How do you change an Elephant into a Dassie?
Written by Alan   

This is not an elephant joke!!

The rock hyrax, known in Africa as a Dassie, despite weighing only 4kg, is the closest living relative to an elephant.

Most would agree that changing an elephant into a dassie is a ridiculous notion. But just maybe it is possible.

Long, long ago in the mists of time back in 2014 pre-Trump, pre-Brexit, pre-Bitcoin, UNICEF requested the Billion Child Foundation (BCF), a charity registered in the UK and South Africa, to train school inspectors in Lesotho to empower head teachers/principals of primary schools to reinvent their schools as centres of excellence.

BCF had since 2011 trained principals of over 350 schools in Africa to reinvent their schools to become centres of excellence with 96% of schools making good or excellent progress towards this goal. As the BCF CEO I was dubious about the proposed process as most education authorities around the world report that cascade training programmes seldom work.

Included in my concerns was the fact that facilitating a culture change process requires special training and intensive coaching of each facilitator. I also knew from the baseline survey that each teacher and principal in Lesotho schools operated largely independently and to a large extent felt abandoned, unappreciated and unsupported. I also suspected that any change was likely to be resisted by principals and academic staff and that implementation of each school’s centre of excellence implementation strategy and monthly performance contracts for all management and academic staff was likely to be patchy at best.

Clearly a new approach to training was required.

A three-step approach for implementation 2015/16 was agreed with UNICEF and the Lesotho Ministry of Education and Training

  1. BCF would train school inspectors to facilitate the BCF Schools Centre of Excellence Programme (SCoEP).
  2. BCF would, over a period of five months, observe/coach school inspectors while they facilitated SCoEP workshops attended by principals of the schools which reported to them
  3. BCF would accompany school inspectors as they visited each principal between workshops to monitor progress on implementation and to provide coaching and encouragement to speedily and effectively implement each school’s centre of excellence. And this is where the magic started!

Throughout the world the visit of the school inspector is often feared or resented by principals and academic staff as the school inspector largely plays the role of compliance officer. It is said that at some schools teachers even dusted the leaves of the indoor plants before the school inspector called! However something had changed. When the inspectors visited schools they now shared a common goal with the principal and academic staff - to empower the principal and academic staff to reinvent their school to become a centre of excellence. Inspectors had become the leader of a team of school management and academics all working towards a common goal – that of reinventing their school to become a centre of excellence.

Roles of each team member were clearly defined, the school inspector as Hope and Excellence Leader, the principal as Centre of Excellence Implementation Leader, the HODs to monitor and coach to ensure quality timeous high-quality curriculum delivery and each teacher taking responsibility for high quality in-class delivery.

The key words here are goal directed activities, discipline, culture (the way we do things at our school), responsibility, praise, acknowledgment, support, teamwork, breaking silo mentality, focused energy, strategic alignment and pride. The sense of being abandoned and uncared for was replaced by a determination to give every child the opportunity to become a well-rounded individual who would succeed after they left school.

Schools became, or made significant progress towards, becoming centres of excellence and the end of year results in December 2016 soared.

Conclusions stated in the report to UNICEF by the Lesotho Ministry of Education and Training

  1. This Programme was a significant success.
  2. The role of the Inspector has significantly changed from being a compliance officer to that of becoming an Excellence Leader who empowers principals to reinvent their schools to become centres of excellence. While measuring compliance remains important, this has become only one dimension of their job. Compliance has become incorporated and integrated into the leadership provided by each Inspector during his/her interactions with each principal they empower.
  3. This programme does not focus on improving academic outcomes. it focuses on changing the culture of each school to become a centre of excellence. The excellent results follow.
  4. Principals acquired the skills to make progress on the journey to reinvent their schools as centres of excellence and in so doing inspired the staff to improve the culture of effective teaching and effective learning.
  5. The pass rate at under-performing schools (which had in 2015 enjoyed less than 80% pass rates) on average increased their pass rates by 54% while the pass rate of control group of schools declined by 7% indicating an overall improvement of 61% compared to the control schools.
  6. The number of schools gaining 100% Pass Rate increased from 3 schools to 7 schools.
  7. All, except one school, significantly increased their year-end pass marks.

This Programme that I was so worried would fail as little would be implemented at school level became a major triumph for all concerned but most of all for the children of Lesotho.

As this programme is rolled out to all schools in the country tens of thousands of young children who would never have graduated from primary school will now, instead of joining the ranks of the under-educated, unskilled and unemployable youth now enjoy the opportunity to attend secondary schools.

When leaders become involved with their people and provide conditions where people believe in something bigger than themselves, aspire to great things and do the little things right first time, everyone wins.

Morale of the Story

The elephant in the room – lack of implementation following training – can be reduced to the size of a dassie if managers become fully involved as team leaders in driving excellence. We should never send people on courses or for in-company training if we as managers are not prepared to become fully involved leaders. Leading change and coaching are inter-twined, and, if you are a leader, it is a key part of your job. Without employee engagement you will never enjoy excellent customer service. But with employee engagement and excellent customer service your company can progress to continuous improvement and the development of commercial opportunities.

Written by Alan J Whitaker, CEO, The Billion Child Foundation, 13th December 2017

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