Monday, 30 January 2017

New Standards for children and screen time



Matt uses his iPad during class every day

In Time magazine of 7 November 2016, there was an interesting parenting article that confronts our current knowledge about the positive and negative affects of young children using technology. The American Academy of Pediatrics used to warn that any amount of time spent on technology, even educational apps, would lead to poor reading, or bad language skills. They have recently changed their stance against screen time, and instead published some pointers to help parents. The article really made sense so I decided to share some of their thoughts on how to help your children have a better relationship with technology.
Firstly, Dr David Hill, spokesperson for the AAP’s Council on Communications and Media, says that babies as young as 18 months get great pleasure from technology that connects them to people. Therefore when one parent is away on business, or grandparents live far away, a good idea is to use videochat for them to connect with the absent family. Not mentioned in the article but something I have seen used very effectively for a similar reason, is to load family photographs onto an unused cellphone and give it to the young child. Particularly when photographs include those of the child themselves, this entertains the child for a long while, reinforces family bonds and memories.
Ethan and mom, Rose, working on the library computer
The second suggestion Dr Hill has is that parents should watch good programmes with their children between the ages of 2 and 5. If the parent engages with the child while watching good content on a podcast, the learning, which results from this, can be used everywhere else.
Thirdly he warns parents that they should make sure they know what their older children are watching. He reminds us again that we need to ensure that programmes with violence or explicit sex are not available to children of any age because they learn from what they see.
Finn researching for a school project
‘Be a good example yourself’, he reminds us! So, turn off your phone at certain times, don't leave the television on continually and watch good content. He also reminds us to lead by example when operating on social media – if our children see us insulting someone online they will think that that’s acceptable behaviour. This point reminds me that we should also ensure that we show our children that we can manage without technology while on holiday for instance. Read your own paper novels as well as literature found on your Kindle, too.

Finally he asks that we keep open minds and be sensible about limiting screen time, and allowing children to engage with the right content. If these points are born in mind, no technology will damage your child in their formative years.

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.