Last updated on Jan 15th, 2021 at 05:46 pm
Leicester Road School in Kensington has a plaque on the wall honouring the queen and her territories. No, this is not a possession of the Crown in West London; it is a Johannesburg school that is one of the most impressive places of learning I have ever experienced.
It is early Monday morning and, after rising at 04h00 for the early flight from Bloemfontein, I was not in the mood for small talk. I expect the teachers on their first day back from the holidays to exhibit that semi-depression that we all go through on returning to hard work.
Exactly the opposite; these teachers are bristling with excitement, almost literally jumping for joy.
“Are you people on uppers?” I ask the one smiling face after the other as they pass by with their joyful countenances.
There are no children yet, but the place is busy. The principal rushes a few to a management meeting. Others read earnestly from what seems like planning books. Nobody is lazing around, and then the shock: one teacher after another comes to tell me how excited they are about teaching and what a great principal they have as leader. This is not choreographed; they really mean it. Time to find out why.
The first thing that strikes you is that nobody talks about academic results. The emphasis at Leicester Road is on caring, and the vision and mission statements on the school website are filled with words of compassion and belonging.
Two teachers tell me with great passion about their love for the children and how hard they work to make every child feel accepted. They raise money to feed hungry children. They employ additional teachers as specialists to guide and counsel troubled children.
The school is basic but clean, efficient and welcoming. The ethic of care is everywhere
“What is the thing you talk about most on your governance agenda?” I ask the chairwoman of the governing body.
“That the children are okay; that the parents are okay; that the teachers are okay.”
In the cut-throat and competitive focus on academic results, and the threats that teachers and principals are subjected to by the authorities if they do not perform, this school puts care and compassion for their people first. This applies to all.
This is the only school I have visited where the workers also attended my motivational talk and where the staff – teachers and cleaners – appear on one photo in alphabetical order. A small matter, perhaps, but a powerful message that everyone matters on this little oasis in the measurement desert of performance-based education.
Leicester Road is a reminder that we might have gone too far in our obsession with measured results. We might have lost the broader purposes of education to nurture whole human beings with the narrow focus on ANA (annual national assessments) results in primary schools and NSC (national senior certificate) results in high schools.
Of course, children should do better in maths, science and languages, but to what ends?
To prepare calculating automatons for the capitalist workplace, or to produce well-balanced citizens for life in a hurting world?
There is a solid body of research which shows that learning is as much an emotional experience as it is a cognitive process.
Children who are loved and cared for generally do much better with the intellectual demands of the classroom than those who come to school neglected at home and bullied on the playground.
Frightened young people, wondering when a slap from a teacher might come for misspelling a word, or scared of punishment that might follow for under-performing in a maths test, are unlikely to enjoy learning the subject in subsequent years.
Leicester Road restores the humanity that should lie at the heart of education, and is one of the few schools I know that goes against the grain of loveless learning.
As usual, the success of the school lies in its leadership
This is the only school where I am greeted with an almighty hug by the principal and not the formal handshake. Fortunately, black men can’t blush.
Renee Abrahams is only the fourth principal in 73 years at Leicester Road and the teachers also tend to form part of a stable personnel tally; after all, who would want to leave this place?
The community around the school has changed as foreigners arrive either as workers or as refugees, but the values of the school remain solid in its embrace of teachers and pupils, workers and parents.
As the teachers begin filing out of the staff room, the principal reminds them of a borrowed theme to guide them in 2012: “Dream more, learn more, become more.”
My kind of school.
This article was first published on www.timeslive.co.za on 19 January 2012.