The American philosopher Sidney Hook (1902-1989) wrote: “Everyone who remembers his own education remembers teachers, not methods and techniques. The teacher is the heart of the educational system”.
However, in the case of Ms Sowazi, I believe the children will remember both the teacher and the Teach like a Champion techniques. One reason for this is that the teacher presents the techniques as ‘helpful’ and ‘fun’. After coaching the learners step-by-step in using an approach, she makes them actively responsible for ensuring it happens – and on a regular basis.
For example, Ms Sowazi has developed an Entry Routine which her Grade 4 learners take turns to present daily. Each day as new classes begin, a learner comes to the front and asks the following 5 key questions: “What kind of day is it? Who is absent? What is the date? Show me your pens. Please write the date”. By so doing, the tone is set for orderly and enjoyable lessons, in which the children take a shared responsibility for their learning.
1. (L-R) Edupeg Mentor, Bill Holderness with Mngcunube Intermediate Phase Head of Department, Nomvula Sowazi. 2. Ms Sowazi teaching 84 Grade 4 learners (4A & 4C combined)
Ms Sowazi’s full name is Nomvula Mildred (Koko) Sowazi. She teaches in a large primary school in KwaNobuhle, outside Uitenhage. The name of the school, Mngcunube, means ‘Willow Tree’; its enrolment is over 1 100 learners.
Nomvula is responsible for teaching Mathematics, Social Science, isiXhosa and Life Skills to Grade 4A and 4C – each of which has over 40 children.
She is currently completing her 40th year of teaching, 38 of which have been at Mngcunube. Despite being such an established, experienced and senior teacher (with less than five years before retirement), she applied to join the Edupeg mentorship programme. The reasons she originally gave were: i) “To gain knowledge, skills and experience” and ii) “To pass these on to others”.
For my part, I hoped we would have a mutually-productive, collaborative mentorship that would benefit us all. At the time, I didn’t anticipate that ‘all’ could also include the teachers and learners at our other KwaNobuhle schools.
i) Mutual gains in knowledge, skills and experience
Nomvula wasted no time in learning about, and applying, the selected list of Teach like a Champion (TLAC) techniques. Each week, as her mentor, I enjoyed visiting her classroom; I was greeted by her cheerful and appreciative learners (“Good morning, Mr Bill!”), and was pleased to observe how quickly she took up and applied ideas and strategies we had collaboratively identified the previous week.
So what has been the nature of our mentoring relationship? For both of us, it has been a rewarding experience. I have learnt much from Novula’s creative teaching energy and her fun-filled interaction with the learners.
She is an ideal mentee: her Journal and Double Planning sheets are always ready for my arrival, her classroom walls display useful reminders, information and educational posters. She is well prepared and relaxed; the children love her rules and routines. The Entry Routine, described above, is followed by an appropriate Do Now.
While doing Mental Maths, learners move and even dance. Concrete apparatus is used regularly and creatively to make maths concepts clear. In addition to practising the TLAC techniques, she welcomes and implements extra ideas that I have given her – such as using helper markers to assist and give prompt feedback to her large classes. Nomvula also takes under her wing problematic learners from other classes - by hosting them temporarily. I’ve also seen her encourage individuals to develop creative hobbies, such as making necklaces and bracelets from sweet papers.
(L-R) Ms Sowazi using a cylinder in her maths class, demonstrating that you can see through it and adding a Joy Factor. Using helper markers in her maths class.
From her side, Nomvula has appreciated having a mentor to work alongside her.
By the end of her first term of mentorship in 2016, she wrote:
“My mentor is a provider of quality education. Each and every lesson I teach, he provides feedback, commentary and recommendations. Through his visits, we learn discipline and encouragement, how to handle learners with problems and how to deal with big numbers e.g. marking 42 books. Teaching starts early as the learners enter the classroom. Every learner has something to do. There is less noise and more work.”
In her Teacher Response the following term, she commented:
“My Edupeg mentor, Mr Bill, is a parent and professional. He knows how to handle learners. I have learnt a lot from him.”
“He has helped me a lot with daily routines, discipline and how to handle learners with difficulties. I am now successfully using techniques such as Cold Calling, No Opt-Out, Affirmative Checking and Circulating. When the learners are busy working, I use the 3:30:30 technique, which means I alternate spending 30 seconds with an individual and then 30 seconds scanning the whole class.”
“I feel these practices have helped me to improve learners’ achievements because they are now so confident to stand up, help each other, share and keep discipline in the class.”
She also reflected that the mentorship has influenced her personally:
“I would like to say Thank you for bringing Mr Bill (my mentor) to our school. I underestimated myself but now I am so proud to say I am a Champion teacher through him. The learners are happy and attentive; they want him to come every day.”
ii) Passing on skills to others
What about Nomvula’s second reason for joining the mentorship programme? She has clearly kept in mind her wish to “share” what she has learnt. As Head of Department for the Intermediate Phase, she has been well-placed to have a positive influence on her colleagues. She reflected:
“I would like all the educators to join us and work as champions”.
Because I visit other KwaNobuhle schools during the week, I have been able to share some of Nomvula’s creative approaches with other teachers. For example, the Sowazi Entry Routine has been adopted by other mentored teachers to start their lessons in a disciplined, participatory manner. Following Nomvula’s lead, their learners are also given the opportunity to conduct the Question-based Entry Routine.
In years to come, when I reflect on memorable highlights of my work, I will remember Nomvula, as both an inspiring teacher and a competent practitioner. I will also value the fruitful relationship we have experienced – as expressed in the radiant faces, eager answers and good behaviour of the children who are passing through her hands. Others too will remember her through her shared, innovative techniques such as the Sowazi Entry Routine.