Growing strong school leaders is a key step towards improving schools. In March this year we held our annual retreat for School Management Teams (SMTs) belonging to the SSS Network of twelve schools in the area. One of the high schools was so motivated by the experience that they asked us whether we would be willing to facilitate a similar event for the junior schools in their area, so that the connections between feeder and high schools could be strengthened. Of course we said “yes”!
Thus was born the “Tyelinzima Network” – a powerful group of seven schools’ SMTs, gathered together entirely through the drive of Tyelinzima High School’s highly motivated HOD, Simon Genwale. Early in August we gathered at Ocean View Hotel for a day of learning and collaboration, making use of several tools to think about leadership and school improvement. The first of these is UChicago Consortium on School Research’s framework of the Five Essential Supports – a helpful way of conceptualising school improvement that we’ve adapted for a rural, South African context. Basically, if schools develop strength across all Five Supports – Effective Leadership, Involved Families, Collaborative Teachers, Supportive Environment, and Ambitious Teaching – the likelihood is very high that student attendance and learning will markedly improve. More on that here.
We explored what an Effective Leader looks like in schools here and allowed time for individual and collective reflection about what that might mean for the practice of leadership in our schools. There was further input from Steven Covey’s classic text, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, where Habit #1 (Be proactive/Take responsibility) seems to have particular resonance for schools here. From this, schools set “Wildly Important Goals” that would provide focus for improvement efforts in the remaining months of the year. Finally, there was time to hear from schools about their key challenges (absenteeism; lateness; improving academic performance), to learn how different schools are tackling these, and to discuss ways in which this group of schools can work together in the future towards the goal of “every learner succeeds”.
Our team left encouraged by a group of leaders who seem to be “taking responsibility” for improvements in their schools, and we hope to be able to support the group in meaningful ways in the months and years to come. Our sincere thanks to the Solon Foundation and the Rabbi CK Harris Memorial Trust, who make our work with school leaders possible.