Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Developing spiritual intelligence in our school community

My reading lately has been around developing intelligence in people, and I have been particularly interested in the recent focus on Spiritual Intelligence. Cindy Wigglesworth, the President of Deep Change, Inc, has written an article on the history of ‘intelligence’, which culminates in her sharing her definition of spiritual intelligence and why she thinks the world today is in desperate need of this intelligence being developed.

How high can you go?
When we adults were at school, intelligence tests only told our teachers and parents about whether we were mathematically and linguistically intelligent. Those who struggled to read or compute were considered not to be ready to succeed in the world. In reality, we know that this is not true as many really successful people were not great at school!

In 1983, Howard Gardner wrote a book which had us new teachers really excited – he declared that actually people had 7 intelligences and that we as teachers should be encouraging children to develop in all 7. Later he reviewed his idea by joining ‘interpersonal’ and ‘intrapersonal’ intelligences together into emotional intelligence. He was also one of the first ‘thinkers’ to suggest that there was also a ‘philosophical intelligence’.

Team building at its best!
Daniel Goleman then continued the intelligence discussion with his book in 1985. He said that ‘star performers had significantly stronger relationship and personal networks than average performers’. He joined Richard Boyatzis to declare later that EQ was made up of skills in 4 quadrants: self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills and ‘other’ awareness. After research Goleman and Boyatzis found that self-awareness needed to be grown before any of the others as a person couldn’t do any of the others if they weren’t aware of their feelings etc.  

Cindy defines spiritual intelligence as ‘ the innate human need to connect with something larger than ourselves’. She says this has 2 components: a horizontal and a vertical component. The vertical component is obvious – the connection to a higher being, and the horizontal component is ‘service to our fellow human beings and to the planet at large’.

Pinelands North Primary has always developed spiritual intelligence in our pupils. Leadership activities like LEAP, which was put together for grade 4 to 7 pupils in the first week of our 2017 school year, encourage children to reflect on their own growth in kindness, persistence, generosity of spirit and that of others. These activities also encourage children to be relentless in their pursuit of life. Children learn to reflect on how they can be more courageous in tackling life’s issues themselves, and then help others battling in life too.

As part of this programme we have developed a pathway of thought in the quiet quad alongside the hall. Children are encouraged to go there if they are struggling with the ‘boulders’ in their lives, to reflect, have some quiet time or just to sit and think. We are also currently building a labyrinth in another quad, Beck se Plek, and will be changing the ‘flooring’ to various different textures.

Creating thinking stones for the Quiet Quad
The animals at our school create beautiful opportunities for empathy development - duckling dying after being attacked by a crow IS sad, but is also necessary as food for the crow. Not chasing our animals is another thing we insist on – questions are asked which allow children to reflect on their feelings about being chased, and so we help them understand how animals feel.

Creating 'flags' for our Quiet Quad
Cindy ends her article by explaining why she thinks spiritual intelligence is so important in our current world. She correctly notes that most wars are caused by diverse religious beliefs, so if we teach children to ‘behave with compassion and wisdom, while maintaining inner and outer peace, regardless of the circumstances’, we will be creating adults for the world who can become empathetic presidents of countries who will think twice and negotiate in faith before considering invading another country.

Family dinner times are perfect times for families to share thoughts that help children learn about spiritual intelligence. While having supper, ponder some of these questions as a family:
What did you do today that showed your friends you can be generous?
How were you courageous this weekend?
Tell me one wise thing your teacher told you today? Why was it ‘wise”?
What will you do the next time you have a fight with your siblings, that shows that you can be forgiving?

Obviously the adults that children come into contact with need to model these spiritual intelligent behaviours too. They have a very important role to play in showing children how to be respectful of other religions and peoples, how to reconcile family arguments, and how important it is for people to have some time in their week when they are mindful, meditate or practice their beliefs. By doing this, you are creating spiritually intelligent adults for 2030!

Additional reading: Google ‘spiritual intelligence’ or go to www.deepchange.co

Friday, 6 January 2017

What's the fuss about hair?

The Anderson family wearing the same sports' uniform
The fuss in the press lately about hair, uniforms and other possibly discriminatory policies at schools, has had me confused. I had just presumed that all schools had been changing over the years in the same way as Pinelands North has done. When the SA Constitution and the UN Convention of the Rights of Children, declared that everybody, including children, have rights to many freedoms, we took that literally and so have changed the wording in our policies that might have caused distress and unease over the years. This isn’t because we feel ‘generous’ to children, it is actually about giving children what is owed to them.

Changing our uniform in 2003 was the first step. After discussions with all role players, our very colonial boys' uniform of tie, blazer, long sleeve white shirts, grey shorts or trousers, and red checked dresses or maroon gym slip, white shirt and tie for girls, changed to an all season, unisex uniform of navy shorts or trousers, golf shirt and maroon fleece. This change was radical at the time, and we received lots of flack for the change – some more conservative families actually chose not to send their children to the school because our uniform 'was not smart enough' any longer.

The Bohms family wearing the same school uniform 
In about 2008 the hair regulations also changed, so since then the policy has read:  If hair touches the collar, it should be tied up. So far only two boys have chosen to wear their hair longer and so have had it tied up too. No boy has yet tested the earring 'rule'. This part of the dress code reads: Only a pair of small gold or silver studs may be worn.   

Transgender children have also found a home at our school. Because we have a unisex uniform, the transition is easier. After being at our school for 3 years, Angela (not her real name), came out to the school this year. After her mom told her peers' parents, she told her grade. She is exceptionally proud of the fact that she 'changed' our swimming costume 'rule' - she asked us to allow children to wear their maroon shorts over their swimming costumes, to protect children who wanted more covering over their bodies when swimming.

Other changes over the years have happened whenever we have realised that, with another small change, we can become even more inclusive. Next year our Red-a-Fair in March will be raising much needed funds to convert all our school bathrooms to single toilets which are accessed directly from the passage. This year we completed our new ablution block on the fields and these are unisex toilets. Why so much money was expended on creating school toilets with ante-rooms in front of the toilets, is mind boggling.

Pinelands North continues on the inclusive journey…..every time we make accommodations for one group in the school, the whole school benefits. For us it is not about getting media attention because we generously choose to listen to our children – we listen to our children, our parents and our staff and try, as far as possible and as often as is necessary, to create a better society for us all to inhabit. After all, isn’t that what education should be about?  

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Pushing Boulders

I am sitting and reflecting on the title of Athol Williams' autobiography. Athol is an uncle of two pupils at our school, and he has recently been collaborating with staff and pupils, particularly in writing poetry. 
Leading a school over the past twenty years has involved many boulders; from pushing them over the hill, to going around them or climbing over them. Education in South Africa is not for the feint hearted! If you want to provide the very best education to as many of South Africa's children as possible, the odds are stacked against you! Not only because of finance and funding issues, but also the belief by many citizens today that the right to education does not come with any responsibilities. An admission denial, for example, is seen as a personal affront, and is very often taken to education officials, including the Minister of Education. Luckily these admission appeals are taken seriously and, because our school always follows the rules regarding admissions, we have never been told to accept any child we have previously turned away. 
Other 'boulders' besides admissions are assessment criteria changing annually, overloaded curriculum requirements, personal family problems spilling over into unreasonable demands or anger against teachers or the school, and a lack of support from departmental officials when 'the chips are down'!
One positive thing about facing all these boulders over the years, is that boulders make you stronger and braver every time you overcome one! This means that I am much braver today than I was in 1997. Principalship requires huge bravery because one is often left standing alone....either by parents, officials or staff. If this happens today, I know it is temporary and as long as I keep focussed on the goal and the children's best interests, the boulder will eventually be surmounted. In years gone by I would have 'sweated' about the boulder and often blamed myself for the boulder being in the way of progress.
I will never be arrogant about overcoming school boulders - each boulder needs to be treated as important, to be dissected until the very best outcome can be achieved for everybody concerned. Boulders make us stronger as human beings, they make us value the calm and quiet times in between boulders. So, consider every boulder as an opportunity to become braver, as a gift or opportunity to rethink the things you stand for....you certainly will be stronger afterwards!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Teaching Empathy for Animals is Essential

Grade 4s feeding the ducklings at break
While sitting in the Company Gardens having breakfast on a Saturday morning, I watched a 7 year old boy chasing an Egyptian goose with a broken wing. Every time the poor goose hopped out of his reach, he ran to persecute the goose some more. When the goose flew up onto a statue, he started chasing the pigeons instead. While he created havoc amongst the bird life outside, his parents were happily ensconced in the warm cafe. 
I used my 'principal' voice to make him stop, and as I did so, I felt indignation, not only that his parents obviously hadn't taught him empathy for animals, but also towards his school! He obviously was at a school that didn't teach the 'soft' curriculum!

Imaan taming budgies for the library
Ethan and Sarah feeding Cornflake
I then realised, all over again, how important it is that Pinelands North has animals all over the school, and that we subtly teach children very day about how we should care for animals. When the children watch me speaking firmly but gently to Peroni, my puppy, they learn that it unnecessary to shout, or smack, or 'hurt'. When children watch Uncle De Villiers diligently clean swimming ponds, food bowls and aviaries, we are subtly telling children that it is important to treat animals in the same way in which we would like to be treated. When we talk to children about not feeding the puppies at school, we are also teaching the children the importance of feeding the right food to animals. When we insist on the classroom budgies being fed before we continue with our school work we are telling children that we should never allow an animal, no matter how big or small, to suffer hunger or thirst. This creation of empathy for animals is a slow, sure process but the difference between children who understand empathy, and those who don't, is wide ranging. A child who understands that animals feel pain will never intentionally hurt an animal. Even when they hurt animals unintentionally, they are devastated. I am always impressed by the child who, when we practise evacuation drill at school, will walk onto the field carrying their class budgie or rat cage - that is a child who forever will empathise with animals. This too, would be a child who could safely be left to their own devices in the Company Gardens.

Monday, 6 June 2016

When Bad Things Happen in Good Bikinis......

Flying away from home and school on an airplane to China last month, I started reading a book I had bought for my book club. The book When bad things happen in good bikinis by Helen Bailey, covers blog posts she writes after her husband drowned while they were on holiday together. One of the blog posts I read is entitled 'One green bottle'. This post tells of a special bottle of champagne a friend gave her and her husband, and how they kept it instead of drinking it.....there never seemed to be a special enough occasion to drink the champagne! When he dies, she realizes that every day with him was a special occasion - when she finally opens it, she has to throw it away because it has 'died' too. 

 I stopped reading! How many things do we 'save' for another 'better' occasion? Why do we keep lead crystal wine glasses for some time we want to celebrate? Why don't we go up the cable car with our children, just because the wind isn't blowing and the air is warm tonight? Why don't we buy the Lego kit our child wants, just because we can? What if tomorrow doesn't come? My sister-in-law has just been diagnosed with MS this week and she can't see out of one eye.....what if we lose our sight tomorrow? Why didn't I rush to Camps Bay and take photographs of the sunset yesterday when I could see it still with 2 eyes? Don't put off anything that needs to be done today....tomorrow might not bring the same opportunities that today brought....

Friday, 22 April 2016

A cultural eye-opening trip to China....

With Professor Qin, Director of the Confucius Institute
I have just had the privilege of spending 10 days in China, with the compliments of the Confucius Institute at UCT. Pinelands North started teaching Mandarin as an extramural in January 2016, and this term we already have about 70 children in the programme, ranging from grade 3 to 7.This institute provides teachers and workbooks at no cost to those who wish to learn this Chinese language. The purpose of the trip was to take principals of schools where Mandarin was being taught, or where the school had expressed an interest in starting the programme, to both southern and northern China, to be immersed in the culture to better understand the people.
Before this trip, my only experience of the Chinese as a nation was while I travelled overseas, and it wasn’t a positive one! In Turkey and Greece every relic had at least one Chinese lady posing with a selfie stick……and usually for a very long time too while they took several different views of themselves. Also on that overseas trip, when we asked about why there was no kettle in the hotel room, we were told that they aren’t provided in rooms any more because the Chinese boil water for their tea all day. I had also been told that the air in Beijing was so thick with smog that you couldn’t breathe, and that every Chinese person spat in the street all the time….

Our trip started in Guangzhou, a modern city of 16 million people, just north of Hong Kong, and ended in Beijing, the capital city of the north, 10 days later. During the trip we attended 2 schools, 2 universities, and saw many of the best tourist attractions in China, including The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, Tia He Men Square and the Summer Palace. We met some amazing people along the way, South African and Chinese!
So, herewith some of my cultural learning from the trip……
  • Chinese names are written completely differently from those in the west. The first name is the family or surname, and this name is followed by a middle name taken from the ancestral family tree, followed by the child’s given name. This enables families to inform the ‘world’ of how long their family has been in existence!
  • Because of the congestion in Beijing, not everybody can have a car. If you want to buy a car, you put your name into a lottery, and only if you ‘win’ the lottery can you buy a number plate. And only then can you buy a car! Even when you have a car, you can’t drive to work everyday. Depending on the final number on your number plate, and what day of the week it is, one day of every week you need to leave your car at home because it may not be on the road! Everybody can drive over weekends however!
  • We painted our own fans....
    Chinese sisters learning to take selfies
  • Tea making is very important in Chinese culture. Tea is had without milk and sugar, and with every meal, as well as a social occasion on it’s own. Markets sell lots of different teas made from leaves and flowers, each with their own ‘nose’ and palate. Markets sell tea sets, tea pots too, all beautifully decorated with Chinese writing, traditional flowers and typical scenes.
  • Chinese calligraphy is traditionally done in black with paintbrushes, and is no longer written back to front as was done in the past. The calligrapher ‘signs’ their name with a red seal after writing a poem or motivational message.
  • Chinese food varies from south to north, and is very different from ‘westernized’ Chinese food – initially we found eating noodles, pumpkin and dumplings for breakfast very hard, but when we moved to Beijing and went to ‘tourist’ restaurants, we rejected the usual ‘sweet and sour’ type foods that we think is ‘traditional’ Chinese cuisine. Fish and other seafood is eaten at every meal in the south, but beef, pork, lamb and Peking duck is more common in the north. I loved eating chillis with every meal too! Carbohydrates are seldom eaten, and I didn’t see one fat Chinese person. 
  • Interaction between ‘business’ partners in the Chinese culture is much more formal than in the west. Every meeting is ‘sealed’ with a group photograph to ‘record’ the interaction, and gifts are exchanged as part of the meeting.
  • People in the west imagine that China is still ‘stuck’ in the past but the reality is that Guangzhou has 3 of the 5 tallest buildings in the world, and the most up-to-date library I have ever seen! We were lucky enough to travel from Guangzhou to Beijing on the ‘bullet’ train, which at times travelled at 307km per hour!
  • The history of China is vast – Guangzhou is at least 2200 years old and one of the first destinations on the Silk Road. We heard lovely stories of emperors, hutongs, warriors from Manchuria, how the Chinese developed their writing and how the dragon came into being….all these stories made me want to get home quickly to start reading up on the history as soon as possible!
    Some of the group at Tia He Men Square
  • China no longer has a ‘one child’ policy. When the population started getting older rather than younger, the People’s Party announced that every family could now have 2 children, and I only saw one family that had 3 children.

I am really glad I went to China! I feel that I have opened my perspective and learnt so much about a part of the world I knew little about!