A time to focus on SELF at Kingsmead College

| September 9, 2019 | 0 Comments

BY INGRID BEEKHUIZEN

Schools are highly nuanced, complex and, at times, stressful organisations.

It is therefore important that we find ways to develop our school community’s understanding and practice of wellness at every level – emotional, social, academic, intellectual and physical. We teachers work closely with students whose lives are often at least as challenging and busy as our own. As professionals, we continually encounter wonderful new ideas that might well be worth exploring as part of best practice, while also striving to do our core business: to teach curriculum content; skills and the six ‘Cs’ (character, citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking); develop learning and character dispositions; mentor students’ wellness and growth; expose students to deep, meaningful learning experiences through rich, differentiated lessons; and all in an exciting, playful and relevant way. A student’s learning occurs in a classroom environment that is increasingly growth-oriented, supportive and nurturing, as well as challenging and rigorous. Kingsmead College in Melrose, Johannesburg, is an environment that encourages students to risk responsibly, reflect metacognitively and use mistakes as growth opportunities. Like many others, our school also offers an extensive range of sporting codes and cultural offerings. This overview of a progressive and holistic education is a huge expectation and one we mindfully endeavour to strive for as a whole staff.

The individual matters first and foremost

Our founder, Doris Vera Thompson,1 gave us this motto: ‘The individual matters first and foremost.’ We believe, passionately, that every student has the potential to develop and grow in all aspects of their being, and we spend much time deliberating over how best to ‘see’ and ‘enable’ each girl. We strive to personalise their learning experience; to make learning meaningful and interesting; to empower students towards increasing age-appropriate self-efficacy; to have opportunities to revisit, clarify and consolidate concepts and understandings taught in class; to develop relationships with an adult mentor – to feel that someone at school knows you well… and to try to find balance. We appreciate that our students come from varied contexts, and we welcome the rich diversity of their cultures, experiences and interests.

Time for SELF

It is within this context of striving for excellence in education and with the intention of developing a lifelong love of learning that we considered our students’, parents’ and teachers’ observations regarding the need for some time within the school day to slow down, catch up, have fun and sometimes have a moment just ‘to be’. In an effort to speak to as many of these elements as possible, the idea of ‘SELF-Time’ originated, and is being trialled this year with our Grades 4–7 students in the junior school. SELF-Time is an acronym for Support-Extension-LEAD and Flexi-Time. SELF-Time sessions are timetabled as daily 25-minute timeslots per week for Grades 4–7, with the idea that a student can choose a session according to her current interests and needs. Each grade consists of three classes, where each class is allocated a homeroom.

Time for mentoring groups – LEAD

Each class is, in turn, divided into two smaller LEAD groups, consisting of between nine and 12 students, depending on the number of students in a grade. A teacher is allocated to each LEAD group and is responsible for fostering close relationships with her students and their parents, promoting a sense of belonging for every member, and camaraderie within the group. This teacher mentors each student in her group and tracks their progress and wellness. She is the ‘go-to’ person for her students and their parents – facilitating a nurturing and effective learning experience of the school day in all its facets. As this teacher is involved with each student’s pastoral care, she is best positioned to collate and write her personal report comments, and to oversee the report as a whole, ensuring that the document accurately reflects the student’s learning. The preparation and running of the student-led conferences are facilitated by the LEAD teacher, too. LEAD-Time occurs biweekly, on a Monday and Friday, when LEAD groups meet in their respective venues.

Time for support and consolidation

Finding time for support and the consolidation of concepts taught within the timetable has been our nemesis, as students and teachers are often busy both before and after school. Students are tired by the end of a school day and battle to concentrate during break or after school. They need time to eat, get changed for sport and relax, too. SELF-Time has opened a weekly opportunity for students to meet with any teacher from whom they require assistance to clarify their understanding or practise a specific skill. Teachers might also decide on a concept that needs further explanation for that week. Students may approach any teacher for assistance in any subject. This session is not intended to be a remedial lesson, nor is it only for those who ‘struggle’ – it is open to everyone who needs and wants to learn more, as part of our growth philosophy. With support from their LEAD teachers and parents, students are encouraged to take ownership of their learning by reflecting on where they could improve and how they might do this. We value and commend this smart behaviour as empowering students towards increasing self-efficacy. Given this opportunity, we find that the students are remarkably responsible and insightful in seeking assistance for their learning.

Time for extension

I recently read an article about how, more than any specific subject and given the time, teachers would love to share their passions and interests with their students. This realisation opened a wonderful opportunity for extending and enriching all our students – through teachers eager to share their experience and expertise gained beyond the classroom. The feelings are reciprocated, as our students love interacting with their teachers in a novel and relaxed manner, and even learn from each other. Teachers volunteer to host a weekly session as part of a six- to 12-week module, according to their personal capacity at the time and the requirements of their particular module. It is fascinating to observe how students flourish in this space (for some, it is the highlight of their week) and how teachers enjoy their interactions with the students in a completely different manner. Each module is open to students from Grades 4–7, forming vertical groups and allowing new friendships to develop, furthering a sense of sisterhood. The variety of extension activities on offer is vast and non-gender specific, catering to a large range of our students’ interests and potentially developing passions. Modules on offer so far this year have been Afro-dance, soccer, fast-five, rock-climbing, birding, gardening, book club, ‘izigi-zigi’ (foot stamping and dance), ‘umlabalaba’ (traditional African strategy game), chess, tinkering with tech, Mandarin and Chinese cultures, French, robotics and coding, astronomy, photography, mindful colouring, decoupage, ballroom dance, first aid, origami, Glee choir, brain-boggling challenges, crocheting, app smashing,2 repurposing and upcycling, and math challenges. Interestingly, students are now also offering to run modules, with a teacher present. The first such initiative is a digital art club, focusing on human or animal animation. The Grade 7 students run this group according to their two areas of interest. A Grade 6 student recently offered to facilitate a science club for the next module.

Points to consider

There are a few points to keep in mind when planning for this initiative. First, it requires a person to coordinate the activities and venues. The signing-up process is digital, using QR codes.3 We then draw up a register per activity for planning purposes, and so that we know where students are expected to be during this time. Second, only teachers passionate about sharing their interests and those who have the capacity should host a module; there is no obligation to do so. Again, being sensitive to guiding students towards becoming mindful of balance, students were offered the chance to opt out of an extension module in favour of an extended tea break. Not one student took up the offer at the time! This option remains in place for students to exercise when they want to withdraw from a module, although they are encouraged to commit until the middle of the term. We appreciate our teachers, and now also some of our students, for their commitment, energy and preparation in running these extension sessions. Additional costs to parents are kept to an absolute minimum (mostly at no cost) and only the chess and Mandarin sessions are outsourced. Student feedback regarding these modules is overwhelmingly positive, as they enjoy getting to know their teachers in a very different way, as well as students in other grades. They also love that it is something totally different to the rest of their day’s learning. They see it as a creative time; as a time for embracing new opportunities.

Time to be flexible

Flexi-Time was requested by our Grade 7 students as a time to get themselves organised: to sort their bags, books and locker rooms, to catch up work missed, to submit work, to complete homework, to reflect… just to be. This session takes place in the students’ homerooms. The Grade 7 students have opportunities during this time to meet within their leadership committees and teachers, if need be. They might also call on the senior primary students to attend war-cry practice in their houses. They value this time greatly.

Timetables

While we recognise the incredible value of SELF-Time as a platform for student choice and voice, as well as for creating space within the school day to see to individual student wellness, as we refine the logistics around implementation we continue to grapple with the dilemma of timetabling other equally important educational initiatives. ‘New’ subjects such as social-emotional learning; inquiry-based learning; research, digital learning and comprehension lessons; and integrated studies, are included along with the core subjects. To accommodate these all, we implemented 50-minute lessons instead of the previous 60-minute ones. We also start the day earlier, at 07:30, and end at 14:30 three days a week. Breaks have been shortened by five minutes, to 25 minutes each. This makes for a long day, especially as most students go on to their busy extramural commitments, and some start with early sport and music practices. Our timetable thus remains a work in progress, as we strive to find the balance to meet as many of our students’ needs as possible. Students may eat their snacks during their SELF-Time if it does not interfere with the activity. This time occurs before tea break, so students have a 45-minute time in total for SELF and tea break to eat. Kingsmead College embarked on the pathway towards becoming an internationally accredited ‘Thinking School of Excellence’ with Exeter University (UK), in 2011.4 The accreditation is based upon a whole-school approach of deliberately and explicitly teaching students the dispositions, tools and strategies that enable them to become increasingly effective life-long learners. We are the only school in South Africa to earn an Advanced Thinking School Accreditation so far. SELF-Time has become one of the vehicles for actualising our deepening ‘thinking’ school approach. It provides more opportunities and resources to deepen our student-teacherparent relationships; create personalised and differentiated learning experiences; and enables our growth-oriented philosophy of learning. SELF-Time has provided another platform, within the school day, to support students’ wellness and growth – focusing on nurturing the behaviours that lead to success in learning in all its dimensions. Together with our dedicated teachers, we continue to reflect and refine our school’s offering for each student.

Ingrid Beekhuizen is deputy head and head of Academics and Innovation Grades 000–7 at Kingsmead College Junior School.

References:

  1. See: https://kingsmead.co.za/
  2. See: https://k12technology.weebly.com/app-smashing.html
  3. See: https://searchengineland.com/what-is-a-qr-code-and-why-do-you-needone-27588
  4. See: https://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/media/universityofexeter/collegeofsocialsciencesandinternationalstudies/education/research/groupsandnetworks/cedu/downloads/Level_Two_Criteria_(June_2018_).pdf

Category: Spring 2019

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