Wednesday, 30 March 2016

A public letter to the staff of PINELANDS North, at the end of the first hectic term of 2016!

Reflecting on the term gone by during the holidays,  I realize once again why I love teaching at PINELANDS North! My words at assembly at the end of the term are true - you are an amazing group of people, all different, from different backgrounds, with different roles to play....but with one purpose, and that is to raise our future South African children, gently and kindly! 

Here are some of the things I appreciate about you! 
You use gentle words when expecting our children to comply with our social norms. 
You teach what is supposed to be taught, according to curriculum, but you also teach a hidden curriculum of conflict resolution, of social justice, of empathy and of care for our fragile world. 
You treat the school as you would your home, so that when the school is under threat from outside, everybody is alert and watchful to ensure we are all safe. 
If you say you will do something, you do, whether that is ensuring there are chairs for parents in classrooms on school in action day, or calling parents to ask them to provide eats for functions. 
You notice dirty things and clean them, or you pick up litter without thinking that it is someone else's job. 
You set a good example to our children by the way you dress and the language you use at school. 
You treat all our living things at school, including our children, gently and with dignity. 
You care for each other, right across the school - someone is always holding someone else's hand while they are dealing with something personal that might have nothing directly to do with school, but affects the person's ability to be fully present. 

The list is endless because as I think of each section of our community, I could add more and more accolades. So, thank you, for the part you have played in the life of the school, and the part you play in making my life easier every day of the year! I appreciate you! 

Thursday, 10 March 2016

The importance of having animals as part of a school community....

Shannon with Cornflake
Since 2000 Pinelands North Primary has had a variety of animals at the school. Currently we have Muscovy ducks, 2 rabbits, several rats, a couple of fish tanks, several budgies, a German Shepherd puppy and a neighbour's cat who believes he belongs to us! Children engage with animals before and after school, and during break times, and help us with feeding and cleaning the animals. They learn to take responsibility for the life of an animal and the realisation that an animal relies on us for everything, starts an empathy process in children.
Angela with Sassie and Tyler
The children who benefit most from our animals are those in some distress. Often children who change schools in the years between grade 2 and 6, are those who have had some difficulty with schooling: either because of social issues, or because of learning problems. These children connect very quickly with our animals, and the relationship which develops from this connection, affects all the child's other school relationships positively. Children learn empathy once they have developed a relationship with an animal too, and this relationship then builds bridges between the child and the staff.
One of the first times we realised how important animals were, was when a new boy was throwing a tantrum in the classroom. His teacher noticed the class budgie in the cage close by, was sitting with his head cocked to one side and quietly watching. She told the boy that 'Buddy' was watching the tantrum and suddenly the screaming and antisocial behaviour stopped! This change in behaviour started a very positive process in behaviour change for this child.
Chane with Robert
Animals allow children to learn life lessons. One of the most  poignant times with our animals was when 2 really tame budgies died on one day, after being at the vet. Several grade 3 children had connected very strongly with these budgies and when they died, we spent most of the day counselling, having funerals and meditating quietly on how important they had become in our lives. One of the children who was affected the most by these 2 deaths, came to see me today to tell me that the cross they put up for these birds had been broken, and that he had fixed it for us - this incident happened 4 years ago! 4 years later this child was still remembering these budgies and how important they had been in his life!
Khayan with Lemon
Animals also have become rewards for progress at school. Particularly when children struggle with social interaction, having an animal as the reward for showing positive behaviours has met with great success. Children who struggle with human interaction often don't struggle to form good relationships with animals.
We have also had success in integrating children and animals when children have never interacted with animals before. Suddenly an animal is close but not threatening, and children learn that they can walk past a puppy without being bitten. Children who haven't ever had animals at home learn how to care for an animal in a nonthreatening way.
Kayden with one of our fishtanks 
Raaniyah with Liefie
The most interesting experience for me was one day when we had several teachers and principals visiting our school from the UK. I had about 6 ducklings in an open topped box outside my office in the passage when they arrived. As we walked by, the teachers gasped, and on investigation, I was told that none of them would ever have ducklings in the passage outside their classrooms - they would fear for the lives of the animals! I then realised what a special school I was at - I didn't ever have to fear children and their behaviour with animals. We were getting something right.....something which would positively influence the future of our population in South Africa!