As a young boy, I grew up on a dairy farm near Umzimkulu. My memories of these days are of warm sun, the sounds of insects and birds, sitting around relaxing or walking with my brother and sister, and of collecting frogs and dragonflies from the various small dams in the area. In other words, these memories are about contentment, belonging and happiness. I do not recall any genuine dramas, apart from those caused by the various snakes attracted to my frog collection, until I attended boarding school at the age of seven.
Compare this to the life of a young boy Nqobani whom my brother got to know through the community work he does in Johannesburg with an organisation called Character Company. Nqobani lived in a commune with his mother, Manono, who was retrenched from her job, and had no income. My brother described Nqobani as a cheerful boy of about 10 with lots of potential, who loved KFC. About a month ago, his mother took her own life as well as his by poison ingestion. She felt that there was no hope for her or her son.
Contrast the daily pressures experienced by the youth of today like Nqobani, who was in no worse position than millions of children in Southern Africa today, with those I experienced as a child. Add the financial burden on so many families to the increased technological, and social pressure on children today, as well as the pressure to perform and produce excellence in all areas of school life, against a backdrop of crime and political uncertainty, and it is easy to see why so many children are withdrawn or cope by putting on false fronts. We need to consider the impact of these pressures on the wellbeing of children when offering them a balanced education; exerting enough good pressure in order for them to develop and an impact on society, but not too much for them to cope with.
At our recent conference for Heads of independent schools in Cape Town, there were two central themes which permeated the four days of presentations, workshops and discussions, namely the increasing pressure in schools, and inclusivity. Listening to well renowned speakers at the conference such as Professor Adam Habib, vice-chancellor of Wits, Professor Max Price, vice-chancellor of UCT, and respected columnist and political commentator Justice Malala, it was reassuring to hear their positive messages, despite the challenges mentioned. However, what was most interesting were the messages from young people invited to the conference, who confidently addressed over 300 Heads about the challenges they faced at school or universities. I was most impressed with their honesty, eloquence and strong messages regarding the importance of open discussions, listening, tolerance and awareness of inclusivity in schools and tertiary institutions.
So what did I learn from this? The answer, it seems, lies in listening, and developing authenticity. As individuals, families and communities we need to learn to listen attentively to others, and be true to ourselves. If we teach children to identify what they love, and follow their natural intuition regarding career or subject choices, and develop each child as unique, we will do them an enormous service.
Todd Rose states in his book The End of Average, that there is no such thing as a truly average individual, and we need to learn to treat children as individuals with unique qualities in order to develop their true potential.
In an authoritarian environment, authenticity and creativity are subdued as children adapt by trying to conform and please adults. Brene Brown in her book Daring Greatly, emphasises the importance of developing wholehearted (well-balanced) people, who according to her research demonstrate courage, compassion, connection as a result of authenticity, and vulnerability in accepting who we are. I encourage you to read her book, or watch her TED talk titled “The Power of Vulnerability”. Another TED talk relating to this topic which I strongly recommend you (and all teachers) watch is “Schools Kill Creativity” by Sir Ken Robinson. In a humerous presentation, he emphasises the importance of allowing children to develop creative talents naturally, as opposed to stifling them.
Having listened to the various speakers mentioned above, as well as the authors and presenters, I appeal to all parents and educators to value and encourage differences or unique qualities in children in order to accept them for who they are, and to emphasise the importance of children exploring what they love as individuals, and to speak openly and honestly with them. This will allow them to develop into creative, authentic and as Brene Brown calls them ‘wholehearted’ people who are happy with themselves and feel content and valued and confident in a diverse and uncertain society.
Mrs Kim Storm has been appointed as the Head of Science from January, 2017. She is an experienced teacher, having taught at Maritzburg College for a number of years. We look forward to welcoming her next year.
Mrs Elsa Oosthuizen (Music) will be leaving St John’s at the end of this year and wish her well in her future endeavours.
Thank you to the Prefects of 2016 who have led the school with led the school with dignity, enthusiasm and commitment.
I am delighted to announce the Prefects for 2017:
Head Girl: Michelle Niebuhr
Senior Boarder Prefect: Amanda Khumalo
Deputy Head Girl: Rebecca Kiln
Ilne du Toit
Lise le Roux
It has been an extremely busy term and I wish everyone a good holiday with your families. In particular, I wish the Matrics well as they prepare for the upcoming Final examinations.