Blame or Change – Your Choice!

Change - ObamaPhoto source (without quote):

Effective leaders often need to break new ground, challenge assumptions and introduce new thoughts to well-established traditions. This is certainly true of school principals. They need to consider the existing demands of national curriculum statements and the expectations of the broader school community. They need to be aware of the realities of hard-working teaching staff who have become bruised and battered over the years by the changing goalposts of curricula dictated by state and provincial education departments. While considering all these realities, they are also tasked with bringing effective change to ensure relevant teaching practice and dynamic learning opportunities for all the pupils in the school.

The challenges listed in the previous paragraph coupled with the very real element of fear and reprisal can lead school principals to adopt a “we’ve always done it this way” approach. In no way do I advocate change for change’s sake but when change will improve the learning experience for pupils and will create a more dynamic learning environment, it is up to the school leader to pick up the reins and drive the change process.

It can become too easy to blame the Department of Education, the CAPS curriculum, the lack of resources, poor parental support and so on for perpetuating poor teaching practice. The losers in this scenario are both pupils and teachers. It is up to the school leader to put in the hard yards in learning about new ideas, preparing and implementing an effective change plan. This is a scary prospect for many principals who have never had any previous experience in leading change but perhaps becoming an educational dinosaur leading a school which continues to operate in a time warp is a lot more scary!

In my experience the most effective tool in bringing about effective change in a school is COMMUNICATION.

Without open communication the principal risks being a lone voice unsupported by the very people who are needed for effective implementation of the change. A mistake I have often made is that I have rushed this critical aspect and have then found it much more difficult down the line to bring staff and parents on board the change process. Changes to curriculum and any other aspect of teaching need to  be communicated clearly and early on to the academic staff. They need to know the reasons for the proposed change and how the change will affect them. Will it require more time commitment for planning? Will teachers be required to redesign lesson plans or revisit their assessment procedures? What new administrative tasks will be required? Is there clarity on what benefits teachers will derive from the proposed change? Do the teachers understand how the proposed change will bring about more effective learning in their classroom?

Innovation and change are two distinct concepts and should not be confused. There are way too many principals who think that regular change makes them innovative school leaders. This is simply not true and too much change can create confusion, mistrust and anger. Innovation involves well thought through and considered risk taking which can lead to incredibly effective change.

Creative risk taking is essential to success in any goal where the stakes are high. Thoughtless risks are destructive, of course, but perhaps even more wasteful is thoughtless caution which prompts inaction and promotes failure to seize opportunity. – Gary Ryan Blair

Change will never come to those who choose to sit on their hands because they are paralysed by thoughts of failure or because they are afraid of the inevitable push-back from certain quarters. Effective leaders of change are those who can see the need for change and become involved in bringing the needed change to reality with the help of their team. I certainly do not want to be a school principal who is afraid of change. I want to be a principal who sets the course for change and brings his team with him in the implementation process. If at the end of 2014 I look back on the year and this is all I have achieved professionally then I’ll be a very happy man.


The Way It Needs To Be

From The Solutions Journal comes this quote from Peter Senge:

I believe that the Industrial Age system of education that has spread around the world in the past 150 years will change dramatically in the coming decades.

The assembly-line progression of grades (first, second, third, etc.) coordinated by a fixed curriculum and headed by teachers in charge of students’ learning has grown increasingly out of touch with the realities of today: the global interconnectedness of economics, politics, and culture; the Internet, which puts more and more information at students’ fingertips; and businesses that need people who can think for themselves and collaborate effectively in teams to solve complex problems.

While mainstream school systems are obsessed with standardized test scores and intense individual competition, education innovators are focused on higher-order skills like systems thinking and creativity in conjunction with basic skills in mathematics and language; personal maturation together with technical knowledge; and learning how to learn together in service of addressing problems that are real in students’ lives.

Do I hear an “Amen”?

Original article here


Who’s Paying?

One of the constant struggles I experience in my leadership of our school is the constant stream of requests for school fee subsidy. More now than ever before families are experiencing financial pressure and are looking for ways to reduce monthly expenses.My colleagues in other schools report the same phenomenon.

Our school is an independent school and as such receives no subsidisation from national or provincial government. Our ability to pay our staff, provide resources for high quality education, pay for operational overheads and maintain our buildings is dependent on fundraising and school fees. Small schools such as ours need to ensure growing enrolment to ensure income is maintained to pay all the necessary monthly bills, including the salaries of staff who continue to give of their best despite their payment being lower than their counterparts in state schools.

Here then is the conundrum : If we close the door to fee subsidy requests we risk losing families who may be in a better position to pay in months to come – a case of having some money in rather than none at all. On the other hand, if we constantly meet subsidy requests based on proven need, we run the risk of compromising our cash flow which could have very serious consequences for operational requirements on an already tight budget.

I admit that I find this a particularly difficult part of my job. We have a subsidy application process and requests are dealt with within a subsidy policy framework. Despite this and the fact that our Board is very supportive of me in this process, I am the one who has to face these parents and their children. I remind myself that parents have a choice as to where to send their children and that this choice is not my responsbility. Sometime this is cold comfort!

I have come to realise that not every parent values education in the way I feel they should. For some the payment of school fees seems to be an optional extra, something they will pay should the disposable income allow it. Fortunately our payment policy soon puts an end to parents thinking they can leave school fee payments to chance. If parents have chosen to send their children to an independent school they must be willing and able to pay the required fees?

It is incredibly humbling to meet parents who are doing everything in their power to afford the required school fees and who are diligent about paying on time. It is also very frustrating, annoying and anger-inducing when parents who are obviously able to afford their children’s school fees choose to pay late or not at all and thereby compromise the financial stability of the school.

Another issue that raises its head is whether it is fair to offer subsidies at all! When fee reductions are given they effectively require the remaining full fee-paying parents to subsidise the reduced-fee pupils. This has an obvious implication when it comes to setting annual school fees as subsidised fees need to be taken into consideration. This can push up the school fees for everyone in the parent body. Is this fair?

Yet another issue is that of the suspension of children due to non-payment of school fees. My business intuition tells me that this is the right way to go while the educator in me pulls in the opposite direction believing that children should be in school and not have to sacrifice educational opportunities because of the irresponsibility of parents. This is a constant struggle in my heart and mind.

What happens in your school? Feel free to share your thoughts and best practice ideas in the comments.

What We Truly Need

My wife came home recently clutching several catalogues from computer/gadget stores. As she passed them on to me to peruse she commented, “What in these do you need?”. Now I have to admit that a large part of me would love to spend several thousands on very intentionally adding to my gadget collection but my personal budget won’t stretch that far! I am also sure that any more gadgets in the house would leave me sleeping on the couch!

My response was simply this : “There’s lots I want, but nothing I need.” I didn’t think much of this until I began preparing myself for the start of the new school term. It occurred to me that the same sentiment applies to schools. I began to wonder what a list of needs and wants would look like for my school. I soon realised that those things that schools need are most often the intangibles, those things which are rooted in people and not bought with fundraising money and school fees.

Trust, empathy, creativity, entrepreneurship, parental engagement, camaraderie amongst staff, experiential learning opportunities, open-mindedness, clear vision, strong moral and ethical compass, an atmosphere of mutual respect and a well-defined accountability system are some of the needs of schools. In the race for larger buildings, more technology, fancier sport facilities and so on, many schools seem to have lost their focus on what is truly important.

Oh yes, there is lots I want for my school but the question is, “Do I need it?”.

I hope that I don’t fall into the trap of focusing too much on the wants of my school and thereby lose touch with the reality of those things we truly need.

Presentation Upload – Social Media And Your School

I am now on mid-year break and am finally catching up on all my outstanding admin – including this blog!

The previous post mentioned the talk that Tim Keller and I were giving at a workshop in Cape Town. Here is the presentation :

Social Media and Your School – presentation

My friend Tim Keller and I will be presenting a workshop for principals (South African Principals’ Association) entitled “Social Media and Your School” tomorrow at Norman Henshilwood High School.

Does your school use social media? Do you have a social media policy for pupils and/or staff? What role does social media play in your marketing plans? Is there someone on staff assigned to social media? Should you concern yourself with this “fad”?

These questions are extremely relevant to schools today and it is shocking to me to find that most schools have only given social media a cursory glance. In a world where interacting on social media has overtaken pornography as the number one online activity and where reputations (both personal and corporate) are made and broken through the power of collaborative discussion, schools cannot, dare not, think that they can shut themselves off from the power and omnipresence of social media.

Not only are parents and community members on social networks, pupils are as well. Are we teaching them the skills needed to be responsible and safe while using these tools or do we simply ban their use at school and blindly assume that they will be alright while accessing them at home?

Digital literacy and digital lifeskills should be compulsory components in school curricula. I don’t see that at present in many school and I believe one of the biggest reasons is the lack of a suitably interested or qualified teacher. I also believe that it many cases the school principal is also blissfully unaware of the need for education in this sphere.

With all this in mind, Tim and I are in the process of setting up a consultancy to work with schools in the fields of social media and helping teachers utilise the power of technology to teach in more effective and creative ways. There is more to Google than searching for information…

If you would like us to speak at your school or would simply like to know more, please drop us a line at

We cannot afford to ignore this … what are you doing about social media in your school? Leave a comment and share your thoughts…

Update – see presentation here