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Synergy and success for schools and their management teams

| September 5, 2013 | 0 Comments

By Andrew Stead

I believe that coaching is the central differentiator of professional development for school leaders.

While reading the volume 15, number 4, summer 2012 edition of Independent Education magazine, I read the article entitled ‘Situational leadership: the Principals Management Development Programme’ (PMPD) and was inspired to tell you more about the Foundation of School Leadership and Management and what we do. Much like the PMPD, we focus on school leadership. What makes the Adopt a School Leader*(ASL) programme different to many others that are currently run in the country is that our foundation works with the entire management team, and not with just the principal.

The programme started in 2011 after a discussion with Thabo Seopa, managing director of Trudon (Pty) Ltd,1 about the effectiveness of corporate social investment initiatives in underperforming schools. We both agreed that a leadership training intervention was necessary, and decided to start identifying schools in Gauteng that required assistance. One may ask: why leadership? I believe passionately that the person at the helm and the accompanying team are fundamental to a well-managed school. In my opinion, in a school without a semblance of organisational structure, routine and discipline, there is very little quality learning taking place. Those fundamental aspects allow for an environment of safety, creativity and collaborate learning – all dependent on the leader.

This project started with 72 school leaders from the informal settlements of Diepsloot and Lanseria in Gauteng and has grown to include participants from the Tembisa and Alexandra townships. The schools involved in the programme range from early childhood development facilities to high schools. All are clustered for more effective collaboration between principals, deputies and heads of department.

Why include the whole school management team?

Although the principal is fundamental to the success of a school, and thus to the success of the programme, it soon became apparent that for them to run a successful school they needed to have the support of the school management team (SMT). We realised that for the programme to be truly effective, we had to take the rest of the team on the same journey. Although it was often a difficult journey, it quickly became evident that unless the whole SMT understood the difference between leadership and management and the various but complementary roles people play in organisations, the training would not work. SMTs also had to understand what organisational culture was, and how difficult it was to make changes; unless the entire SMT understood the need for strategy and were part of the strategic planning and change management, the effect of the training would be limited. It would also isolate the principal from the rest of their team, and ultimate success.

I started the project by consulting with service providers and non-governmental organisations working in various districts around Gauteng. Interestingly enough, I had never been to any of the areas mentioned, so it was fascinating to see first-hand the working and living conditions of children and teachers in these schools.

After some groundwork, I approached 20 schools in the Diepsloot area. I chose this area because none of these schools were involved in a programme of this nature that was currently operating at the level we proposed. Of the 20 schools visited, 15 principals expressed an interest for their school to participate in the programme. All the SMT members at each school were present during my presentation to the principal. In some instances, the school governing body was also in attendance. Each principal signed a commitment to the project and, three years later, I am glad to report that this has been maintained by 100% of the schools.

What is the programme about?

The programme runs over a three-year period. The length of the project underpins the understanding by the funder, the school and foundation that fundamental change takes at least three years to achieve – our experience is proving this accurate. The course includes three fundamental components: training, coaching and mentoring.

The training component involves six courses of one week each – these are aligned to the Services SETA2-accredited management programmes. They are facilitated twice a year by school principals who have extensive experience in the independent and public school sector – all having at least 10 years of headship experience as well as coaching qualifications.

The training sessions are structured to run over three years in the areas of leadership and management, strategic planning and change management, and curriculum development. At the end of the project, each school will have a SMT, equipped with skills that are essential to the effective running of the school. There are also electives that SMT members can choose – these include assessment, business and financial management, school ethics and human resources.

Coaching part of the course

During the school year, each member of the SMT undergoes 12 weeks of individual training on leadership skills and personal development. According to McKinsey,3 “coaching [should be] the centrepiece of professional development,” as it will improve feedback and delivery in the classroom. We believe that the coaching component is the key to the project’s success, because it develops every individual in the SMT and helps them to understand their roles, their accountability and their responsibility as leaders. Respondents to the programme have been so inspired by the coaching that many believe that it has not only changed the way they work, but it has also changed their life at home.

Dorothy* (not her real name) said: “I was going to give up teaching this year because the stress and conditions of our school are getting too much for me. Cathy (coach) really helped me through a very rough patch.” Dorothy is a deputy principal who works long hours, assists her new principal (who started mid-year), has a family of her own and is facing many challenges at school, such as overcrowding.

Mentoring meaningful

SMTs on the programme engage in group mentoring sessions, which take place twice a term. These sessions are interactive, goal-orientated and informative for both the team and the mentors, because there are so many different issues that present themselves in underperforming schools. An example we have experienced is of a school that needed to move from a temporary facility (containers and prefab classrooms) onto a brand new campus in the middle of an informal settlement. The management team had never had to do this before, and careful mentoring by a principal consultant who had relevant experience was enormously helpful to the school.

The mentoring sessions have also highlighted how social issues influence the way schools are managed – running water and electricity are often disrupted. This means that children don’t have water to drink, toilet facilities to use or electricity for classrooms. A number of schools do not have photocopy machines! All these aspects, as you will appreciate, require careful and proactive leadership and management.

We have found that the mentoring sessions add personal magic to the programme and inspire trust and cooperation beyond the norm. For example, teachers who have been promoted to management positions in other schools during the duration of the programme have requested to continue with the coaching and training in their personal capacities. This has been accommodated financially without burdening the funding company – a clear sign that schools and consultants are committed to making a difference.

The key to success?

Results in participating schools started to show immediately with regard to teamwork, strategic change and planning. This was evident when all the Diepsloot schools took the initiative to hold their own strategic planning sessions after the workshop was completed. These school improvement plans immediately assisted school start-up the following year, and provided muchneeded strategic direction to the team as well as the rest of the staff. “For the first time in many years, we knew where we were going. It made such a difference,” said one participant.

However, improvement in students’ results only became apparent on the completion of the second year, with a range of 6%-23% across all the high schools. Several additional spin-offs of the programme have also come about. These include consistent support from the Gauteng Department of Education member of the executive council’s office, and that of the departmental director of the district; additional funding for capital development projects (three e-learning centres, one science laboratory and literacy resources); and promotional opportunities for the emerging talent pool of school deputy principals and heads of departments.

The success is due to three components:

1. The blend of training, coaching and mentoring has ensured a comprehensive professional development programme for underperforming school management teams, with coaching being the central differentiator of this intervention.

2. Willing cooperation, attendance (100%) and respect for the programme by all participants has been exceptional.

3. All three components are facilitated by experienced principals, who can empathise and associate on many levels with their peers.

We believe that the ASL programme has and will continue to make a difference in underperforming schools, and speaks to more recent findings that leadership development in underperforming schools requires some urgent attention and ongoing professional support.

For example, the McKinsey report on education (2007)4 asserts that “getting the right people to teach, developing them into effective instructors, and ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child” is the way to improve education in South Africa.


1. Trudon is a South African company delivering advertising and marketing options to the corporate market. The company’s flagship brand is the Yellow Pages directory. (See

2. A SETA is a South African sector and training authority. See, for example,

3. See, for example, professional-development-for-teachers/.

4. See, for example, schools-come-out-on-top/.

Category: Spring 2013

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