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Updated: Jul 13, 2021

Tapping into the knowledge of fellow teachers motivates the Siyahluma Sisonke Sakhingomso (SSS) Network to come together and share strategies for school improvement each year. Axium was proud to host the fifth annual Senior Management Team (SMT) Retreat for leaders from this group at the Ocean View Hotel in Coffee Bay over the weekend of 4th May 2018.

Initially established in 2012, SSS is a network of rural schools that meet regularly to reflect and plan, recognising that strong leaders are essential drivers of change in education. Supporting these teachers as they seek solutions to difficult problems is a priority for Axium.

“It’s very much an environment of ‘We’re in this together’,” Axium co-director Craig Paxton said about the 12 schools that participate. “Some have great strengths in some things so let’s learn from them, and others are really struggling so what can we do to support them.”

The retreat offers SMTs a chance to consider both local and international research in relation to their own contexts, discussing various topics in small groups. Teachers working in demanding environments usually have little time to step back and reflect so Axium aims to facilitate this, while also creating space for sharing between schools about strategies that work.

“The theory is that there’s knowledge around the room rather than in one person who’s the expert, so let’s get people talking,” Craig said.

Mr Bayanda Mziba, Deputy Principle at Tyelinzima and an educator who has been very involved with SSS, said the reflection shifts perceptions, allowing SMTs to look at their schools with fresh eyes. “It helps having insight to see opportunities,” he explained. “It is a second chance to see our challenges, but also our strengths. This gives us hope and boosts morale.”

Reflecting this view, Mrs Funeka Njiva of Twalikulu, a first time attendee who came alone this year, said she felt motivated and more equipped to facilitate teamwork. “I’m going to report back to my school hoping that next time more SMT members and teachers will come,” she said.

The weekend itself is designed around lifting spirits this way, with the primary purpose of recognising teachers. “What we’re trying to do is firstly give teachers a message that they’re valued and they’re important. We value their work. They are important people in the lives of their schools and children,” Craig said.

Certainly the group appeared rightfully well taken-care of as SMTs chatted comfortably over a tasty three-course dinner in Ocean View’s picturesque dining room on the first evening.

An exciting development in gaining recognition for SMT leadership this year was the attendance of 4 district officials from the Department of Basic Education. Circuit Manager Mr Ayanda Matiso said they were there to observe the input given, but also to gain new knowledge themselves. “We’re also managers and leaders, we’re also learning,” he said.

Engagements took place in multiple conference sessions throughout the two days. For the past few years, our focus has been on the “5 Essential Supports” framework for school improvement developed by uChicago’s Consortium on School Research and adapted for the rural South African context. In our next post, we will share more about SMT’s discussions.

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