Partners for possibility - sharing the journey

"Within my many years of working in the Organisational Development field I came across an initiative that seemed to be closely aligned in thinking to the Sappi way of engaging staff through great Leadership, and I offered to trial the process when I retired, should Sappi decide to test the concept. Well it has met every aspect of a Game Changer in educational support that I imagined it to be. This is my short story." Mike Trulock

I chose a school in Randfontein where the Principal Sandile Siko had volunteered to engage in the programme. The Phandulwazi Preparatory School is in a township where unemployment is a huge issue. Frequent disruption due to protests occur, primarily effected by the severe downturn in the mining industry. This is a Grade R through to Grade 7, Zulu language school with + 817 students supported by 24 educators and four support staff.

Key to the process is the agreement required that I don’t get into educational matters as a business partner, and we both learn from each other as true partners should. The only focus is on growing our combined leadership skills. We both attended three training programmes together and practiced the skills learned in real time within his school environment. We are in a leadership cluster with seven other schools and visited each school every six to eight weeks thereby growing our knowledge base and experience through sharing the real-life challenges experienced by each partnership and school. We had a facilitator / coach who spent time with us and facilitated what we call the CoPs (Circle of Partners). We both captured our experience in a portfolio of evidence designed to journal the key aspects of the journey.

The programme lasted for 12 – 15 months however our entire circle is going on for a further year at least. Sandile has been promoted to a high school just around the corner from the preparatory school which is a four African language school catering for Grade 8 through to Grade 12. He now has 1753+ learners supported by 59 educators and 14 support admin and general staff. The 2017 matric’s achieved a 97.2% pass rate. It is going to be a challenge to get our 208 grade 12’s this year to better this and get the bachelor’s pass rate up. The challenges are not that simple and for another day’s feedback.

The three programme’s we undertook with Sappi’s sponsorship were Nancy Kline’s -Time to Think programme, which to my mind is one of the most valuable programmes I have ever attended and well worth the read for every leader. Ten three months apart, Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting and then Community Building programmes. These are an absolute must if you are dealing with the complex socio-political mine fields of so many stakeholder bodies. The Head of a school must interact and make progress with all of this.

Significant leadership growth  

In essence, Sandile ascribes his significant leadership growth in listening, patience and collaborative engagement with his leadership team and the School Governing body, to this journey. I on the other hand can say with absolute conviction that I have never experienced diversity and growth in relationships anywhere in my 38 year career, as I have over this past year. Sandile is a phenomenal influencer and I have helped him think through the significant projects completed this last year. A prefab for storage or extra mural class room acquired, an ICT lab sponsored and set up, a roof over the quad area to hold assemblies and functions and the start of a library. The donation of a school bus, which is like catching a tiger by the tail and then deciding how to manage the catch. Many of these projects were supported by local business and the Gauteng Department of Finance under leadership of MEC Barbara Creecy.

The most important lesson was that the business partners were to ensure they did not portray the saviours of the day through donations, but rather the coaches and mentors through the school leadership’s efforts to raise funding and sponsorship. The impact then cascades to hundreds if not thousands of people through the growth in leadership capacity and not resource handouts. I look forward to the tough journey to support Sandile and his community’s efforts to change the educational legacy in his new challenge.

Thank you, Sappi, for your sponsorship in this leadership development initiative.

Visit the Partners for Possibility website  or Facebook page for more information on the programme. 

Mike Truelock