Monday, 30 October 2017

Managing a school while managing renovations! Almost an impossible task!

Since early July 2017, Pinelands North has had a company employed by the WCED to do scheduled maintenance in their schools, on our premises. First let it be known that we are thrilled that this has happened! I have been principal for more than twenty years at this school, and during this time we have never had this happen before. So, we are not complaining!
However, I have been reflecting on the journey we have taken together, and are still journeying together, and probably will still do into the new year! I would like to place on record, first and foremost, that the Governing Body of Pinelands North made an amazing decision in 2008. We decided to appoint a Business Manager to assist the school principal, after realizing that the principal's job was changing so rapidly that there was no way on earth a principal could manage all the business processes of the school too. We have never regretted making this decision! Our finances have completely turned around and, as principal, I have assistance in all the day-to-day facets of management that an educationalist doesn't need to worry about.
This renovation project is a perfect example! Our Business Manager is able to focus on who is doing what, and when, and how will we move smoothly onto the next phase, while the principal has been able to focus on the staff and pupil needs. We have been asked to ponder on paint colours, on the measurements of windows, on how the new toilets will look but also on how we will manage a school returning after the holiday, with only 2 'boys' toilets still functioning!
And yes, we have had a plan for every day from July until 16 December! The reality though is that in a school that has had superficial maintenance done on it, windows don't close if you paint them for the twentieth time, and paint does start peeling off doors if you put another coat on top of twenty others! Each time this happens, it sets the whole plan back a few days, no matter how much planning preceded the problem!
And then we have parents who become unnecessarily concerned about smells in classrooms which have been closed for a weekend......Heath and safety has been our prime concern at all times. The most 'unsafe' renovations have happened over weekends and holidays, while the school community isn't around.
The workmen have now become our friends, and their supervisors our confidantes. Between us we are managing a building site on which we have 450 pupils daily, and many staff. And yes, in the European Union countries they would have closed the school so that the renovations could be done. At Pinelands North we carry on with teaching, assessments, break time play and sports events. The Business Manager manages the renovation plan and the principal manages the usual school plan - together achieving more than could be achieved in countries just over the waters!

Monday, 9 October 2017

Raising children positively

Melissa and Leigh
When I was young and gave my parents a hard time, I was given a hiding. Most adults my age remember getting hit at school too. Disciplining children today is very different, and particularly at our school. Parents have asked me how best to support the school’s positive discipline strategies, and so here are a few of my thoughts after doing some reading on the matter:

Focus on the value you want to teach, not the behaviour that is worrying you. Only make family rules that are based on the values you want to teach. If your child lies to you about not having homework, don’t focus on the homework that hasn’t been done, but rather on the value of being honest.

The better your relationship with your child, the easier it will be to discipline. When a child does something wrong, focus on the behaviour, but make sure that they know you will always love them, regardless of the behaviour. Children who are anxious will immediately think that you will stop loving them and that aren’t good enough.

Acknowledge when you make mistakes so that children know it is normal to make mistakes. Children must see adults getting things wrong so that they don’t feel the need to be perfect.

Separate a child’s emotions from their behaviour. Tell them you understand that they might be angry or frustrated, but that throwing things at people is not the way to deal with the feeling. If they are very overwhelmed, acknowledge their feelings at that point and deal with the issue later when they are calmer. At times of high emotion, no-one can think clearly.

Don’t do emotional blackmail, threaten or lecture. Make sure that you tell the truth, and you are able to carry out the ‘threat’.

Wendy and Kieran
Routines create safety. Children love routines as boundaries make them feel safe. When things are unpredictable, children want home to be as predictable and safe as possible. Be predictable yourself too – children want the adults in their lives to act predictably. Ensure that the adults who live in your home react in the same manner to all ‘rules’. Children are very clever at manipulating situations if they perceive that the adults in the home think differently.

Give children choices whenever possible. If two things are given as options children still feel as if they have some ‘power’ over their responses. Giving warnings of time also work like this – when you want your children to tidy up, warn them 5 minutes before so that they have some measure of accountability over how the action is carried out.

React appropriately and don’t over react to small things. Save your energy for the important ‘fights’ and let the others go.

Don’t over or under estimate your children. Over estimating children can make them feel like a failure and add to their stress, and underestimating children kills their confidence.

And finally, remember that humans aren’t perfect. Life wouldn’t be worth ‘doing’ if we were perfect when we were born. Mistakes help us learn and grow, and a gentle ‘leader’ helps us still believe in ourselves when we make mistakes. Be gentle on your children and on yourself, and if you are overwhelmed by the ‘disciplining’ job, ask for help – there is plenty around. Contact for the details of some courses you could attend.   

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Good Principal Wanted

Having been the principal of Pinelands North for more than twenty years this year, and realizing that I only have about seven years to retirement, has made me reflect on my appointment and on the teaching fraternity’s view of principalship as a whole.
Few teachers aspire to be principals in the current education climate in South Africa. The wide area of responsibility, little support from education officials and the low salaries compared with other positions in education means that most people who have reached deputy principal level would prefer to stay in that position rather than move up.
They say that a principal’s job is a lonely one. It certainly is as principals often fall into the middle ground between the pupils and the teachers, the parents and education officials, and between the education department and the school community.
The requirements of the job at a school like ours currently means that the principal needs to still be a teacher, but must also be a counsellor of children and adults, a finance and debt collecting whizzkid, a negotiator, a maintenance advisor and project manager, and a human resource manager. Most of those skills are not taught! Certainly not taught while the future principal is a deputy principal and ‘principal in waiting’!
I have also been reflecting on the confidence the Governing Body of this school put in me when they appointed me! I was a woman and very few women had been principals of co-ed schools in 1997, and Pinelands North had had four men over the forty something years up until then. I was also only thirty-seven years of age, had only officially been a deputy for eighteen months, and I wore short skirts and had spiky hair!  
Principals who will lead schools into the future will need even more skill than I currently need. They will lead the school to a destination that is currently not known, using skills that are currently not available and they will still need to walk into the future, bravely and confidently!
Apparently in Finland currently, those people who become principals are usually History or Maths teachers, or they teach Physical Education! In his book “Top Class” Ari Pokka suggests reasons for this: organizing timetables requires logical mathematical thinking, managing, analyzing and interpreting is an historical skill, and organizing large groups of people is often done by physical education teachers!
So, while I am still fit and agile (and not yet 65), we should grow our own ‘timber’- we have seven years to recruit an amazing human being who can lead this wonderful school towards it’s hundredth birthday!