Proper preparation: Thornview Prestige College

| March 11, 2016 | 0 Comments

Due to the dire need for quality education in the Soshanguve area near Pretoria in Gauteng, Thornview Prestige College opened its doors in January 2015, with more than 900 learners
enrolled on its first school day.

Prestige’s ‘mother school’, long-time ISASA member Prestige College Hammanskraal (PCH) in Gauteng, has been delivering quality education from Grade 000 to Grade 12 since 1992 and has become a landmark in the community.

In 2012, Pierre Tredoux and Jannie Fourie from Barnstone (Pty) Ltd1 and Robby and Thana Pienaar from PCH collaborated to share a common vision, and the idea of the Prestige College Schools Group was born. Thornview Prestige College is supported by the Schools and Education Investment Impact Fund of South Africa.2 Funded by Old Mutual3 and the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF)4 through the Public Investment Corporation (PIC)5 and managed by Old Mutual Investment Group,6 the Schools and Education Investment Impact Fund of South Africa was launched in 2011 and currently has 1.2 billion available for financing affordable, quality, sustainable, independent schools. The fund does not provide any grants or donations, and all finance invested needs to be repaid.

The Prestige College Schools Group model is based on the success achieved at PCH, which has consistently maintained a 100% pass rate with a university exemption rate of between 70% and 85% for many years. Matriculants commonly achieve seven distinctions in their final examinations and learners participate widely in many Olympiads, which afford them the opportunity to participate nationally and internationally in countries such as Taiwan, Germany and England. PCH is part of the eight-school-strong Global Alliance for Innovative
Learning,7 which consists of likeminded schools from different continents. Each year, learners from each alliance school attend a conference on a different continent to discuss and act on global issues.

The new kid on the block

Thornview Prestige College now offers its students an equally rich array of educational choices – from music, ballet, contemporary dance, gumboot dance, marimbas, art classes, public speaking and drama to athletics, football, netball, chess, cross-country and cricket.

The new classrooms are well-equipped with the technological resources needed to ensure that all learners can build relevant skills and knowledge to work towards success in their own futures. Education at Thornview is pursued in a caring environment underpinned by Christian principles.

Thornview principal, Hannelie Berrangé, taught at PCH between 1993 and 2014. As a new school leader, her vision was informed by this experience: “At both Prestige colleges, school senior leadership teams, teachers, parents and the community work collaboratively to support students in becoming highly motivated, creative and innovate thinkers who are ready to face the challenges of the future. We realise that we have to prepare our learners for a world that does yet not exist. We want our learners to be reflective thinkers who are able to control their emotions and take some ownership of their curricular and cocurricular activities.”

Berrangé had to deal with some unexpected curveballs. She recalls: “As Thornview began, we immediately implemented elearning, involving all students from Grade 5 to Grade 10. We thought that we had anticipated all of the challenges, as PCH had already walked the same path before us. However, it was a learning curve for all of us. All learners are excited about shiny tablets, but the mindshift from using the digital device for education and not entertainment has been a painful one for many students. Some days, the burden of broken screens and stolen tablets feels like an overly heavy load. However, we persevere, with the support of ITEC.8 Our goal is to have all assignments completed on tablets by 2016.”

Proper planning

Such perseverance is the hallmark of a school that’s serious about success. So is proper planning, even in the face of unpredictability. Management teams at these two ISASA schools in Hammanskraal and Soshanguve have certainly thought through a relevant pedagogical approach, articulated by Berrangé: “We help our students develop 21st century skills, such as communication skills – developed through information technology (IT), classroom dialogue and presentations; independent and collaborative working skills; various thinking skills – analytical, critical, logical and reasoning – and the ability to acquire and use knowledge, self-reflection and evaluation to support personal growth and problem-solving. We embrace the teachings of people like Howard Gardner,9 pedagogical theories based on whole-brain learning,10 and the Accelerated Learning Cycle.11

“Entrepreneurial skills are also encouraged. We want our learners to grow up knowing that they will be able to thrive financially in the future because they know how to generate an income and manage it well – no matter which career they follow.”

Paving the way for each child to achieve success involves educational partnerships with parents. In this regard, Berrangé can offer good advice to other schools. “We have regular parent workshops and meetings, where we help parents guide their children in such a way that they can achieve success in all areas of their development. At the beginning of the academic year, for example, all junior school parents invest time into learning about the brain profiles12 of their children to support their learning.”

Staff development done the right way

Research into the relationship between the brain and success has fascinated Berrangé since her teaching days at PCH. It’s enabled her to create a vision for Thornview, where teachers think differently about teaching and are able to develop leadership at all school levels. “I want to drive initiatives that emphasise sound ethical values and moral standards to build character in all school stakeholders. By learning about how the brain learns best, we can change the outcome of any present situation. To have a vision is not enough. As leaders, we must empower teachers and learners to make success happen in the school.”

For Berrangé, this empowerment translates into full-time staff development at Thornview. However, development must be relevant, she says, quoting Peter Cole: “There is far too much going to workshops, taking short courses and the like and far too little learning while doing the work. Learning external to the job can represent a useful input, but if it is not in balance and in concert with learning in the setting in which you work, the learning will end up being superficial.”13

All Thornview teachers participate in “comprehensive, needs-focused, continuous professional development, which is delivered and supported in the school by the principal, deputy principals and senior staff members,” says Berrangé. “Ongoing coaching, modelling and feedback form the cornerstone of improvement in pedagogy and effective practice to improve our learners’ results. Every teacher is assisted in achieving targeted knowledge and skills to improve learning and teaching. Effective leadership is essential to drive the success of our philosophy; therefore, leadership development supports individuals to sharpen their understanding of their role as leaders of learning in the school improvement process.”

Berrangé aims to implement sustainable school practices that have been observed internationally in successful schools. At Thornview, teachers and school leaders work as a team to embed routines that nurture instructional and leadership excellence via a tailor-made curriculum. She’s proud of the enthusiastic first-year teachers who put their Thornview training into practice and have grown to coach other peers. “We make good classroom practice public,” insists Berrangé, “to enable coaches to spread their pedagogical skills throughout the school.”

Prestige colleges have worked on structured staff training courses and are able to present training of an international standard on various essential teaching matters, such as preparing ‘brain-friendly’ lessons, handling discipline and knowing how to assess. “We submitted the courses that we developed in Hammanskraal for accreditation with the South African Council for Educators (SACE), 14 and are able to award our own professional development points to the in-service training that teachers receive in both our schools.”

How do we approach our staff development?

Berrangé is happy to share Prestige’s recipe for success. She says:
1. The first step is for teachers to become familiar with theory. During subsequent training, the theory is modelled and demonstrated and then reinforced via peer support, team teaching, peer observation and didactic presentations.
2. Teachers get an opportunity to practice the theory by applying principles and reflecting on the challenges that they encounter in the classroom. This part of the process offers teachers the opportunity to internalise teaching practices and establish collaborative practices between colleagues.
3. Feedback and coaching from buddy partners or senior staff members change the structure of existing systems. During this process, the head of staff development in a school can co-teach with a teacher and then gradually release the teacher to practice the principles independently and take control of the classroom.
4. Our Professional Performance Development Programme includes built-in performance indicators against which teachers can measure their practices by reflecting, collaborating and self-evaluating. After evaluation, teachers can rewrite their Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely (SMART) goals to achieve the ‘Taking it to the classroom’ targeted standard. ‘Taking it to the classroom’ is the transfer of training. Teachers have to apply the new knowledge within the teaching and learning context. Once teachers become an expert on a topic and achieve beyond the expected standard, they can take their leadership to the next level by starting to coach peers.
5. Once teachers experience change in their classrooms and change within their learners, they change the way they think about teaching and learning. In our schools, we confirm what and how learning took place by examining qualitative and quantitative evidence on an ongoing basis.

Positive discipline

Berrangé is convinced that schools must take discipline seriously if they are to succeed. She has drawn much of her approach from what she has learned in ISASA-hosted workshops. “Thornview learners come from diverse backgrounds and are confronted with many potentially harmful elements in the community,” she explains. Experience and research have revealed that “many of our learners are driven by their past and not fuelled towards their futures,” she adds.

To combat the effects of trauma and to enhance resilience in the students, both Prestige colleges embrace the positive psychology model, developed by Martin Seligman from the
University of Pennsylvania in the US.15 “The philosophy supports the learner to find identity, meaning and purpose in life. Even our detention sessions became more positive, where learners are given an opportunity to reflect on their behaviour, to discover their signature strengths and use them in new ways. Learners who lose more than 40 points on our system have to participate in a Journey to Excellence in order to get back on track.”

Such occurrences are rare: PCH is well known for the exemplary behaviour of its learners, and Berrangé affirms that Thornview is off to a promising start. “The code of conduct is part and parcel of the identity of our school. We focus on specific values every month. Learners are expected to make the values part of their way of living. We also have a theme of the month, based on biblical principles and supported by a ‘Prestigian’ profile and mindset. For example, a theme might be: ‘Firm discipline is the cornerstone.’ In every area of your life, you should be disciplined. When you are a Prestigian, your profile reflects a person who takes responsibility with a mindset of integrity. A Prestigian does the right thing, even if nobody is looking.”

Bracelets for improved behaviour

To prove that ‘Prestigians’ talk the talk and walk the walk, learners can earn bracelets to wear, says Berrangé, offering the following details:

I value principles that form my character: Red bracelets emphasise the positive choices that students at Prestige make with regard to the way they act and behave. Learners who are awarded red bracelets must be principled, trustworthy, respectful and deep thinkers.
I grow in knowledge: Green bracelets are given to learners who make an effort to engage in personal growth in different areas of their life. Learners with green bracelets are responsible, reflective and knowledgeable, and often take risks inside and outside the school community.
I know myself and others: Yellow bracelets are awarded to learners who show great self-awareness, as well as awareness in their interaction with others. The yellow bracelet focuses on strengths such as balance, communication, caring and perseverance.

Resilience the right goal

Growth is also encouraged in other ways at Thornview. Once again, Berrangé’s explanation reveals a carefully thoughtthrough policy: “Leadership development has no age restriction. At first, learners might attend one of our focus groups to attain background knowledge in the area they wish to serve – either as a tutor (academic support), a life coach (behavioural support and emotional well-being) or a scorpion (discipline). When the results of their efforts become visible, it separates them from the ‘wanna-be’ leaders, who only want to wear the badge. We emphasise that a leader ‘grows’ other leaders: once you have a successor in place to take over or duplicate what you have done in your group, it will prove that you have reached the highest level of leadership where you invested in the life of another.”

The word ‘prestige’ is often defined as the respect and admiration given to someone or something, usually because of a reputation for high quality. Prestige Colleges have understood a further vital component of the notion: sustainability. Berrangé puts it thus: “We can’t change or take away the challenges our learners face, but we can give them an ‘umbrella’ that will make them more resilient to be able to stand in the rain.”

References:

1. See: http://www.barnstone.co.za/.
2. See: http://ww2.oldmutual.co.za/old-mutual-investmentgroup/ boutiques/alternative-investments/our-capabilities1/development-impactfunds/ our-products/schools-investment-fund.
3. Ibid.
4. See: http://www.gepf.gov.za/.
5. See: http://www.pic.gov.za/.
6. See: http://ww2.oldmutual.co.za/.
7. See: http://www.woodstockschool.in/the-global-alliance-for-innovativelearning- gail/.
8. See: http://www.itecgroup.co.za/.
9. See: http://www.tecweb.org/styles/gardner.html.
10. See, for example: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ868336.pdf.
11. See, for example: https://www.causeweb.org/uscots/uscots07/ program/files/breakout2_4.pdf.
12. Says Bottomline Business Consulting: “If you and your child can understand his or her unique learning preferences, you can assist your child to improve his or her academic performance. The application of brain profiling in universities and schools has exponentially increased in the past five years.” (Source: http://www.bbcpro.co.za/services/brain-profiling-learnersstudents/.)
13. See: http://www.aitsl.edu.au/docs/default-source/professional-growthresources/ performance-and-development-resources/professional_ development_a_great_way_to_avoid_change_-_pcole_2004_iartv.pdf.
14. See: http://www.sace.org.za/Professional_Development/jit_ default_24.Professional_Development.html
15. See: http://www.positivepsychology.org/.

Category: Autumn 2016

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