Dear Parents, Guardians, Staff and Girls
‘We don’t need no education; We don’t need no thought control. No dark sarcasm in the classroom; Teachers leave them kids alone. Hey, teachers, leave them kids alone; All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.’
These are some of the words of Roger Waters of the band Pink Floyd. Their popular 1979 album, The Wall, was essentially a cry against authoritarian leadership, particularly in UK schools. The album was predictably banned in South Africa. This, of course, encouraged us as boys in a traditional boarding school at the time, to get our hands on copies of this desired material, and as a consequence I know the songs well! Interestingly, our teachers at the time had nicknames, given by the boys, such as ‘Smurf’, ‘Teddy’, ‘Pigmy’, ‘Spru’, ‘Thug’, ‘Frikkie’ and ‘Piggy’. These were not necessarily terms of endearment, but rather a humorous and subtle form of rebellion.
As I write, I am currently privileged to be in Johannesburg on an ISASA / Wits university course on school leadership, and not surprisingly one aspect of this course deals directly with styles of school leadership. Traditionally schools were autocratic environments, but more recently most have adopted more relevant leadership models including consultative, democratic and even consensus styles. There has been a shift from the ‘stick’ method of beating results or compliance out of children, to a more appealing ‘carrot’ method, in which incentives, such as prizes, rewards, certificates or medals are bestowed on those who achieve well. This has improved output, but is not without problems of its own. Rewards produce short term results, and are by nature extrinsic in that they train or coach desired behaviour instead of internalising the desire to form good habits or attitudes by understanding them and the principles behind them. So which is better – the carrot or the stick?
As stated in his book Drive, Daniel Pink hints at the answer: ‘Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.’ Compliance may well be seen as a desirable outcome by the controller, but ultimately leads to resentment and rebellion. Pink adds, ‘Humans have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.’
Daniel Goleman adds that in order to be truly fulfilled in life, it is essential to develop emotional intelligence, stating that ‘Teachers need to be comfortable talking about feelings. This is part of teaching emotional literacy – a set of skills we can all develop, including the ability to read, understand, and respond appropriately to one’s own emotions and the emotions of others.’ In his book on this topic, he emphasises the importance of emotional intelligence as a success predictor, as developing good relationships determines how well we do in a given job.
The problem with the carrot method (valuing extrinsic rewards) is that performance is trained in order to impress a parent or teacher, as opposed to an internalised, inner self-motivation. This is only possible in an authentic environment in which we are open and honest about our values and goals, and are allowed to develop sound, trusting relationships based on mutual respect. In order to achieve this, and optimise the true potential of all girls, we need buy-in and support from all in our school community, including parents, educators and other staff.
In his book Leaders Eat Last, author Simon Sinek states: ‘When the time is taken to build proper relationships and when leaders choose to put their people before their numbers, when we can actually feel a sense of trust for each other, the oxytocin released in our bodies can reverse many of the negative effects of operating in a high-stress environment.’ He emphasises integrity and honesty as crucial in building trust. Arianna Huffington adds that ‘wisdom is about recognising what we’re really seeking – connection and love. But in order to find them, we need to drop our relentless pursuit of success as society defines it for something more meaningful, and more fulfilling.’
It was a privilege to listen to world renowned Prof. Rija of the Wits Business School, lecture us on People Management. He spoke a lot about change in schools, stating that ‘Without change or adaptation, schools lose relevance.’ He asked whether schools are learning (adapting) as fast as the world is changing, as the success of one year will be the source of crisis in future years. In light of these challenges, it is imperative that we are not only adaptable in our approach as schools, but that we ensure that our engagement with all stakeholders is based on open communication, prioritising the needs and future of the school, and trust. We will not succeed in overcoming the political, financial and social challenges around us unless we truly value each other and respect each other’s opinions and differences. This involves understanding that although modern children are more informed, skilled and technologically advanced than at any time in history, they are dependent on love, care and nurturing in order to feel valued, and in order to optimise their individual potential. This is simply not possible in either an authoritarian environment, or one with too much emphasis on external rewards.
So, in conclusion, the stick method of school leadership is clearly outdated, as this causes resentment and rebellion. The modern child is also smart enough to give us what we want when we use the ‘carrot’ method. This may give us the outcome that we want, but will not motivate children, as it lacks authenticity and engagement. Instead it may lead to increased stress and depression. The modern child in a dynamic, informed society simply requires that we communicate with transparency and genuinely care about her wellbeing in a supportive nurturing environment. This will allow her to develop autonomy and internalised motivation in an environment which values respect and understanding of consequences. So it’s not about the stick or carrot, but rather about the heart. What better environment to achieve and teach this than in a “small school with a big heart”?
As boarder parents are aware, there have been a number of changes to our boarding staff and their roles this year, for various unforeseen reasons. This has created some anxiety amongst boarders, and necessitated us to look at restructuring these roles going forward. For this reason, we are currently advertising for one or two new boarder mothers. If you know of any suitable candidates, please encourage them to apply. Thank you for your participation in the boarder survey and attendance at the Boarder Parent and Management Tea. We will keep you informed regarding any developments.
At the beginning of this term, we welcomed Mrs Carol Fourie as the Grade R locum while Mrs Alex Barry is on Long Leave.
Mrs Amanda Huntley joined us as the Grade 3 teacher and we wish her a long and happy association with St John’s D.S.G.
Congratulations to Ms Amy Dettmer (English Department) on her recent engagement. We wish her and her fiancé all the best as they plan their wedding.
We also congratulate Mr and Mrs Stumke, (Danelle, née Zaayman, from the Sports Department) on their recent marriage.
After half-term, we welcome Ms Tracey Schwegmann back from Long Leave and trust she has had a relaxing break.
Miss Gina Laurie, our School Counsellor, has moved back to her home in Durban, but continues in her role for two days a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays). Ms Christel Rohrs has filled the Counsellor role on the other days during this term. We hope to secure a permanent School Counsellor soon.
A reminder to all girls to return to school after half-term in their winter uniforms. May you and your families have a relaxing time together this weekend and I wish all the Senior School girls well as they prepare for their mid-year examinations.