Trust and Responsibility, Love and Reason: How Streetlight Is Building A New School Culture for Learning

By Heidi L. Augestad

Published in the Winter 2017 edition of the ISASA Independent Education Magazine (linked here)

 

What if we re-imagine South African education, so that we might build capacity and aspiration instead of having to deal with dropouts and failure?

This is the question that Streetlight Schools is answering by establishing schools with high-quality education programmes in low-income communities. In January 2016, we opened our first school, Streetlight: Jeppestown. The school is situated in one of the most challenging suburbs in inner-city Johannesburg in Gauteng. Today, we have 128 students divided between Grade R and Grade 2 classes, all living in and around Jeppestown. Well into our second school year and after a thorough process of establishing and adjusting our model, we see great results.

This article provides insight into the lessons that we’ve learned about the trust and responsibility we build upon to create quality schooling, as well as the social strategies that we use to effectively engage with the contexts in which we operate.

Trust and responsibility: the foundation of our school culture

Demonstrating and building an environment of trust is at the heart of why we spend significant time fostering strong relationships. In addition, trust comes with responsibility for each member of our community – whether they are a student, a teacher or a parent. Trust allows space for people to grow and unlock their potential. It is vital for a learning environment that develops self-driven creativity and inquiry that teachers and students feel trusted in their work. We have seen how students organise themselves during learning activities, how they engage in peer education when they solve problems and how they create together.

Responsibility relates to how we understand our roles in education and the expectations we have for each role: teacher, student and parent. For example, the parents are expected to ensure that their child comes to school physically and mentally prepared. The students are expected to follow common rules and routines for our school culture and academic work. Being 100% responsible as a teacher is linked to how we understand the child, the learning process, and the way to succeed in school. We regard the teacher as the most important factor in a child’s school life, as the most important resource in education. If a child struggles in a subject, it is not the child but the teacher who is responsible for identifying the challenges and finding proper solutions, so that the child can overcome challenges and grow further.

Love and reason: recognising the social and emotional needs of learners

Students’ social and emotional well-being is the foundation for their ability to learn. Their cognitive growth depends on their ability to focus, concentrate and enjoy learning activities. That is why we have a strong focus on our social learning environment, emphasising inclusivity and positive relations. Our social strategy has developed along with our increased knowledge and experience of the kind of challenges our students are facing, and a realisation of what we can and cannot do as a school.

The human effects of poverty, unemployment, violence and insecurity, which most families live with in Jeppestown, is brought into our school every day and becomes visible through the students’ behaviour, typically falling along a spectrum between silent and protective or violent and aggressive. The consequences range from slow learning progress to unmanageable behaviour. The biggest cause for the socialemotional challenges we see in our school is the amount of physical and mental abuse students are experiencing at home. Based on a year with a close follow-up with our students, we estimate that between 60% and 70% of them are abused on a near-daily basis.

Roughly the same percentage of students come from broken families, where they either live with one parent or with other relatives. Every day, these children face the emotional stress of not having stable homes or responsible caregivers in their lives. In addition, living in poverty means that they lack the stimuli of toys, books and activities during their upbringing, which would otherwise provide a basis of knowledge and skills needed to be school-ready. Our students’ social baggage is heavy with exposure and experiences related to the adult world: they have very limited resources to filter it or understand how to deal with it. As a way of handling their situations, they often tend to show their anxiety and anger through challenging behaviour. So, what can we do as a school?

Using the Responsive Classroom approach

The Responsive Classroom approach1 has been very useful for us, and comes with a set of routines and cognitive and language tools that schools can use to create a strong and positive culture. The approach is student centred, focusing on children’s emotional well-being and employing positive language and logical consequences. We start every day with a morning meeting, where we address social and emotional issues through reflections and interactive games. Our positive language and logical consequences are visible throughout our school day. The concept of punishment does not exist in our school vocabulary – we rather talk about expectations and good and bad choices as a way of guiding students’ social development.

A truly student-centred academic programme

At Streetlight Schools, we have established different structures to ensure proper basic skills training for students, as well as building their imaginative and creative skills. We collect inspiration from strong educational systems, such as those used in Finland and New Zealand, and the Reggio Emilia approach.2 One of the most successful tools we have implemented is the workshop model, to ensure student-centred, differentiated and interactive teaching and learning processes. It comes with a four-step lesson structure with clear roles and tasks for students and teachers, which other schools may find helpful:

  1. Opening of the class (2 minutes): The teacher “hooks” the students on the topic of today, often by means of a game, song or reminder of yesterday’s lesson.
  2. The “mini-lesson” (10–12 minutes): The teacher gives specific instructions about the learning objectives of the lesson.
  3. Students’ workshop (20–25 minutes): Students are engaged in differentiated learning material that ensure mastery at their level and ability. During the workshop, they either work individually or are part of groups of four to six, which gives them the opportunity to engage in peer learning and assistance. The teacher directs his or her main focus to groups of students who need more explanation and assistance, while facilitating and supporting the other groups.
  4. Closing (5 minutes): The students reflect with the teacher on what has been done and learnt during the lesson, and everyone assesses how they feel their work was done. The benefits of the workshop model are many. First, the teachers have developed an engaging and cooperative role with the students. To a large degree, the teachers are facilitators of learning, aiming to target each student’s learning needs. Second, the students are engaged in independent and group work with learning material that gives everyone a chance to experience mastery during class. Third, the amount of group work creates many opportunities for the students to take initiative and be responsible for their own learning. The outcome is that our academic results increase and that all our students are progressing on or above the state Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) level.3 One third of our Grade 2 students who completed Grade 1 with us last year are already at a Grade 3 level in literacy, which enables them to progress at a faster pace in other subjects as well.

The social strategy

Our academic and social work are very closely connected. When we talk about respect and positivity in our school culture, we also adapt this to how we understand teaching and learning, and the knowledge we have about how children learn best. It is our job as educators to ensure that their natural motivation is nourished and thriving, not limited or broken. At Streetlight, we have taken progressive steps to remove some of the practices in South African schools that we don’t believe are constructive. Marks, tests, examinations, pass rates, failure and repatriation are stress-related factors that are more appropriate at an upper primary school level. At a foundation phase level, we believe that learning progress is much better ensured through a focus on the love and joy of learning, engaged and cooperative relations, integrated formative assessments as a tool for targeted teaching and a culture for learning where failure is just another step towards success.

References:

  1. See: www.responsiveclassroom.org.
  2. See, for example: http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2014/06/24/ ctq_faridi_finland.html; http://seniorsecondary.tki.org.nz/Thearts/ Pedagogy/Culturally-responsive-learning-environments and http://www.reggiochildren.it/identita/reggio-emilia-approach/?lang=en.
  3. See: http://www.education.gov.za/Curriculum/ NationalCurriculumStatementsGradesR-12.aspx.

Term 1 Through the Eyes of the Teachers

It is no doubt that starting up a school year is breath-taking in many ways! New students, staff, timetables, logistical challenges – and all the unexpected issues that pop up every day. The biggest change and excitement is always the new students and what they bring and this year, we have doubled our number of learners from last year. In January, we received 60 new students who had to be integrated and included in our school model, academically and socially.

Each and one of them comes to us with his/her individual story and background that shape his/her ability and understanding of how to be a student, and each one requires different care, attention, and support from all of us. They all have their individual combinations of strength and challenges, and together they create a web of 1) problem-solving processes, decisions and priorities to make; 2) resources and tasks to be aligned; and 3) pedagogical and social issues to be handled.

It has been a hectic term, and I gave myself an exercise at the end of it to check in with the teacher team on how they have experienced it. Is it aligned with how I experienced the term from a school leader perspective? Are their sense of achievements and challenges similar to what I considered to be our biggest tasks?

During the last week before we went on break, I conducted end-of-term meetings with all the teachers and teaching assistants and their responses, did exactly that – it gave me such an excellent reflection of our first term, from the personal and professional issues to the more advanced social and pedagogical issues we have been facing:

Paul. Senior Teacher/Grade R/ Literacy and Numeracy

My biggest achievements this term has been to see the academic progress of my students! They came here in January “blind,” without any understanding of how to be a student, how to learn, how to use learning material such as pencils and books. And now, after one term, most of them can write their names, read simple words and count to 10 and forward.

My second achievement has been to learn and implement the Workshop Model. In the beginning when I was new to it I was so frustrated, thinking that this would never work, but with great support from my colleagues, I am now quite confident and very happy to see how it engages the students in learning. The academic progress we`ve seen is thanks to the Workshop Model.

Dionne. Tutor/Grade R/ Reading & Writing Workshop, Theme & Art, Play based learning

My biggest achievement has been the effect of the social training in our classrooms and that they have grasped the idea and expectations of being a student at Streetlight Schools. Also, I feel so proud that our Grade R students have developed their ability to express their thoughts so well. They come up with so many creative and inspiring ideas! At the same time, I feel that what has been challenging is related to the social challenges our learners bring in, their lack of self-control and limits which we constantly have to address and deal with.

Aletta. Tutor/Grade R/ Fun Math, Play based learning, Theme & Art, PE

I have gained much confidence this term. Being a bit worried whether I would be able to run classes and teach them well, I now feel that I have found my teacher role. The challenge has been to balance energy with focus, to keep my students engaged and concentrating at the same time. It has also been a challenge to be creative with my lesson planning, and it requires much research. For next term, I will focus on being even more consistent with my classroom management and further develop my unit plan and lesson planning, including rubrics.

Christina. Senior Teacher/Grade 1/ Literacy and Numeracy

The progress in Literacy! Half of our students in grade 1 came to us in January and many of them without knowing how to communicate in English. Now, all of them can follow and respond to instructions and can share their work in class. The levelled Literacy courses have been very helpful in this regards. I also have enjoyed our Responsive Classroom work where every morning, we focus on their social skills and choices and combine conversations with practical exercises. For the next term, I intend to take my learners far! To ensure that they progress further academically and socially on a grade 1 level and eventually are ready for year two next year.

Anna. Tutor/Grade 1/ Reading & Writing workshop, Theme & Art, Zulu

I am so proud of myself! I have been able to differentiate work and personal life and to handle challenges more professionally, which has made me more confident as a teacher. I have managed to make my new learners understanding the Workshop Model which was hard in the beginning, but now they all know what is expected of them. Thanks to an all-supportive team around me and our culture that is not judgemental but where observations and feedback are about improvement and development!

                                                                                                                         

Pfano. Tutor/Grade 1/ Practical Math, Theme & Art, Zulu

I am enjoying my teacher confidence! I feel that last year, I laid the foundation for what kind of teacher I am and want to be, and that this year, I can enjoy my good relationship with my students and that they respect me and know my standards. The professional development training that we receive from Instill Education (http://www.instill.education/) is so useful, and I see every day the effect it has on my teaching and my students. Still, being new to teaching, I am always surprised by the challenges you don’t know before they hit you…

Tatenda. Senior Teacher/Grade 2/ Literacy and Numeracy

My biggest achievement this term has been establishing a culture where the learners trust my good intentions! I have been building a trust between the students and me which allows us to also take the difficult conversations in the classroom. Even though I have to address personal and challenging issues with them, we always give a hug and are friends after. Academically, I have achieved this term to set the standards I want to have for learning in my classrooms. I feel that we have made the right foundation for the rest of the year. My primary objective for next term is to further close the educational gap that our students are facing and to even more strengthen and improve on our Responsive Classroom approach with a particular focus on respect for yourself and others.

Brian. Junior Teacher/Grade 2/ Practical Math, Theme & Art, PE

Brian.jpg

I am so proud of my projects this term! It has been so inspiring to work with the students, from planning and research to drafts and end products. I also feel that my biggest achievement this term is my relationship with my students; I know them well, and I see that they trust me. The biggest challenge has been the huge academic gap between our new and old students and how to accommodate everyone during my classes. My primary objective for next term is to close this gap, and I think with what we have achieved so far, that I will be able to do so.

 

Nadia. Tutor/Grade 2/ Reading & Writing Workshop, Theme & Art, PE

Thanks to our Curriculum Plan and professional development training, I have been able to implement the unit plans and lessons according to my and the team’s expectations.  I have also been able to run my classes well even though I am new to teaching. I still have to work on how I use my voice though and be even more confident as a classroom manager, but that is one of my main objectives for term 2 and with the help and support from our PD training, my mentor, Tatenda, and the other teachers, I will succeed.

 

To sum up, three strong themes came out of these End of Term meetings with the teachers and tutors:

1.       Teamwork: Our teachers are so supportive and appreciative of the support they give to and receive from each other! “Our culture is not judgemental, but where observations and feedback are about improvement and development.”

Student work art.jpg

2.       Trust: Our teachers recognize the importance to our culture of building relationships and trust with their students, as well as among the students! “My biggest achievement has been the effect of the social training in our classrooms and that they have grasped the idea and expectations of being a student at Streetlight Schools.”

3.       Term 2 objectives: Our teachers recognize they have made progress, especially with the Workshop Model, but are eager to build on the foundation from Term 1 and to continue making academic progress! “My primary objective for next term is to further close the educational gap that our students are facing.”

It feels very good to have Term 1 behind us and looking forward to Term 2! Most importantly, our school model, with the Workshop Model and the Responsive Classroom Approach as our main pillars, has proven again to be a solid foundation and to enable students and teachers to grow academically and socially.

 

The Workshop Model

Streetlight School’s academic model is based on pedagogical approaches which are proven to increase students’ learning progress and develop personal and collaborative skills. The workshop model is central to Streetlight Schools’ approach because it provides a lesson structure that ensures that we manage to achieve these principles:

Learning by doing: students are actively engaged, and practice what they learn through real life exercises and inquiry-based activities.

Differentiated and targeted learning: each student’s work is based on their academic abilities, in order to experience academic mastery as well as inspiring challenges.

Developing accountability: students take active responsibility and initiative for both individual and group work processes.

 

The workshop model is a lesson structure that divides a 45-minute lesson into four specific sessions: Opening, Mini-Lesson, Workshop and Closure.

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The opening (2-3 min) is meant to “hook” the students on the specific theme, concept or activity for the lesson, to create engagement and curiosity. This can be done through a question, a story or a picture that is central to what the students are about to learn. The opening should introduce the learning objective for the lesson as well as set the standard and focus for the day, and usually only lasts for a couple of minutes.

The mini-lesson (10 min) is the teacher’s time to explain, describe and model what the students will learn and work on for the rest of the lesson. The mini-lesson includes informing the class about the different activities and groups in which they with.. Students are gathered in a circle, to focus on the teacher and the instruction.

During the workshop (20-25 min), students explore and practice what they are learning. This is the most important part of the lesson and therefore has the most time allocated. The activities and exercises are directly linked to the content of the mini-lesson, which again is linked directly to the learning objectives set for the lesson in the opening. The group activities are planned and prepared according to the students abilities, hence they will work on differentiated learning material.

As the students work, the teacher confers with them individually and in groups. The aim of conferring is to interact with students and assess their progress. The teacher is there to provide support and scaffold the students’ self-critical thinking in order for the student to work constructively and independently. Practicing conferring helps the teacher to assist the student to stay on task, keep focus and maintain motivation.

The Closure (4-5 min) is a review/debrief of the lesson where the students are given the opportunity to reflect on their own learning and work process. The teacher can ask questions related to the objectives and activities or lead small games in order to recap on the lesson.

 

What are the major advantages of using the Workshop Model?

After we implemented the workshop model in our school, we have seen great outcomes academically and socially, for both students and teachers.

Academic benefits:

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The Workshop Model requires and inspires for changing the teacher role from an authoritative role to being a facilitator of learning. The facilitator role, compared to a traditional teacher role, builds a much more conscious and thorough reflection and practice of how the teaching and learning processes are linked in the classroom.

We have experienced an impressive increase in the students’ academic learning progress as a result of a well-organized and learning-focused school day. Also, we have observed that group-based activities have helped children learn to work together. They have understood that teamwork and collaboration is helpful and they are now eager to teach each other, instead of waiting for the teacher’s help.

The amount of time that the students are actively engaged in academic work is much longer than in traditional classrooms. The students are “learning by doing” instead of acting as passive receivers of the teachers’ instruction. Which again has showed us a high level of academic engagement and motivation for learning in our students.

Social benefits:

The teacher-student relation is stronger than in traditional classrooms. Planning and preparing for differentiated learning requires close interaction between teachers and students which leads to a much more qualified and professional practice from our teachers.

Our students are showing increasing levels of taking responsibility as well as initiative for their own learning processes. Also, the students’ abilities to cooperate, share and take turns are well developed because these are skills they see necessary to use throughout the school day, in every lesson as well as during breaks and after school activities.

 

Conclusion

The Workshop Model has established itself as our standard lesson structure and as a foundation for how we organize our students and their learning processes. It is highly doable in any school and is a great strategy towards creating a more inclusive and academically targeted education system. We are still in the process of developing the model. However, we are convinced that the model enables us to provide quality education with a simple structure tool together with a very inspirational outcome.

 

Marlene Enger

Streetlight Schools Communication Intern

Meet the Streetlight team

Pfano Ramunenyiwa

Pfano is a tutor at Jeppe Park Primary, following her love and passion for education. She is currently studying at UNISA to become a qualified teacher and has a certificate in Personal Management obtained at UNISA. Last year she worked at Harambee in their call centre, who put her in contact with Streetlight Schools.

Pfano has been working for Streetlight Schools since the opening of Jeppe Park Primary in January 2016. During the past nine months Pfano has learned a lot. Working at a new primary school in a place like Jeppestown has its challenges, but Pfano has been growing as teacher. Initially, she wanted to teach adults, but after working with the children at Jeppe Park she realized that teaching children is her new passion. Pfano says:

 

“Small children ask you questions that you have never thought about.”



 

By hiring extraordinary school leadership, partnering with talent sourcing organisations like Harambee and education training organisations like Instill Education, Streetlight Schools has been able to focus on intensive, high-quality teacher development orientate passionate individuals successfully towards becoming competent, professional and passionate educators who are likely to remain in the profession for life.

Pfano is one of these talented young people who has benefited from this training and now aspires to be a qualified teacher. The school has helped pay her tuition fees and has given her an opportunity to understand the profession in practice alongside the studies.

When asked how the school has helped her out in the process of becoming a better teacher, Pfano directly refers to the school leader, Heidi Lindberg Augestad.

 

“Everytime when I am struggling with something, I go and tell her ‘oh I cannot take it’ and she will say ‘no, no’ like a psychologist and tell me what I need to do.”

 

She explains that Heidi has been a great mentor the whole way, and by observing some of the classes each week she is able to give the teachers feedback and help them improve. Pfano has also been observing the two experienced teachers, Christina and Tatenda, and comments on their great class management skills and teaching methods.

The progress made by our students so far is palpable and the data from our assessments speaks clearly, but the growth in the teachers is just as noticeable. The growth of patience is something we have seen in all the teachers since the beginning, and it has been the key to the students progress. For kids that didn’t know any English before coming to the school, they have grown tremendously. Pfano is a Zulu teacher as well, and started with speaking in Zulu for them to understand. But after a short while she would have the whole class speaking English and all of them would be engaged.

Pfano believes that all children deserve the best education, and so do we. At Streetlight schools we believe that the best way to guarantee sustainable growth of our approach is by developing our staff from the ground up. By harnessing the untapped talent of young South Africans, and training them in the school environment, we invest in developing precisely the people that are best placed to do this work.

 

Marlene Enger

Streetlight Schools Communications Intern

 

6 Months of Student Progress: A Review

Streetlight: Jeppestown opened its doors in January this year and took in the first cohort of 70 learners. A lot has changed since then: we are closer to the ideal learning environment that we envisioned, our school is expanding, but most importantly our learners are growing. The first semester has been an intense journey, with lots of new experiences acquired and lessons learned for both students and teachers.

When Streetlight: Jeppestown opened we did not screen children for ability, and accepted whoever came to our door. We operate in one of the poorest communities in Johannesburg, and many of our children were at a disadvantage when we started. Many of our learners were not able to speak a single word of English when entered the school. In the words of one teacher:

They couldn’t count. They couldn’t even hold a pencil. Let me give you an example for two classes I’m teaching. Most students in Grade 1 class didn’t go to the pre-school. They came and directly went to Grade 1.

But things have changed drastically since then. Our students have all grown enormously and we can say that we have closed the gaps that previously existed. To quote another teacher:

I have seen students who came in and couldn’t speak a word in English and now they can. I have seen others that could speak but couldn’t read, but now they can write, read and construct sentences on their own. The students are really growing.

The progress made by our students so far is palpable and the data from our assessments speaks clearly. We have evaluated the level of our students in terms of Numeracy and Literacy at the beginning of the school year and at the end of the second term. Evaluation was conducted on a scale of 1 - 5 (1= below average; 3 = good; 5 = outstanding). All students grew from “below average” to “good” and above, as seen in the graphs below:

To put these achievements in perspective, we decided to compare our student’s advancement in Numeracy and Literacy to government standards - the CAPS. We discovered that at the end of six months our learners are far surpassing national academic requirements expected of learners after 12 months of schooling. Some of the most striking facts are summarized below:

Below are some examples of the improvements that our students made between January and August:

On top of the amazing academic results, our learners are improving in many other respects. Here in Streetlights we don’t picture children simply as students but we are concerned with their overall development as young individuals. We believe that students cannot be just put in a classroom and expected to learn, they need to be guided and taught how to internalize the mechanisms and expectations implied in a creative and modern education system. It was not an easy task. As one of our teachers described ‘When we started here, it was chaos: fighting, running around the school and all those things.’ But after one semester we can proudly say that our students have embraced our concept of schooling. Learners fully understand what being part of our school is about and they are aware of the benefits that going to school brings to them. In other words, they love coming to school because they know it is a place where they can learn while enjoying themselves. According to one teacher:

All of our learners like to come to the school, even when they are sick. If their mom ask them to stay at home, they would cry. They want to come to the school. I think it’s because of the environment, the teachers and other learners.

In Streetlight Schools we see each child as a psychological, physical and intellectual whole, and treat their education as supporting and engaging with all these facets. Our aim is not just to deliver some knowledge, but to create an environment that will allow kids to flourish both academically and on a more personal level. By the end of the first semester teachers have started to observe some changes in the nature of our learners. Quoting one of them:

Our students are more mature. I see it behavior-wise. When they came they were a bit rowdy because of the community they come from probably. Now, they are much calmer, they have learned small things like sharing or feeling empathy for the next.
Trip to planetarium

Trip to planetarium

We are proud of what we have achieved so far and we are looking forwards to the future with confidence. Our teaching method has proven to be successful in all respects and beyond all expectations. The unique workshop model that we have been adopting into daily teaching practice enables learners to communicate and share ideas:

The workshop model gives learners room to air their views and to think outside the box...The traditional way of teaching could limit the learners.

Learners are abundantly ahead of their expected level according to CAPS, indeed they are in line with US academic standards (the Common Core) in terms of Numeracy and Literacy. More importantly, they are enthusiastic about school and they show a wonderful motivation for learning. We aim to continue to provide a stimulating and all-inclusive environment that will encourage each child in their development, and hopefully achieve even more outstanding results by the end of the year!

Thank all of the people that made this possible: our amazing teachers and tutors, interns and volunteers, secretary and cleaner, our school counselor, after school facilitators – and the most special group of learners. Keep it up with the amazing work!

 

Alessandro Ferrara

Guangsen Qian

Streetlight Schools Interns from Bocconi University

 

The tricky, awesome part of teaching: Classroom management

Our school leader, Heidi Lindberg Augestad, reflects on a recent training workshop in which our teacher team developed invaluable classroom management skills.

It is Thursday morning and the teachers, myself and facilitators from Instill Education have met for a full day professional development training. Today is about Classroom Management – a challenging and tricky, but also the most fun and engaging, part of the teaching job. Classroom management is crucial as it dictates what kind of learning environment and social culture we are able to create in our classes. 

Today’s workshop focuses on tone, posture and position. They are basic rules for how to structure and manage a whole class, through awareness on how to use your voice, your body language and where you place yourself in the room related to which activity you lead. The teachers have identified characters that are disruptive in class. The facilitator from Instill Education pretend to be the teacher and there we go; our whole teaching team has become uncontrollable students! Great fun, but also very interesting—and a bit therapeutical even—to act out behaviours we otherwise try to avoid, limit and change.

The learning lesson in this exercise is what effects different teacher roles have on group dynamics. Will any teacher instruction get through if half your learners are not ready or able to focus? When your learners don’t listen, does it work to shout at them? Should you grab or push your students around? No. The simulation shows us what we already know: these strategies do not work, they actually end up adding noise and chaos to the situation. 

The next act is with a teacher who is in control of, not her class, but her role. She is confident in what the aim for the lesson is and what she expects of her students. Instead of shouting she speaks in a friendly and calm voice. Instead of focusing on the students who misbehaves, she waits for the entire class to find a common understanding of what they should do. And she waits, and waits—with only a clear glance at them—and then suddenly silence become stronger than the noise until, at last, all is quiet. 

A very good strategy for dealing with classroom management! But being that confident in your teacher role also requires a whole lot of wise and unpredictable methods and a broad understanding of what affects your learners and the group dynamics in the class. 

The most important lesson is that a classroom consists of all sorts of people. You have the teacher and then you have each, individual student (nope, they are not one homogenous bunch)! Being the one who is managing the others, the teacher needs to know all of them, independently. Where and what they come from, what they carry of social and academic resources, their motivations and hinderances, their weaknesses and strengths, their abilities to interact and cooperate. You will use this information when you organize the seating, the individual and collaborative work and the learning material they will use. This information is fundamental when you teach, facilitate, support, comfort, cooperate with and challenge your students in their academic and social progress. 

A good teacher’s role is a flexible mixture of empathy, skills and responsibilities in order to accommodate the students’ needs, make the whole class work as a team, and create the kind of learning environment we all need.

Another important lesson is that in order to establish a functional and good learning environment, your students need to be engaged in meaningful and inspiring activities. It may be a strange thing to say as we usually expect schools and teachers to ensure meaningful learning, but there are too many stories and statistics related to drop outs, low results and negative school experiences that tells us that the learning potential and individual growth are not exploited enough. 

In regards to classroom management, ensuring that students are engaged and motivated through learning activities contributes to a wonderful and constructive learning environment. 

One way of ensuring this is through student centred and differentiated teaching and learning strategies. We have implemented and developed a workshop model in our school which ensures that differentiated teaching and learning are implemented in all core subjects and that student engaged activities have at least 60% of lesson time. This is a radical change from the traditional schooling where the teachers are in focus for most of the lesson. 

One of the most positive experiences from using the workshop model as our standard lesson structure has been the change in teachers’ roles and their approach to the students. Preparing for differentiated exercises means that the teachers always aim to find that fine balance between mastery and challenge for each and every student. The tasks shall be neither too difficult nor too easy—the students must stay engaged throughout the lesson and keep their strong motivation for constructive activities in class. The result is a classroom filled with structure and discipline that is designed not only by the teacher, but by the students as well. Less reliance on rules and sanctions—it’s a truly collaborative effort. Inspiring!

Back to our professional development workshop. It is the end of the day and the teachers have had classes where they have been observing each other. Now, it is time for self-reflection and feedback. How can I seat the students so that I have everyone’s attention during instruction time? Did I manage to vary my tone and voice? I must plan and prepare the differentiated activities better so that I keep everyone engaged! Remember to always get back to your instruction point! 

The day has given us incredibly meaningful and important input regarding how to manage classes well. Furthermore, it has sparked the kind of confidence that good classroom management is built on.

 

-Heidi Lindberg Augestad
School Leader, Jeppe Park Primary

Turn On The Light For One Child

Streetlight Schools opened its flagship school, Jeppe Park Primary,  in January 2016.  We have designed a low-cost, high-quality innovative primary school model to address the achievement shortfall in primary education in South Africa. Currently, we have 70 Grade R and 1 learners enrolled in our school. Help us by turning on the light for one child. I’d like to give you three reasons why I think you should contribute:

  1. We can have tremendous impact;

  2. Research shows that an investment in a child in their first years of schooling is the best guarantee of success in later life. In many school systems, the reading ability of a child in the second grade is already a predictor of whether they will go to university. I started this organisation with the aim of re-imagining education in South Africa. Our knock-on effects will go beyond the direct beneficiaries will be an entire way of looking at education that can help us tackle some of our most intractable challenges. You can help us take the first steps;

  3. Every student we cover in 2016 is an investment in perpetuity;

  4. From Year 2 (2017) we are eligible for a subsidy from the government and our school becomes self-sustainable. We only need to raise for these kids this one upcoming year: thereafter the school sustains itself going forward;

  5. We are the people we have been waiting for;

  6. At some point in your life, someone cared enough for you to pay for your education and transform your future. I believe in the children of Jeppestown, and I know that we will transform their futures. I want to live in a world where it’s us: ordinary people who invest directly in the wellbeing of others.

To show our gratitude to you, we will be putting your name on our website as a sponsor, as well as putting your name on our founding donor wall in the school. If you would like to remain anonymous, please less us know. If you are based in South Africa, we will also be shipping you a personalised gift to express our gratitude.

 

How to donate:
For a contribution of R780 ($65) a month you could be a part of the story of how we can start to transform education in South Africa. Donations are 100% tax-deductible in South Africa and the US. Join in with a friend; sponsor a child as a family, or as work-colleagues. Sponsor more than one child. Sponsor half a child – it doesn’t matter to us. For every child that we have fully sponsored we are one step closer to opening the school. Join those who have already committed to signing on and help us put a child through school for one year.

Email hello@streetlightschools.org with the subject “Donate” to join and find out more.

By committing to sponsor one child, you’ve committed to donating a total of R9, 375 (or $750) in any payment schedule that suits you. Monthly donations of R780.25 ($62.50) or quarterly donations R2343,75 ($187,50) are also completely acceptable. Whatever works for you: just let us know which you choose.

Our donation cycle for this campaign will run from August 2015 to November 2016. Though we prefer to have donations come in earlier (September to March), we are open to have them come through until November.

If donating from South Africa, please deposit directly into the Streetlight Schools bank account:
Streetlight Schools
FNB Business Account Account
# 62464302620
Branch: Rosebank
Code: 253305

Streetlight Schools has high degree of financial transparency and are audited by PWC annually. For a donations invoice, please email melanie@streetlightschools.org with your full name and address. Once the donation is reflected in our account, we will be able to furnish you with an invoice for the full amount.

If donating from the US:
Donations to us are also fully tax-deductible via our 501(c) US Partner-institution, the Omprakash Foundation. To donate in the US, do so via our donations page:https://www.omprakash.org/partner_donation?partner_id=4070

If donating internationally:
Please donate via our PayPal account via our website:http://www.streetlightschools.org/#donate

 

Bocconi University Challenge

Challenge:
Designing a school payment mechanism that encourages parents to regularly pay fees without creating any disadvantage for the children.

Context:

About Streetlight Schools:
Streetlight Schools is launching scalable primary schools with an innovative learning model to address the achievement shortfall in primary education in South Africa. Our unique approach focuses on enquiry, collaboration, exploration, relevance and the use of technology to teach and learn.

The problem:
Before the launch of the first school, Streetlight reviewed all schools in the neighbourhood and surveyed parents in the area to make sure that the cost of education was affordable to parents within the community, and provides significant support to parents within the community who would like to attend the school but cannot pay fees.

However, there remains a significant percentage (15-20%) of parents that, even if though they are financially capapble of paying school fees, do not actually pay them. This is a problem that affects every low-fee private school in our area, Jeppestown, a poor neighbourhood of Johannesburg. It also creates unfairness- especially for parents who do pay on time.

Traditionally, local schools have dealt with non-payment by banning children from coming to school when their parents don’t pay on time – damaging their learning progress and making them unfairly responsible. At Streetlight this is not an option: we commit to providing low-cost quality education to poor communities without comprising on the service provided to the children and the overall sustainability of the school.

That is why it is important to find a workable solution for both the children and the school.

We are open to any kind of solution: an incentive scheme for the parents, an innovation in the definition of school fees (their timing, their quantity..), and so forth. Everything is welcomed. Bear in mind that simpler, easily implementable solutions will be favoured over expensive and complicated solutions.

Please come up with every smart idea that lies in the back of your mind. After the challenge is closed, a team composed of Bocconi University students and the Streetlight staff will examine the solution and choose a winner (or two if we consider it fair).

If possible, we will work as hard as we can to implement the winning idea, resulting in a genuine improvement in the lives of children.

How to participate?
You have two options:
- Comment this blog post providing the details of your solution
- Send your solution to streetlightcrowdchallenge@gmail.com

What will you get from the challenge?
1. You get to face a stimulating challenge.
2. The possibility to have a real impact. You can help Streetlight Schools grow sustainably, improve the education of Jeppestown children and, hopefully, a lot of children of disadvantaged families throughout South Africa in the future. Remember: schools can change a neighbourhood forever.
3. A really nice Thank You picture from some of the Streetlight students

Our first school term: From wobbling steps to confidence on the dance floor

Three months ago we sat around a table on the Bjala Square rooftop, myself and our team of teaching staff, writing and preparing our first curriculum calendar and unit plans in eight different subjects as we tried to foresee how our school would turn out. Downstairs, in the school, project managers, volunteers and construction workers were demolishing, building, painting and preparing classrooms and facilities for the very first school day on the 13th of January. We were so excited!

Despite all the work and planning, we were all aware that we actually knew so little of how our real and everyday life in the school would be. It is all about the children and what kind of starting point they come with: where they come from, what social and cultural luggage they bring, whether they have been exposed to reading and writing before, if they are school ready. How will their presence affect our planning and expectations for what we want to achieve? There were so many questions – and we were very much looking forward to experiencing the answers.

On opening day, we welcomed almost 60 children, divided between one Grade R and three Grade 1 classes. We planned for the first week to be purely introductory, for us to get to know the children and for them to become familiar with us, the school and each other. Teachers and assistants had organized fun activities related to the different subjects such as reading, writing, maths, art and physical education. With observation criteria and forms at hand we learned so much from these beginning days and gained valuable information about our learners: whether they had previous knowledge and skills we could build upon, whether they were ready for a structured school day, whether they were motivated for learning or a little bit anxious.

And they were all of it! We soon realized that our learners are far from a homogeneous group but include just as many personalised characters—variations of school readiness and motivation, abilities to learn and socialize as they were numbered on the registration list. This knowledge led us to go for two main focuses during our first months: 1.) to establish a positive and inclusive learning environment and 2.)to create a safe and predictable school structure for the learners. Our strategy can be summed up in two words: Reason and Love.

The idea is simple: we recognize that our learners are small children and that they need to be guided and taught how to relate to and internalize the different expectations you will find in a school system. The best way to that is through dialogue and conversations where expectations are described and explained. Love is the basis for every relationship, for inclusiveness and recognition – and patience.

Both learners and parents were no doubt surprised by our behavioural strategy and we have heard too often that “you have to beat them in order to make them do as you want.” No, you don’t. Half way through our first term our school is filled with smiling children who are motivated to learn. Some are still a bit uncertain when they realize that we want to talk instead of punish; we recognize that conversation is a skill that needs be learned and nourished. It is wonderful, though, to see how so many of our learners have gained confidence to be and act as children and, at the same time, adjust to a school culture where learning and sharing has become their core focus.

To be honest, neither I nor the teachers had high expectations related to academic achievements in the first term. We were told, and we knew, that too many of our learners are coming from homes and family backgrounds where stimuli and resources for learning are poor. Our first days of observations also told us that we had so many learners that had never seen books before, had never learned any letters in the alphabet, needed to learn how to hold a pencil and how to learn and play constructively with others. We knew we had quite a challenge ahead of us. But I decided early that we had to take this challenge step-by-step. I anticipated that we would need two to three terms to get to the academic standard that we want to achieve.

I was so mistaken! In the last three weeks of term 1 we conducted assessments in all our subjects in order to have proper knowledge of how to proceed in term 2 as well as collect information for our first term reviews. One teacher after the other came and showed me results that told us that half of our learners can now read on a basic level, show high motivation for reading, can write their names and basic words, know how to add and subtract, know how to play pedagogical games on the computer, follow instructions in physical game activities and do activities that require fine motor skills such as colouring, tracing and cutting. According to our experienced teachers we are already well on track to reach the benchmarks for literacy and numeracy, not related to CAPS – but to Common Core (US academic standards).

This was an amazing surprise and we deserved to celebrate thoroughly! For our students, we threw an end of term/Easter party with egg hunting, bunny ears, home-made muffins and a dance show. A blast! For us: well, we really didn’t have much energy left.. and headed home for a well-deserved break.

The first term has really been an amazing journey—incredibly hectic and intense, and a steep learning process. But most importantly it has shown us that we will succeed! Our mission is to offer children and families in Jeppestown a low cost and high quality education where our learners are ensured a child- and learning-friendly environment. Yes, we can! On the other hand, we still have so many tasks to improve and adjust, to implement and develop before we have the whole school structure and resources in place. But we have achieved so much already despite all the challenges that come with starting a brand new school!

All thanks to an amazing team of teachers and tutors, interns and volunteers, secretary and cleaner, our school counselor, after school facilitators – and the most loving and charming group of learners. Term 2 – bring it on!
 

-Heidi Lindberg Augestad, Jeppe Park Primary School Leader

New Minds, New Ideas

The first branch of Streetlight Schools is up and running. Jeppe Park Primary looks and feels like a primary school now. We have spent the first month and a half of year one finding our rhythm.

In the spirit of modelling the sort of behaviour we expect of the little ones, collaborative problem-solving has been the name of the game. We are focused on the vision of what we would like Jeppe Park Primary to be like, but just like a child needs to learn to walk, talk and create, we had lots of things to figure out and problems to solve.

It has taken some time to adjust to the larger team. However we have been transitioning gradually over the past few years. In the first year there were three permanent staff members and it was really intimate. We cried and laughed together. I often joked about not knowing what my job description was. Boundaries were limited in that regard. We did it all ourselves. The teaching, organising the library, the cleaning, the student recruitment, the counselling, taking pictures, writing for the blog, sourcing building materials, shopping, carrying heavy things, painting the new space, and the list goes on. We had a taste of a slightly bigger team for a couple of months when some lovely ladies from Italy and the States joined us as interns. By the end of that year I swear I could have taken a seven-day-long “power nap.”

The next year, was not very different. Except we had a few more helping hands. So we were able to share the load. The idea of having “my lane” started to come into our lives. Instead of doing everything under the sun and the moon, I knew what my job entails. We had a few new people, so we were able to now focus on all classroom related things. “Happy days, happy days!” A lovely social worker joined the team, and her presence took a huge load off of our emotional heavy lifting. Communications and social media has been taken over. Our project manager took a huge load off of the physical heavy lifting and other things that made it easier. And last but not least, our School Leader joined us and brought much inspiration and structure to the team. But of course, we were preparing to open a brand new school, so there was much to do for everybody.

This year, with the new school that has a person for everything plus some, we have to be reminded that there are people to help deal with all the challenges that we are dealt on the daily. We are learning from each other through observation and conversation. Although our conversations take much longer now that there are more opinions to be considered as we deliberate over decisions. We are all getting used to the different spectrum of personalities and communication styles. Our days are organised with space for individual and group planning, preparation and professional development slotted in between all the fun learning and exploration we are experiencing with the children. The innovative aspect of our school calls for many a debate over what we should try in our trial and error phase as we find our feet. More minds, more ideas, better solutions and greater growth.

-Dionne Mankazana, Tutor at Streetlight Schools