November 18th

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Earlier in the week Mr. Garbett read to me a comment that a Year 9 student new to our school had written in response to her reports. To give a little background, the idea is that, in order to encourage students to really engage with their reports and have a greater sense of ownership over their learning, they each identify and record “3 stars and a wish” in response to the reports’ contents. The “stars” are actually supposed to be about each child celebrating what they perceive to be their greatest successes during the reporting period and the “wish” their personal target for improvement. However, this particular girl had chosen to make one of her “stars” actually about KISU. I don’t have a copy of what she wrote on her report so I paraphrase, but it essentially ran:

“It is so good to be in a school where the teachers really care about you- unlike my last school”

Music to my ears, of course, and the more so because her last school was one of our competitors in Kampala; it would be crass of me to name names but let me just say that it is one of the newer members of the family of international schools in the city!

But I don’t want to dwell on the wonderful marketing value in her statement (much as I am tempted!), because actually there is something far more profound and important here. The young lady concerned has actually struck upon something that is of fundamental importance to good education, which is that children need to (and should!) feel safe, valued and cared for in their classrooms and schools, if they are going to flourish and develop to achieve their full potential personally and academically. And there are oceans of research to support this:-

Studies show students with caring and supportive interpersonal relationships in school report more positive academic attitudes and values, and more satisfaction with school. These students also are more 
engaged academically...Researchers have found student engagement a robust predictor of student achievement and behavior in school, regardless of socioeconomic status....Students who perceive teachers as creating a caring, well-structured learning environment in which expectations are high, clear, and fair are more likely to report engagement in school. 
(Klem and Connell 2004)

It is no coincidence that in our leaflets, and in the posters that we have put up around Kampala, you find us talking about how we “Cherish children…” and about us “Caring for children and striving for excellence…”. KISU is very evidently a caring community….it is something that is in our DNA, something we are proud of and something that we continually work at. 
But it is easy when we see the word “caring” to make the mistake of thinking only of support and encouragement, of sympathy and consolation, and though these are all very important, that, I believe is to sell “caring” short. I believe it is important for us (all of us- parents and teachers!) to be willing to show our young people that we care about them doing, and being, their best. There are times when the right thing is to say to a young person:
“I’m sorry but that is just not good enough; I know you can do better.”
It is OK for us to show children that we care when they let themselves down and disappoint themselves and us. I am a great believer that there is an easy and quick way to do something and there is the right way to do something. And if we, as adults, want the generations that follow us to match our aspirations for them, then we must be willing to offer them challenge as well as support. Doing so let’s them know that we have confidence in them- we know they can do better and when we let them know that, although they may be chastened at first, they soon come to realise that our challenge to them is actually an expression of our confidence in them. 
 One of the most inspiring moments I can recall in my career was on one occasion when I arrived at my football practice with the 1st XI team. I had warned my colleague that I would have to come a little late, as I had another responsibility to discharge in my role as Deputy Head, and so it was perhaps 5 minutes after the due start time for the session. As I approached, I could see that the boys were all stood gathered together near the place where they usually put on their boots prior to practice; the captain was in the middle of the group and I as I got nearer I could begin to discern that he was gently but insistently chastising them. It seemed that he was not happy about their personal organization- some had arrived late and others were not properly attired or had forgotten their shin pads. I could hear him saying: “It’s not right guys; it’s not good enough”. And remember these were his friends and peers- he was taking a genuine risk with his friendships and with his authority, yet it was very clear from their silence and from their body language that they felt suitably chastened. 
I have no doubt that the young man concerned, the captain, will go out into the world to be a resolute and steadfast force for good. He will be a man of integrity, who maintains and expects high standards and who is willing to take the path less trod and stand up for what he thinks is right. If we want all of our children to grow up to be people like him, then we must show them that we care.

date authored: 

Friday 18th November 2016 Africa/Kampala

author: 

School Director - Steve Lang