Principals have been thrown a lifeline to share their experiences and also best practices in the face of the crisis caused by the Covid 19 pandemic. With schools having just re-opened, principals are faced with the responsibility of ensuring they complete the curriculum before 2020 as well as to make sure learners and teachers observe the basic hygiene and health measures.
The assistance is in the form of dialogues involving experts and other stakeholders which are broadcast on Radio 2000 every Saturday mornings. According to Professor Mary Metcalfe, one of the experts roped in, this is part of Phephaufunde campaign, an initiative of the coalition of education experts and organisations in the country. It is funded by the Solidarity Fund and the Zenex Foundation.
She said the special dialogues provide a networking platform so that school leaders can engage in and address challenges as well as search for solutions to the problems they encounter during the pandemic.
Metcalfe was sharing her views on the SABC1Morning Live this week. She said most principals are overwhelmed as a result of the coronavirus and what they need now is a way of ventilating their frustrations as peers and from experts who understand their situation. What they need to do, she said, is to ensure schools are caring communities, are safe spaces where teachers and learners listen to one another and acknowledge their anxieties. In this way, she said, they learn how to lead in times of crises, where there is a constant change.
Metcalfe also gave some advice on what schools should do during the level 1 lockdown. She said the move to level 1 lockdown means schools will have to continue practising the existing basic Covid-19 requirements.
“That means that the basic tendency of keeping oneself and others safe which is physical distancing, wearing of masks, washing of hands, is going to be the norm for schools I would say until this time next year. What that means is that there will be physical distancing and the majority of schools, only half of the learners will be able to attend at a time. This means there are huge challenges for families to support learning at home,” Metcalfe.
She said it also means there are huge new challenges for teachers who have to prepare and plan teaching lessons so that they can introduce new concepts when learners are in class. Metcalfe said teachers should also ensure they prepare enough work for learners to work from home in a guided and supported way and with the necessary resources. Metcalfe said another key issue principals need to do is to build routines and a sense of predictability.
She said the other important issues the principals’ forum addresses include how school leadership can provide pyscho-social support to learners. For instance, “they need to understand that learners and teachers, like everybody else under the pandemic, are anxious and this will play out in behaviours that may be interpreted as an unruly behaviour while they are simply Covid 19 related anxiety,” she said.
Metcalfe said one of the issues that come up quite often during the interactions with some of the principals relates to learners who have lost touch with school due to anxiety. She said this is a critical matter as it has the potential to lead to high learner absenteeism and may ultimately also lead to learner drop out. We need to reach out to these learners and also create space and environment where learners can attend school regularly.