From the editor

| November 7, 2014 | 0 Comments

On page 34 of this summer edition of Independent Education, Lehlohonolo Mofokeng, busy with his honours degree in policy and governance in education at the University of the Free State, suggests that maths teachers “use the rondavel, a common sight in Africa, as a way to illustrate the circumference of a circle”.

The power of the circle underpinned the recent South African Heads of Independent Schools annual conference, hosted by the Eastern Cape branch of the ISASAaffiliated organisation and held in Port Elizabeth.

The conference theme was ‘make the circle bigger’, taken up on multiple levels as delegates renewed collegial ties, welcomed new heads to ISASA, paid tribute to retirees and learned about new strategies for teaching, learning and leadership from both international and South African speakers.

My circle became golden when I met and listened to keynote speaker Dr Loretta Giorcelli, who heads up her own educational consultancy service in New South Wales, Australia. For 45 years, this remarkable woman has worked with organisations ranging from the United Nations to orphanages, from Cyprus to Papua New Guinea and everywhere in between, looking at learning challenges.

In Port Elizabeth, Giorcelli talked with ISASA heads about ‘difference’ and inclusion, how these issues are being tackled in Australian schools and how we can learn from the latest international research. Given that our South African students come from such diverse cultural, linguistic, social and economic backgrounds, (as is the case in many countries), it’s time to stop talking about ‘children with special needs’ and to start understanding that every child has a special need, suggested Giorcelli. Children may not enter your classroom with a medical diagnosis, but most certainly, each will have a learning or behavioural need that requires teachers to be energetic and expert enough to tweak their strategies and practices.

For it’s teachers that make the difference when it comes to effective differentiation and inclusion, says Giorcelli. If you’ve an educator at your institution who drags herself to school every day to struggle through ‘another year of Macbeth’, the hard truth is that she doesn’t belong there anymore.

Where students consistently demonstrate academic and personal achievement, they do so because their teachers, despite all the bureaucratic challenges they face, enter the classroom everyday ready and more than willing to ‘scaffold’, ‘chunk’, ‘target’, ‘embed technology’ and accommodate prior learning (watch out for coverage of these strategies in future editions).

These are just some of the many skills today’s teachers must acquire, and the most important of all of them, said Giorcelli, are collaborative inquiry and co-teaching, practised at a sophisticated level to achieve best possible outcomes for all learners.

Our pages have always provided the perfect place for the exchange of innovative and effective education ideas, such as those of Mofokeng, who echoes the advice of Giorcelli when he says, “Teachers should… give learners more opportunities to demonstrate how they learn best. Why not task those learners who understand some complex mathematical concepts with tutoring those who do not? Then everyone is teaching and everyone is learning.”

Says Brad Adams, executive director of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition (IBSC) on page 30, “At a time of concern about international trends in boys’ disengagement from schooling… it is not an exaggeration to say that every month, somewhere in the world, IBSC member schools are meeting to discuss and share what works especially well to energise teaching and learning in their classrooms.”

In South Africa, race is still as contentious an issue as gender and on page 53, you can read some of the answers that Lara van Lelyveld, who teaches at St Nicholas Diocesan School in Pietermaritzburg, in KwaZulu-Natal, posits to her own question: “How do we develop strong, capable learners who can deal with challenges, when we do not speak to them openly and honestly [about race]?” And across the country, in Elim, Limpopo, at new ISASA member Mahonisi Christian Learning Centre (page 17), Shirley Masia some time ago discovered the joy shared by many committed teachers when the school became a formal reality: “Suddenly,” she recalls, “I was no longer an unemployed new graduate. I had a purpose: to give back to my own community.”

Widening the circle as much as possible is also what keeps Kearsney College in KwaZulu-Natal ticking. On page 56, you can share the school’s justifiable pride in its choir’s latest triumphs, achieved in large part because, says Sue Miles, “Amongst the 64-member choir are the captains of the school’s 1st hockey and basketball teams, 1st team rugby, cricket, soccer and water polo players, a KwaZulu-Natal U20 basketball player and a Craven Week rugby player. This is proof of a timetable that works: the school’s daily schedule is designed so that boys never have to choose between sport and cultural activities.”

I’m convinced that on every single page of this summer edition (I can’t resist urging you on to page 50 to learn how Bishop Bavin School in Gauteng started a special language school to welcome foreign students), some item will widen your own circle.

For example, says Marelise van der Merwe on page 38, “Unwanted children are not the problem of the poor. They are the single factor that can make the biggest difference to the functioning of our world… Go forward, and each day, do one thing to make a thrown away child feel important. Do one such thing every day. You may never know the difference it makes. But believe me – and I know this from experience – it does.”

Category: Regular Columns, Summer 2014

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