Brink. “A lot of it is around focusing on positivity. Edufundi taught [teachers] to focus on what the kids are doing right, not so much on what they are doing wrong. It brought about so much change in the school.”
The general outcome of these orderly, positive spaces is an important one: the creation of a safe space for learners.
“We are just across from an informal settlement. The socio-economic circumstances that our kids come from are challenging. This school needs to be a place away from home, a safe place for them,” explains Mrs. Brink. Our visit to the Grade 4 Rainbow Classroom was a case in point: the learners seemed to know the flow of the class, and the classroom itself – decked in an array of colourful posters, artwork and cushions – felt like a safe haven.
“We support [teachers], and we are part of them. We are not just sitting in our offices and folding our arms,” – Mr. Xolani Ndamane, deputy principal at Ludwe Ngamlana Primary School.
Eroding the barriers between School Management Teams and teachers
Edufundi’s support for School Management Teams (SMTs) is critical to improving a school’s outcomes. This includes reconsidering management and leadership as a supportive structure rather than one based on hierarchical discipline.
Mr. Ndamane reflects that, before Edufundi’s programmes, when a member of the SMT entered a classroom, the teacher would tense up. Teachers even disallowed officials from the Department of Education into their classrooms. But his perspective of leadership has changed; he sees himself as part of the wider team, an active part of the team: “We are supporting the teachers through classroom visits so that, if there are particular challenges … we support them, and we are part of them. We are not just sitting in our offices and folding our arms,” he says. “Now, teachers can even invite [us] to their classroom!”
Similarly, Mrs. Brink stresses that an SMT should be there for teachers to support them, not to judge them. “We work on a principle of us being a team,” she says, “and when you have communications open in a school environment, it works well.”
Teachers teaching teachers
In both schools, teachers who received Edufundi mentorship have been sharing their strategies with other teachers. At both Silverlea and Ludwe Ngamlana, teachers talk about Edufundi strategies in their Grade and Subject meetings. “We have workshops where the people who have been on the Edufundi programme now train and share the skills with the other staff,” explains Mrs. Brink. “We had to get it through to the rest of the staff.”
“The socio-economic circumstances that our kids come from are challenging. This school needs to be a place away from home, a safe place for [the learners].”– Mrs. Sharon Brink, principal at Silverlea Primary School.
Becoming a deeper part of a wider community
Ludwe Ngamlana Primary School is now considered ‘exemplary,’ says Mr. Ndamane. “Local schools come to look at how Ludwe are doing things, such as planning and administration,” he explains. “You can see the systemic results changing at Ludwe,” and so other schools are “coming to seek what it is that is working.”
It goes beyond results. The success of the school has grown roots into the local community, who now uphold the school as something to be proud of. “We get donations from outside just to support the school. Yesterday, somebody gave nine pairs of shoes – just someone from the community,” Mr. Ndamane explains. “Even in terms of burglaries that are happening outside, we don’t experience those issues. It does not happen in our school because the community is supporting us,” he says.
The community around the school plays a vital role, and gaining their respect is important. “This is not our school, but their school, so they have to protect the school,” he explains.
Challenges still remain
Whilst the learnings of Edufundi ring through the school corridors, challenges still remain, of course.
For Ludwe Ngamlana, late-coming is problematic. This is largely because of the long distances that some learners have to walk to school. For Silverlea, discipline will ‘always be a challenge’. But, encouragingly, both schools speak of a fresh, structured approach to these challenges. For Ludwe, a system is put in place for teachers to call parents of learners who come late regularly, with the hope of finding solutions together. For Silverlea, new teachers are mentored internally, allowing support to deal with challenging behaviour.
Passion is the magic ingredient
Ludwe Ngamlana, with its rising results, feels like a proud space. And, as Mr. Ndamane says, the Edufundi “vibe” is still in the school. He feels hopeful for the continued implementation of strategies in the school. “It is our responsibility now, as school management, to carry on the learnings of Edufundi,” he remarks.
For Silverlea, success hinges on a passionate dedication to learning – a dedication that comes from the top. “Your teachers must be passionate and it starts with your SMT,” says
Mrs. Brink. “If you have that passion, and the love, and you lead by example, it just automatically happens.”