Learning in the Rockies – uLead Summit 2016

WORKI recently returned from a truly wonderful trip to the uLead Summit of Education Leadership in the beautiful town of Banff, Canada. This annual event is one of the highest rated education leadership conferences in the world and it was my privilege both to attend and to present a workshop to delegates (I spoke on the topic of building relational competence in a school amongst staff and how this can impact student outcomes).

Some of the top minds in education research and leadership presented keynote addresses and there was opportunity to attend workshops presented by school leaders and researchers from all over the world.

This was an incredible opportunity to learn from the latest research and thinking in education. I was certainly not disappointed! Each keynote speaker’s address contained enough information to keep delegates busy for hours in discussion and debate. What made this event even more worthwhile was the deliberate setting out of the plenary venue with round tables. Each keynote speaker incorporated time for discussion into the presentation which gave us time to hear others’ opinions, insights and learning. The new professional friendships are an invaluable part of growing in our practice and thought-leadership.

Twitter was also a key part of the conference experience. For many years Twitter has been the go-to social channel for education conferences and has certainly become a major source of resources, links and ideas for my professional learning. The hashtag for the conference was #ulead16 and delegates were reminded regularly to add to the repository of tweets as the conference continued. I believe that most South African teachers and principals simply do not know the power of this online tool in their professional learning – what a pity!

Two key themes emerged from the keynote speakers:

  • Teachers worldwide are under increasing pressure brought on through the forced implementation of government policies, the breakdown of families, increasing expectations from parents as well as increased emotional trauma and mental illness in children.
  • Teachers need to be engaged in ongoing professional development and in redesigning the learning experience for their pupils if they are to meet the changing needs of our pupils.

A highlight for me was meeting Dr William Rankin, Director of Learning at Apple Inc. at an unscheduled dinner. He was pleased to hear about our iPad 1:1 initiative and wanted to know more about our implementation. As the person responsible for the world’s first Apple 1:1 school initiative, he was certainly someone whose opinion I was interested in! I was very pleased to have his endorsement of our strategy and to hear that many of the hurdles we have faced are common throughout the world and that we have approached these with best practice. He has invited me to contact him with any further questions as we continue integrating iPads into our pupils’ learning experiences.

Two ministers of education were also present. Mr David Eggen, Minister of Education for Alberta, Canada and Mr Adrian Piccoli, Minister of Education for New South Wales, Australia were part of a panel discussing education reform. These two gentlemen were most impressive in both their understanding of the reality of education in their contexts but also in their understanding of the reality of teaching as a profession. They showed respect for the professionalism of teachers and were brutally honest about the shortcomings of governments, including their own, to deal with an ever-changing education landscape. They also showed a deep understanding of research into learning and teacher professional development. Those teachers and schools working under the leadership of these gentlemen are indeed fortunate.

Spending time with high calibre education leaders and the opportunity to explore the magnificent Canadian Rockies surrounding Banff was food for my soul – both professionally and personally. I have come back more determined than ever to ensure that Elkanah House Primary School continues on the path we have set to become a truly world-class school which provides dynamic, focused and effective learning experiences for our pupils. This will require some assumptions about education to be set aside by both parents and teachers. It will need focus, determination and a clear vision. All of this falls beautifully in line with the broader vision for Elkanah House as a community of learning from the first day in preschool until the final day for our Grade 12s.

We live in an exciting but challenging time for education. The temptation is simply to let school continue as it is. We are, after all, offering a great education to our pupils. However we will slide down the slope of mediocrity and inefficacy if we do not continue to learn and implement this learning in our classrooms. Our school is committed to continuing to develop our teachers and classroom practice for better learning outcomes. What an exciting place to be!

Resource: A compilation of some of the hundred of tweets from the conference – arranged by keynote speaker (also includes a book list) –

written by: Arthur Preston


Creating, Exploring, Discovering

We have recently completed the first Integrated Learning Tasks of 2016. The ILTs, as they are more commonly referred to, are a highlight for our pupils each term. Introduced in 2012, these activities allow the pupils to work towards a set outcome through collaborative learning tasks which incorporate several learning areas. Each ILT gives opportunity for the practicing of several key academic and social skills.

Why do we offer this type of learning experience? Some of the reasons are as follows:

  • In a world in which knowledge is interwoven across traditional academic disciplines, the ILTs allow the pupils to experience how content and skills are transferable across different learning areas.
  • Giving children the opportunity to experience self-directed learning allows them to develop the skills of self-discipline, planning and task-focus.
  • What are sometimes seen as the ‘extra’ subjects (drama, art, LIS, design & tech) are often included in the ILT, giving the children opportunity to develop skills in these areas and to learn how they integrate into what are often incorrectly perceived as the more important learning areas.
  • The emphasis on collaborative learning (not group-work), gives pupils opportunity to develop the key relationship competencies needed in today’s world. I enjoy listening in when groups are trying to find agreement on a topic or are working out responsibilities amongst themselves. Conflict resolution, development of awareness of other’s viewpoints, learning to listen better are some of the skills practiced through the ILT experience.

Although not Project-Based Learning in its truest form, we believe the ILTs hold tremendous value for our pupils. I love seeing the excitement on their faces as they become engrossed in their tasks. This past term has seen the Grade 4s experience Adventure Island, the Grade 5s learn about Creatures In The Soil and the Grade 6s debate an environmental issue and produce their own video documentary. Further exciting topics and experiences await in Term 2 – I can’t wait!

I invite you to add your comment on the ILTs in the comments.

written by: Arthur Preston

iFrames to iPads

There is a buzz amongst our Grade 4 pupils and teachers as one day remains before the Grade 4s are allowed to bring their iPads to school. Since the beginning of the term iFrams - Grade 4 2016they have carried their iFrame with them, looking after it as they would their own iPad. This new initiative this year was aimed at giving our Grade 4s a sense of responsibility and
ownership of their mobile device. They needed to carry it from class to class, pack it away responsibly during the day and ensure that it was not left lying around. The feedback from the teachers (and pupils) has been very encouraging. It seems that this initiative has certainly had the desired effect as our Grade 4 teachers report that over the past four weeks their pupils have learnt to take better care of their iFrames and their awareness of their responsibility has increased. On Thursday this week the children will spend some time engaging in an exciting series of activities which will allow them to explore their iPads in class.

As part of the Grade 4 iPad launch week, Mrs Stadler (Head of Digital Learning, Senior
Primary) along with Miss Bothma (Head of Digital Learning, Junior Primary) has presented two evening workshops for parents. These workshops have assisted parents in getting to Parent iPad Workshop 16 Feb 2016grips with iPad management, understanding the role and value of the iPad restriction settings, managing Apple IDs, Family Sharing and more. We offer these workshops every year and they are very valuable for parents who are a little unsure of how to work with and manage the iPad and their child’s usage thereof.

We are now into the second full year of our iPad 1:1 programme. Our teachers are engaged in continuing professional learning on how to successfully integrate these devices into the learning process. Learning in new ways through the use of the creative potential of the iPad is exciting for both pupil and teacher.

written by: Arthur Preston


Caring for others

IMG_1408Our Grade 4 pupils have enjoyed a visit to the Animal Anti-Cruelty league this week. In preparation for the visit they collected dog and cat food, blankets, animal toys and more. All these items are donated to the AACL on their visit. This has become an annual outing for our Grade 4s and is a first term highlight for many.

LeIMG_1406arning to be conscious of the needs of others is a critical part of growing into an emotionally aware, mature adult. Through projects such as the AACL visit, the collection of monies through chores which buy a guide dog puppy for training, collections of books, a visit to a creche and school in Khayelitsha, visiting the Pebbles Project and playing with farm workers’ children and so on, our children are being shown that there are many in our broader community who are in need and, perhaps more importantly, are learning that love in action is powerful. Many of our children live protected lives, hidden from the unpleasant realities of life in a country rife with poverty and need. We believe that by giving our pupils the opportunity to interact with others who live in different circumstances to their own, by creating awareness of the needs of others, by allowing children to take ownership of their own outreach projects, we are building into a brighter future, not just for our pupils, by for our beautiful country.

One of our school’s pillars is “Loving beyond self” – we take this commitment very seriously indeed. It is our deep responsibility as a privileged school to give our pupils the opportunity to reach beyond themselves. Both the High School and Primary School have strong roots in several outreach programmes and many lives are touched through them. As much as lives are touched through the many avenues of outreach, it is our pupils who grow, mature and are in the process of becoming more sensitised to the needs of others and who are growing in their emotional maturity with every outreach opportunity. What a privilege we have to be part of creating a better future for all!

written by: Arthur Preston

A Strong Team Through Community

Last week saw our teachers set off on our annual Travelling Supper. This has become something of a tradition at the Senior Primary campus and is a wonderful way to begin the year with our colleagues.

The laughter and joy prevalent amongst the staff as we moved from home to home was such a strong indicator of the camaraderie amongst the team. Many of the team have often commented that the Senior Primary campus is a home from home, a place where they can be themselves amongst those who genuinely care for each other. Our staff meetings always begin with a time of devotion together and these have become opportunities for sharing and just being real with one another. This intentional building of community has resulted in a team which is very supportive and which genuinely cares for each of its members. This also results in a great deal of honesty within the team which allows us to challenge each other without people feeling threatened. Genuine community provides the framework for continuous personal and professional development.

I am grateful that I work with such a great team, grateful that through the joys and challenges of being part of a busy, active campus, we make the time in our week to stop and check-in with one another and grateful that in an increasingly secular world, we honour God through our corporate devotions and are reminded that our work at school is through divine appointment.

written by: Arthur Preston


Activities galore!

This week has seen the start of the extra-mural programme for Term 1. Sports practices have started in earnest with early morning athletics, swimming and tennis on the go, and afternoons filled with the sound of excited boys and girls practicing the skills needed for their chosen sport. Our homework classes are on the go, choir has started, marimba groups have been constituted, KIDS Rock has the highest attendance ever and our other afternoon activities result in a hive of activity on our campus until late in the afternoon.

The range of activities on offer caters for a wide variety of children. From Athletics to Zumba and everything in-between, our pupils have opportunities to exercise their bodies and minds.

I salute our teachers and coaches for the passion they bring to these activities. The value they add to our school’s offering cannot be underestimated. Lifeskills are taught, friendships across grades are built, new experiences are enjoyed and there is, for the sporting activities, the benefit of being active outside in the afternoon.

It has been said that the term ‘extra-mural’ is a misnomer as these activities should be viewed as an integral part of our school’s offering. I agree with this sentiment as it can portray the idea that these activities are an added burden to children’s lives in the afternoon or morning. As a school we believe that our early morning and afternoon activities form a vital part of our offering and are an essential part of our pupils’ growth and learning.

I am truly excited about our expanded offering this year and look forward to more afternoons on the sportsfield and in engaging cultural and academic activities offered outside of the morning programme.

written by: Arthur Preston

An Inspirational Feat of Memory

There is a story of an Elkanah House High School principal which will go down in the annals of the school history and has become part of the narrative of this school. It is a feat of memory which I cannot hope to emulate but am certainly inspired by!

The very first principal of Elkanah House High School was a wonderful gentleman by the name of Thomas Hagsphil. It is said that in preparation for the first day of Business-Name1school in January 2005, Thomas sat with photos of every child in the school and committed each child’s name to memory. On the first day of school, as each new child entered as a founding pupil of the High School, Thomas greeted each child by name, at times mentioning something unique or interesting about the child that he had gleaned from his reading of their file. Let it be said that Thomas is a passionate mathematician and that his memory skills have no doubt been honed through his love for mathematics. However, his commitment to ensuring a personal greeting for every child and the dedication it took to ensure this happened, is commendable and inspiring.

Elkanah House is a school committed to building a
positive self-image in every child through the caring relationships and committed involvement in our pupils’ lives. Mr Hagsphil’s actions on the first day of school in 2005 put this into practice in a very real and observable way.

Although I am not likely to be able to emulate Thomas’ incredible feat of memory, I spend time in every Grade 4 class at the beginning of every year learning the names of each child. The truth is that I experience varied success with this! I really enjoy spending time in each of the classes, playing games which test my memory of their names, reading to the class and interacting with the newest pupils on our campus. As the year progresses I try to remember each child’s name and love to greet them during the day with their names. In all honesty, I don’t always get it right and this has lead to some funny, and at times embarrassing, gaffes on my part!

It is a well-known fact that children who feel emotionally connected and safe at school learn better. I love that as our children arrive at school they are greeted by teachers as they walk through the front door and that as they leave in the afternoon they experience the same. It warms my heart to observe teachers in their classrooms sitting on the floor with their children during the morning pastoral period really connecting with their children. It is wonderful to see teachers on break duty speaking to little people who simply need someone to listen to their story. There are so many examples throughout a typical school day of teachers and school staff giving time to children to listen, to share, to comfort and to share in celebration. When our teachers love sharing with children and our pupils feel so comfortable sharing with their teachers, when the emotional safety of our pupils is paramount and teachers are willing to put aside their own agendas to give time to children, we are doing something right!

I salute each member of our school community who is so committed to reaching into the hearts of every child in our school to ensure a loving, caring, listening and emotionally safe learning environment.

written by: Arthur Preston