Fulfilling my purpose as a teacher and a coachMarch 23, 2023
How can we support teachers – on a sustainable and national scale?April 25, 2023
In Saturday’s Eastern Cape workshop, as soon as people started to arrive the room began to spill over with love and support. The support that schools receive comes from many places.
Edufundi's Support Structure
The primary support initially comes from the core provincial Edufundi team, composed of Simphiwe (the leadership support coach) and the four mentors: Unathi, Christine, Zonke and Neliswa. Schools receive weekly visits from the mentors, and have coaching sessions with the leadership support coach every fortnight. It is evident that the Edufundi team has become part of the fabric of their schools and are seen as members of each staff family - the moment participants see them, their faces light up!
The second layer of Edufundi’s support comes from Mrs Vuyo Vinqi, the Programme Manager and a former school principal. Although she doesn’t spend a lot of time with each school, she is welcomed almost as heartily as the core team. She is seen and appreciated as someone who has walked the road of school leadership, understands the struggles and challenges, and can relate to each SMT member there. The value this brings is immeasurable, and it reverberates through Vuyo’s facilitation as she brings in stories and anecdotes of her time as a principal.
In this workshop, when talking about planning and being honest about the number of teaching days there really are in a year, she says, "Valentine's Day - let’s be honest here, we don’t teach much on that day!” and the room laughs. Another relatable story illustrates a serious problem in a lighthearted way; “the students come to class ready, but you as the teacher are asking the students what they did last week,” she says as she comically pages through a text book pretending to be looking for the work they need to do. The room roars with laughter again. One SMT member has this to say after the workshop; “Mrs V hones right in on the areas we know we need to work on because she has been there. She relates to us, she has been on this journey.”
Mrs V is not the only one who speaks from a lifetime of experience; the Edufundi mentors are all former teachers, and the coaches have been school leaders and circuit managers. “We love that Edufundi employs people that have walked in our shoes,” says the Deputy Principal from Joe Slovo Primary School. There is no substitute for this kind of authenticity. And it is powerful!
A Community of Practice
The third layer of support comes from the group of schools participating in the programme. As colleagues from other schools arrive, the room quickly fills with the sound of mingling voices - principals talking to other principals, SMTs talking to other SMTs. It is this community of practice that Edufundi is encouraging all their schools to build and grow, so that even after the programme ends, they will have made deep connections with colleagues in their area that they can draw from when they need support.
There were moments in the workshop when one participant would ask a question and fellow leaders in the group would assist with the answer. When the goal is to learn, grow, and continue to improve, tapping into each other’s experiences, strengths and learnings is invaluable.
Breaking Down Barriers with the DoE
The fourth layer of support is the Department of Education, which is often seen in a negative light. Circuit Managers and Subject/Curriculum Advisors are responsible for ensuring that schools are functioning effectively, and when they visit there is often a scramble to get paperwork ready and boxes ticked. The Edufundi programme and these workshops offer a platform for the two to conjoin. “Edufundi has helped break down barriers," says Mrs Herselman, a foundation phase subject advisor, “schools are less afraid of our visits, they see that we are there to support and not judge.” The workshop also gives a platform for DoE officials to speak and share their support. Mrs Njudai, language advisor, took the opportunity to remind the schools that their visits are planned before the year starts and that this is communicated with them so they can build this into their planners.
A Culture of Support in Schools
The final structure eventually comes from the school itself. This culture of support is paramount to the Edufundi model, it is to strip down the barriers that hierarchy and management can often have in schools and rebuild this with clear systems and boundaries but with open doors, trust, and support. In planning their year Mrs. V encourages SMTs to ‘bring the teachers in’, by inviting them to the meetings and ‘show them that you need their support’. Mrs Vinqi goes on to say "when the department comes and you get praised, feed that back to the teachers. Make them feel valued and say thank you. It is these small things that build trust and commitment in a team."
As schools embark on the second year of the programme the strategy is to start to shift agency to the schools so that after Edufundi leaves, principals and SMTs are able to take on the role of support that Edufundi has given them. Instead of Edufundi being the coach and mentor, principals and SMT’s will take on this role. Instead of Edufundi presenting the workshops on TLAC techniques, HOD’s will take on this responsibility and this is starting already. By the end of year two, each school will have integrated 6 TLAC techniques across the whole school and they are making action plans on what techniques they want and how they will do that. This ensures that all teachers, whether they were mentored or not, will feel the benefits of the Edufundi Support Programme.