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Our three-part Mentorship Series brings together four expert voices to explore the topic of educator mentorship in South African schools. Why is mentorship needed, and what makes it successful or not? What deep change can mentorship bring about - and how can we ensure its sustainability, for the future of all learners?
The Edufundi Support Programme provides mentorship, guidance and support to teachers and School Management Teams (SMTs). While the programme runs in a school for three years, the model is based on agency and sustainability - when Edufundi exits, the systems and teachings remain rooted in the school culture and are carried forward by the school itself. This article explores the sustainable, lasting and deeper impacts of mentorship on a school and its ecosystem.
Feeling happy on the job
Pamala Naicker, a mentor at Edufundi, has worked with many teachers and can see the deeper impact that mentorship has. Often, the mentorship results not only in improved classroom management, lesson delivery and learner outcomes, but also in many teachers feeling less stressed, more confident and much happier in their jobs. This comes from mentors listening to the specific stresses of teachers and school leaders - and creating a safe space where these vulnerabilities and struggles can be voiced freely.
“After a period of time,” Pamala reflects, “you will find that the growth is in the teacher’s mindset. You start to see the mentee asking you, as a mentor, for guidance in what they want to learn.” Ms. Vuyiseka Xakekile - a Grade 4 teacher at Thembani Primary School in Langa, Cape Town - has completed the Edufundi Teach Like A Champion (TLAC) programme. “I was so tired [before the mentorship],” she says, “and the learners were so disruptive - but now I feel in control. … I feel happy at work. I feel very happy.”
Ms. Nomzamo Princess Mnini, Deputy Principal of Ludwe Ngamlana Primary School in Khayelitsha, participated in the Lead Like A Champion (LLAC) programme. Through this process, she came to cherish the importance of understanding other teachers’ stresses and struggles, and finding solutions that speak to those struggles. “When we have planning sessions now, I have to understand where people are coming from,” she says. “It is not about having a meeting and expecting everyone to be on point. For example, if an educator is not performing it is important to understand where they are at.”
Through the creation of this safe space, SMTs can start to build trust and unity - and that unity trickles down into the entire school culture. “Within the SMT,” says Nomzamo, “we gained trust with each other. Within this trust, we are able to go out there as a team and speak with one voice. And, in turn, the school saw the unity and trust in us.” Growing these relationships of trust allows for a deeper mentorship relationship, thus increasing the positive outcomes of the relationship itself, like general happiness within the teaching profession.
Teasing out the potential in teachers and school leaders
Simphiwe Xalipi is the Edufundi leadership support coach in the Eastern Cape province. Both he and Pamala highlight their role in recognising, and building up, agency and potential in teachers and school management. Mentorship is not just about sharing management or teaching techniques; it is wider than that. It is intertwined with personal development.
“We help teachers to become critical thinkers,” says Pamala. “Teachers are afraid to let their learners think critically. So a lot of mentoring is about working smartly and getting the teacher to use their potential to engage learners deeply.” This engagement comes from building relationships between learners and teachers - and to build relationships, a certain level of personal awareness is required.
Similar reflections occur within the LLAC programme. Simphiwe sees his role as “unlocking the latent potential” in SMTs. “We are supporting SMTs to achieve KPIs and fulfil responsibilities that are already embedded in their job descriptions,” he explains. “But we are unlocking their potential to be able to achieve their KPIs as a monthly or daily practice.”
Ensuring a sustainable model: how we structured the Edufundi Support Programme
For Pamala, the sustainability of the Edufundi Support Programme takes different forms. Some of it is a natural skill-share that takes place between teachers: “The wonderful thing is that Teacher A, who we mentored, will tell Teacher B about the mentoring.” This is exemplified by Vuyiseka. “Edufundi teachings are still at the school. We share learnings and conduct workshops with those teachers who did not have mentors.”
More formally, the Edufundi Support Programme is structured around the sustainability of its teachings. “Firstly,” says Pamala, “SMTs are mentored to assist with leadership development. They now have the experience of being a mentee. In the second year, they are ready to mentor teachers within their own school.” By creating an in-house mentorship program, the Edufundi model allows for both sustainability and school leaders’ agency in nourishing a culture of mentorship within their schools.
Nation-building: Recognising schools as part of a bigger picture
The Edufundi Support Programme runs on the philosophy that teachers and school leaders or school management teams do not work in silos: together, they form an ecosystem of learning. This ecosystem sits within a local neighbourhood, and that neighbourhood sits within a nation. Growth on a micro-levels plays into macro-level development. As Nomzamo says about her own school, “Our SMT realised that we had to involve the whole team in our vision. Before, our vision and mission statement was just written in words. But without everyone understanding the vision, it is not easy to achieve and move forwards. Even the parents and children need to understand the school’s vision.”
Perceiving the school as a unified ecosystem within a community is especially important in areas that are often underserved by services and resources. “Working in disadvantaged areas really brings me a particular satisfaction,” says Pamala, “because there are teachers there who are really going that extra mile and they are working so hard. I am so proud that we cater for this kind of school.” This means that Edufundi’s impact in specific low-income areas isparticularly meaningful for the community around the school - including learners, parents and their families.
Ultimately, this connects into the future of South Africa. “I appreciate that Edufundi has given us an opportunity to enter schools and support them,” says Simphiwe. “We are building a nation, and everyone has a role to play.”