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Seeking sustainability

Blue Hills College and the Leadership Platform

Says Adriaan Groenewald, co-founder of the Leadership Platform, a Johannesburgbased programme designed to cultivate and leadership skills: “The critical function of leadership is to create movement in a particular direction. The only way to promote movement is to develop the human capital at your school.”

When Nkululeko Mpofu, principal and academic director at ISASA member school Blue Hills College (BHC) in Midrand, Johannesburg, heard these words, he was inspired to enrol the whole school in the Leadership Platform Youth Journey to Leadership Excellence (LPYJLE) programme. It seemed a good fit from the start, remembers Gareth Armstrong, head of the Leadership Platform youth division, describing the school as innovative and dynamic.

A future-oriented ISASA school

Certainly, it was future-oriented in its thinking. “BHC was founded in 1996 as St Paul’s College in the central business district (CBD) of Johannesburg. The CBD had serious limitations. There were no sports grounds and learners’ movements were confined, and so, in 2000, we moved to 16.5 hectares of land in Midrand,” recalls Mpofu.

The school’s four directors made other key decisions as well. “Due to our need for qualitative growth, we joined ISASA in 2005 and chose a more distinctive name. Today, BHC is underpinned by the Seventh Day Adventist faith, and students from diverse cultural backgrounds interact in new spacious classrooms.”

BHC then turned its attention to the pursuit of sustainability through student and staff development projects. Like most schools, it has a multi-tiered staff and student leadership structure comprising the directors, the principal, the vice principal, heads of department, prefects and class captains. Groenewald and his Leadership Platform colleagues call these individuals ‘human capital’. “Human capital refers to anyone that will support and sustain the current functioning of an organisation. Human capital staff facilitate a powerful growth experience for human capital students, who become human capital alumni ‘investors’,” explains Groenewald.

Seeking a serious development programme

This approach – the core of the LPYJLE programme for schools – appealed to Mpofu. “We were looking for a development programme to help our students and staff become more responsible for the ongoing development of the school, and accountable. Our week-long annual leadership for prefects no longer met our needs, because we wanted the whole student body to live like leaders on a day-to-day basis.

“We felt the LPYJLE would not only multiply leaders, but would also promote an ethos of excellence in our school.” Mpofu says he hasn’t been disappointed with other features of the Leadership Platform process. “The real power of the programme is its facilitation process. LPYJLE does not ‘run’ the programme. Rather, we have been guided to choose facilitators and team members from within the school body, who receive training at school. The intention is for the whole school to develop better interpersonal relationships. As Groenewald says: “Facilitators become equipped to empower their teams with interpersonal, life and leadership skills. The leader or facilitator becomes the teacher over the period of a year and, by default, also must strive to be the example of what is taught.”

Sustained, supported long-term development

Participants in the LPYJLE programme have plenty of time to adjust to their roles, says Mpofu. The programme of hour-long weekly sessions is run over the course of at least several months, or preferably a full year. “We have planned carefully to start the programme at the commencement of term two this year. We had to look at the timetable and find the best possible slot for the weekly sessions that suited everyone,” says Mpofu who,with his co-directors, is looking forward to the rigorous leadership programme. “We will benefit from the ongoing exposure to leadership principles, habits and skills at BHC – it is not just a ‘weekend away’ team-building exercise. Consistent use of the LPYJLE tools over a long period ensures a break from old to new habits. For just R40 per participant per year, that’s good quality,” surmises Mpofu.

These two factors – ‘inside’ ownership and sustained duration – should also create a new universal leadership language at participating schools, says Groenewald. “If everyone’s on the same page, as it were, it’s easier to foster commitment, implement new initiatives and hold people to their promises. There’s buy-in from everyone.”

Each session involving and facilitated by BHC’s school management team, prefects and class captains will use content designed by LPYJLE to deepen a culture of life skills, healthy interpersonal relationships, learning and excellence. In time, the leaders that will emerge from the process will pass on their new-found knowledge and skills to other members of the BHC community using their ‘each-one-teach-one’ approach.

Future leaders to be found at schools

Says Groenewald: “The LPYJLE is a programme developed and refined over 20 years that we believe has the potential to improve significantly the overall leadership, interpersonal, emotional and productive capabilities of participants at schools.

“Investing in teacher development yields obvious results. But imagine the impact of a holistic investment approach, where students are self-motivated by a vision they have helped to develop.”

The personal empowerment aspect appeals to Mpofu as well. “My anticipation is that every person here will become a leader. The journey begins by helping each one understand what leadership actually is, and then how it impacts us all every day. Then we understand what we can do to better lead ourselves and others. There is no better place to groom future leaders for the country than in schools.”

Category: Winter 2012

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