Beating the odds perfectly

There are many sources that offer advice about the requirements for becoming a successful leader. The bottom line is that leaders are measured on their capacity to influence, motivate and affect people around them under any circumstances.

Our background

Our school in Durban, Khanyanjalo Primary School, is based at Inanda Mission and the working conditions are very challenging. We accommodate 1465 pupils in only 30 classrooms. To address the problem of limited office space, we divided a classroom into areas to accommodate an administration clerk, my two deputies, four heads of departments and myself. We do not have a staff room. Our pupils come from families affected negatively by poor socioeconomic conditions and some even come from child-headed families. Our 58-year-old school buildings need major repairs from roof to floor. Despite these challenges, we are determined to provide a high quality of education. My 12-year-experience in this school has taught me that no matter where your school is situated, you can achieve great things.  

It all begins with the leader

Being a principal is a leadership and management position that carries far-reaching responsibilities. The department, community, parents, pupils and staff members all have varying expectations of a principal. I believed I could not influence people in a particular direction if I did not have a sense of direction myself. It seemed to me that if I did not have a vision myself, it would be difficult to develop and drive one for the school. So I looked at my school as it was at that time and then visualised it in 10 years to come. After this I came up with a plan towards realising my vision. My intense desire to succeed and excel dictated my thinking and my actions.

I allowed myself to be led, to be taught and to follow my leaders as I would like my subordinates to do to me. I familiarised myself with education-related legislation such as the South African Schools Act and the Employment of Educators Act and I took care to follow these guidelines in all situations. I also consulted my managers and more experienced principals when I needed advice. I became an active member of the South African Principals Association.

Working together

I have found that the ability to work with individuals and groups of people to achieve educational goals and create a sound culture of learning and teaching in a positive atmosphere is crucial. One needs good leadership skills, knowledge and techniques to deal with individual attitudes, motives and expectations to turn them around into common thinking and vision. Interactive, consultative and participative styles of management have worked positively for us. We work as a collective and have established teams who work together towards achieving a common vision. These teams include the school governing body and the staff as well as pupils. Maintaining a high quality of teaching and learning takes priority in our planning and organisation and the execution of our duties. We all uphold the principles of batho pele, meaning “people first”. We have collectively developed and adopted our school service commitment charter, pledging and committing ourselves to fulfil each of the 11 batho pele principles we have identified.

Planning strategically

We start our planning the year before to ensure that all staff members know what is expected of them when school starts in the new year. On the day that school opens, all our plans and allocated duties are spelled out and job descriptions and the code of conduct for educators are discussed and signed. Using a participative style of management, I make sure we go through our pledge together and each staff member receives a copy of this signed document and the original is filed. Tasks such as planning together, organising ourselves, taking leadership roles where relevant, co-ordinating activities and monitoring and evaluating our progress throughout the year has seen us achieve our goals. Governance and operational policies are developed and shared to provide directions to all relevant departments. Protocol is respected and observed at all times. We have divided our activities into six themes to ensure total quality management. They are governance, administration, financial resources, curriculum resources, human resources and physical resources. Strategic planning teams for each of these themes are formed from the student governing body and staff members. Each of these teams plans the strategy for all activities in that specific area. The plans are then ­documented. Openness and transparency are observed by all stakeholders and evidence for all the activities that have been executed is kept.

School management team on top of the game

A leader has the authority to make certain decisions and to ensure that the policies are followed accordingly. Leadership occurs at different levels within a school; for instance, the school management team plays a crucial role in ensuring that there is a sound culture of learning and teaching. We allocate management duties to each team member to execute and report on quarterly, with evidence provided. We also meet weekly to set objectives and share these with other staff members. All plans and decisions are documented for evidence and reference.

Our pupils are our priority

Quality teaching and learning are central and our teachers are always punctual and use the available resources effectively in their class teaching. Good planning is essential to the successful execution of lessons. At our school, teachers remain behind after the end of the formal school day to plan their lessons for the next day. This is not negotiable. School rules and the code of conduct for pupils are decided on and agreed with parents. These are also made known to our pupils and each one of them takes a copy home for reference. We have a trained lay counsellor among our teachers to assist and support our pupils, particularly orphans and vulnerable children.  I believe that acknowledging innovation and creativity and rewarding excellence motivates and inspires people to achieve their best. The pupils know that if they perform well, behave well or go the extra mile, they will be acknowledged and rewarded. Each year, a committee sits to decide on the criteria and times for awarding excellence.

Parents and community involvement

We treat the parents who bring their children to our school as our customers. This means we have committed ourselves to serve, recognise and respect their rights at all times, make them feel welcome and important and, above all, provide them with services of the highest quality. We have parent days twice a year. A teacher-parent communication book is kept for daily communication with parents. We hold general meetings twice a year to plan for the following year.

In addition, we train parents on basic teaching skills so that they can become relief teachers. We also involve community members to run our school garden projects. Various community groups make our school uniforms, tracksuits, jerseys and hats, creating jobs in the process. We have forged partnerships with the South African Police Service, the departments of health, transport, social development and child welfare to provide for our pupils. The lesson I have learnt is that it is the quality of leadership and ­management that determines the success of a school. A situational leadership style according to which I have looked at a specific situation and dealt with it accordingly has worked for us. I have had to ensure that the tone and the ethos conducive to learning and teaching are of importance at school. It has paid off very well.

Khanyanjalo Primary School won the gold award in KwaZulu-Natal for service excellence in education and was also awarded the premier award in service excellence. Visit the school’s website for more information: ­ or email:  [email protected]

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