Every year, we have the privilege of coming together for two days with groups of school leadership teams to engage with one another around what it takes to lead a school and how we can support one another in partnership. These school leadership teams are known as Senior Management Teams (SMTs). SMTs are crucial to all schools in South Africa because they are the backbone of these schools. Or as Babalwa Mtumtum, Axium Schools Development Manager, calls them, the “head and heart”.
As we were unable to get together last year due to COVID-19 regulations, this year was particularly special. It gave us the opportunity to reflect on the shared challenges and opportunities of 2020; how it affected teachers, learners, school year plans and academic schedules as well the importance of adapting, responding and planning ahead for 2021.
The conversations we had were constructive, informative and fun for both our Zithulele and Amajingqi PSP SMTs. While at both sites the goal of these events is to increase our shared understanding of partnership and the work that needs to be done collectively as school leaders and developers, the focus of these two retreats differs slightly.
At Amajingqi, we work in direct partnership with eight schools providing additional resources and capacity to improve leadership, management and teaching quality. This year's retreat was particularly significant because it marked the fourth year of our Public School Partnership and it was also the first time we were able to gather together with all eight SMTs present. Given that this is the final year of the PSP pilot, we discussed what it means to be in partnership, and the expectations we can have for each other.
Throughout the past four years, these retreats have provided a space to align on expectations of what this partnership involves, share feedback on Axium’s support, agree on priorities for the coming year, hold one another accountable and develop School Improvement Plans (SIPs) to action these priorities. It has been really exciting for us to see how this space has grown and to learn more about what is possible when strong partnerships are in place. The SIP development process, now in its third iteration, has left each school with a strong plan, which we will be able to collectively monitor throughout the year.
At Zithulele, we work alongside eleven schools providing additional education programmes during and after school. This year’s retreat was particularly significant because all Programme Managers presented on their programmes, a guest speaker Dr John Mitchell facilitated a COVID-19 safety question and answer session, and we were able to share the opportunity for schools to potentially join us as Partner Schools in the coming years.
Mrs Sokhweba, Deputy Principal at Sea-View High School, shared that she really enjoys the SMT retreats and the partnership with Axium, “I monitor Axium’s Senior School Study groups and the Yenzokuhle lessons not because I have to but because I love Axium and I appreciate the assistance they provide the school. I would love to attend more SMT retreats. I enjoy the opportunity to be in one space with other SMTs and I leave feeling motivated.” We really appreciate the opportunity these leadership teams provide by helping us to deepen these partnerships through feedback and involvement in our programmes.
After the retreat was held, we received a request from two schools (including Seaview) to hold further training and to continue the conversations with their teams. While we feel that these events are important, it is hugely encouraging to hear that teachers, and school leaders are experiencing the support and finding value in it.
We are hopeful that the work of strengthening partnerships will lead to tangible improvement, opportunity and success for rural learners.