What deeper changes can mentorship bring about?September 22, 2023
Lion Park: Eight Years LaterNovember 23, 2023
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 has, over several years, proven itself to be a workable model for mentorship in South African schools. This programme weaves together Teach Like a Champion (TLAC) - which offers one-on-one mentorship to teachers, and is based on practices developed by Doug Lemov - and Lead Like a Champion (LLAC) - which uses home-grown strategies to guide and empower School Management Teams. Developing a model that meets the unique needs of the South African context has taken time, experience and a great deal of reflective practice. We talk to Edufundi mentors, teachers and School Management Teams (SMTs) to find out more.
The importance of beginnings: overcoming mistrust
Mr Simphiwe Xalipi is the Edufundi Leadership Support Coach in the Eastern Cape province. He provides mentorship, support and guidance to SMTs. He finds that the first interactions between Edufundi and SMTs are critical for undoing preconceptions and building trust from the start. “Often, the SMT’s first reaction is that we are there to police them,” says Simphiwe. This is echoed by Ms. Nomzamo Mnini, Deputy Principal at Ludwe Ngamlana Primary School in Khayelitsha, Cape Town: “At first, I was nervous when Edufundi started ... I thought I was going to be exposed for not doing OK, and I was not able to differentiate them from the subject advisors.”
One of Edufundi’s first steps is to draw up a partnership agreement. “The development of an agreement is very important,” says Simphiwe. “In negotiating these, Edufundi is very clear in wanting the agreement to be a partnership - it combines our expectations and what the school expects.”
Building respect and understanding
Pamala Naicker has been a mentor at Edufundi for several years. She has found that a strong mentoring relationship is built through listening to the teacher and meeting them where they are at. “As a mentor, you need to be a very good listener,” she says. “You need to respect that the teacher is in control of the classroom - as a mentor, you are a fly-on-the-wall!” By quietly observing the teacher in action, she builds up her understanding of the complex challenges and how they can be overcome. It is not about judging the teacher; it's about finding solutions together, while respecting each other's boundaries and expertise. “My mentor did not criticise me,” says Ms. Vuyiseka Xakekile, a Grade 4 teacher at Thembani Primary School in Langa, Cape Town. “She showed me and advised me on how to better approach a lesson.”
For Simphiwe, engaging intimately with SMTs requires tact and a sensitive approach to listening: “The first time I went into these schools I realised how people are hungry for support: just for someone to sit down and listen to them. They tell me that they can offload without feeling judged. I think I bring the element of a listening ear, rather than someone who is judging them.” Nomzamo, the Deputy Principal, reflects on her first engagements with her Edufundi leadership support coach: “I realised that [my leadership coach] wanted to know about me as a person. That is where I started to be more comfortable. I realised that she was not there to police me. I had to change my ability to say that I needed help.”
Making a relationship work through boundaries and honesty
Once these foundations are set down, it is through ongoing honesty and trust that a fruitful mentorship relationship can grow. This is a two-way street.
Establishing realistic expectations is important. “You need to keep your promises and be honest that you deliver on things, or say ‘no, I cannot do that,’” says Pamala. “We are not here to please teachers but to set realistic expectations.” Within that framework, honesty is very important. Both mentor and teacher must be accountable, stick to the plan, communicate about any shortcomings, and own up to mistakes. In this regard, Simphiwe tries to lead by example. “We must build trust with SMTs for the process to work well,” he says. “I must be genuine with the SMT. I must not pretend to be someone else. In doing so, the SMT starts to see that I create a safe space, in which trust and confidentiality is key.”
Exploring vulnerabilities to build strategies and resilience
The Edufundi Support Programme builds strategies and resilience by exploring, at first, what a school’s challenges are. This can be sensitive and difficult to work through. “There are cases,” says Simphiwe, “where people are defensive. They do not want to share their challenges.” Creating a safe space for SMTs and teachers to explore these vulnerabilities is vital if mentorship is to be genuine and effective.
Deputy Principal Nomzamo reflects on how trust was built between Edufundi and the SMT. “At those [LLAC] workshops, we realised that we had to go back to our drawing board and to find our strengths and weaknesses as a team and as individuals,” she says. “And we realised that it is OK not to know. It is OK to ask for help. It is OK to ask for advice. So personally, it made me grow into a leader today.”
For the positive changes made through the Edufundi Programme to be maintained into the future, the school needs to develop agency. Guiding and equipping the leaders to find their own solutions is therefore very important. “It is their journey,” says Simphiwe, “and you must allow them to come up with their own solutions. They must see you as a person who will support them in this journey to finding their own solutions.”
We are not here to add to your workload: dovetailing with teachers’ lives
Pamala emphasises the importance of slotting into teachers’ timetables and not adding to their work pressures. In fact, the mentorship programme seeks to develop systems that make teachers’ work more streamlined and efficient, thus relieving stress.
Vuyiseka exemplifies this with the Exit Ticket technique, which checks learners’ understanding of the lesson content. “Before, I could not get to mark all the books. But with the Exit Ticket technique, I can see who understood and who did not understand, so that I can re-do the lesson or do some extra intervention for the learners that did not understand,” she says.
Building these kinds of teaching skills need to be done in a way that suits the teacher’s approach and rhythm. “We break things down into small, manageable sections so that the teacher can practise it, until the teacher has it almost as a habit,” says Pamala. “When it is bite-sized, the teachers are able to practise it, master it, and incorporate it. That in turn allows them to take ownership.”
This approach is used for supporting the SMTs, too. As Nomzamo explains,
“I was unable to fit everything in. I thought, how would I give feedback to teachers, and visit and evaluate them? Then I sat down with Vuyo [Leadership Coach at Edufundi]. I confessed that I was not coping, and I could not fit in all the workload. That is when we started to talk about the term planner and share it with my educators. Then I started to realise that this was relieving my workload, and it was running smoothly.”
This bespoke approach to creating workable solutions requires patience and flexibility from Edufundi, too. “You must also not demand too much,” says Simphiwe. “These people have classes to teach and a busy workload. As much as we hold them accountable, we must also have a level of flexibility and realism with them.”
In many ways, the success of the Edufundi Support Programme is exponential. If the mentorship has a positive impact on the school, and the teachers and SMTs see the positive changes around them, the trust between the school and Edufundi grows deeper. This, in turn, allows for more opportunities and possibilities for change. As Nomzambo says, “as we started to see changes in our own SMT, this also grew the trust with Edufundi. And so it grows onwards!”