SMT Leadership Conference at Joie de Vivre Day 1


Here we are at Joie de Vivre Conference Centre in Paarl, ready to start our 2-day conference arranged for the Senior Management Teams of Levana Primary and Lourier Primary school.  All of us had just completed our normal day's work and trekked all the way from Cape Town to our 'think tank' space in the countryside. What bliss it is to be in the company of people who stretch one and of course, they get stretched as well. We came here, ready to challenge ourselves. Levana Primary and Lourier Primary SMTs have clear expectations: they want to build teams, they want to strengthen the school clusters so that we do not operate as silos, they want to build friendships they say and they want to raise their game as leaders at their respective schools.

 The expectations of our special delegates are music to our ears. Over the two days of presentations, conversations and team building activities, we aim to deepen our insights with regard to our role as leaders. We also want to explore disruptive ideas to help shape our thinking and our practices of where we see our organisations. The power of this conference is that we are all here to learn from one another.  There are no experts in the room - only leaders who are willing to develop themselves. The facilitators are three  heads of primary schools in our circuit: Noel Isaacs of Floreat Primary, Cassy Dick of Steenberg Primary and Lameez Rabbaney of Prince George Primary.


The setting of our SMT Leadership conference at the Joie De Vivre Conference centre is simply divine.  On our arrival we were greeted by Estelle, the manager, Her broad smile and warm personality made us feel like royalty.  The ambience of Joie de Vivre is therapeutic, the view of the vineyards and undulating landscape a soul-enriching exercise. Our conference venue is tucked between an arbour of trees Just outside our venue, is a beautiful deck which probably doubles as entertaining space, a platform for workshop breakaway groups activities or just a place to relax,In the distance we can see the thatched-roof white cottages nestling between the trees. As an aside, I spent quite a bit of time ( well, till way past midnight) with the Ladies of Levana in these cottages before retiring to my fabulous room with the 4-poster bed.
Levana SMT: Velma, Gavin, Fadia, Joy, Ivor, Carlton and Noel looking on.  Here the SMT are working on their Evaluation  feedback contribution for tomorrow.

Scenes from the conference room: high activity

We had planned to have a teambuilding exercise on our arrival but the weather was too hot. After some huddling by the conference facilitation team, we agree that the SMTs will provide us with icebreaker activities. Of course, they rose to the occasion and soon we were introducing ourselves with body movements and singing of songs to great laughter. There was no ice left after all these boisterous introductions.


We then  kicked off with an overview of Peter Senge's conceptual framework of a learning organisation. The participants were completely enrolled. There was debate and discussion on systems thinking, mental models and shared vision.

The buzz continued when Noel presented a talk on International Achievement Studies and used the Mckinsey 2010 report and Finlands education system as references as  well. We grappled with "Is poverty a barrier?  We raised questions about parent literacy, we almost choked on truncated multilingualism, and the group was using research-based forms of engagement as well. Questions such as Is parent literacy a barrier or are we creating barriers? In response, counter questions were asked such as " What do we mean by parent illiteracy?" Are they 'illiterate' within our middle-class cultural capital framework? What is cultural capital? Heavy stuff... enquiring minds... thinkers of another calibre - yes, these conversations were deep and a high level of enquiry kept all of  us highly charged.

Top picture: outside on the deck just waiting for our icebreaker.  Bottom: Rashida, Nakeeba, Denver and Daniel - the SMT of Lourier working on their own presentation

After supper the two SMTs went straight to the conference venue to start preparing their presentation. The SMT presentation will serve as an evaluation exercise, a feedback of sorts so that we can evaluate whether this conference created mental or physical shifts.We had the luxury of lying on the loungers at the poolside because we did not want to hang around the group in the conference centre; we could sense they were in a world of their own. Every now and then one of us would venture to the venue to see if we were needed, but no, we were definitely outside their circles this time - this was their intimate space, their huddle to tease out what they wanted to share with us the following day.   It was with absolute amazement to see the two school groups fully engaged in their activity - they only packed up after 22h00!!

Fareeda, Gavin, Ivor and Daniel chilling while we wait for supper to be served

Day 1 was amazing.  We will see what tomorrow holds. As I retire, I pull out the computer and with heavy eyes, I compel my fingers to capture these moments of  Day 1. Tomorrow Cassy and the two SMTs will deliver their presentations.  I can't wait for leg two of this journey.


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