“Yesterday the entire staff stayed at school until well beyond five – no-one complained and we were able to finish up all the paperwork for this term.” “Almost all the staff voluntarily attended the workshop on referrals to special needs schools and school of skills the other day.”
How does the principal of an ordinary primary school in the Western Cape township of Gugulethu motivate his staff to this? And not only this! In less than two years Dr Sedick du Toit, principal of of Litha Primary school, has raised the schools marks to an overall pass rate of 92% in the November 2015 examinations. In the external Western Cape Systemic Evaluation last year, the Grade Threes achieved a pass of 91% with an average of 73% for Literacy and Numeracy, and there was a pleasing improvement in the Grade Six evaluation results also. Six Grade 7 learners were accepted to LEAP College and one learner achieved Code 7’s for all subjects – the first Intersen learner to achieve this at this school.
Underpinning and supporting this success is a chain of visible improvements in the school – an attractive and well used library; a vegetable garden which not only supplies food for the learners but is a teaching resource for Science, Maths and Life Orientation, and now is supplied by groundwater via
a pump; gaily painted and decorated classrooms, as well as colourful murals; a system of rewards and acknowledgment for academic merit and improvement; participation in reading competitions at the local library, as well as the district maths competition, and a host of other things. Dr du Toit is also very happy about increased teacher confidence and improved teaching techniques, a growth of initiative amongst the staff, including fund-raising, and last, but not least, much more learner engagement.
When I asked him what he thought the most important qualities and duties of a principal were, he immediately replied, “Human relations - fostering communication, inclusivity, teambuilding, encouraging participation, acknowledgement of worth, leading by example, having an open door policy.” At Litha, all staff meetings start with a prayer followed by “family”, a time where the teachers can share concerns and joys in their families, and learn about the families of their colleagues. Says Dr du Toit “Each person who works at Litha is a person first, and then a teacher”. He feels that this has led to a change in attitude of the teachers and the learners – a greater desire to do their work as well as possible, to learn as much as possible, and to take the initiative. “School improvement is not about buildings or resources, but about people.” He is also full of gratitude for, and appreciation of, all those, including Edupeg, who have assisted Litha Primary in different ways.
After “human relations”, in the scale of importance, comes “management of all aspects of the school”, and way after that, “admin”. Keeping beautiful files is not high on Dr du Toit’s list of things to do.
Where does this outlook come from? Dr du Toit recalls his early childhood when his mother ran a
pre-school and was fondly known in the neighbourhood as “Teacher du Toit”. All through his youth and schooling, he loved to coach and always knew what his life work would be. After obtaining his degree and teaching diploma, he worked for many years as a high school teacher at South Peninsula High and Windsor High, before being appointed as caretaker principal at Litha Primary in 2014. His permanent appointment soon followed.
What gives him such joy in this career? “Seeing children learning, that wonderful moment when you see the light go on, the evident pride, enjoyment and excitement in the children when they understand, learn and create, my knowing that now the opportunities can open before them”.