Worthwhile citizens

In my previous blog, I wrote:“A vision is contextualised purpose.” Let me try and explain this with the case of a head of school recently (I do this with the person’s consent). She has more than 25 year’s experience of which the last five year as head of school. From middle 2018 she began to ask questions about her vision for the school as circumstances in the country, the educational environment and the specific school community changed. I do not have space to elaborate on these far-reaching changes in this blog.

We began to talk about her life’s purpose. While she does not want to build the school’s vision on her life’s purpose is, she want them aligned. In that way, she can believe in the direction of the school. The first part of her journey was an exploration of purpose and values, beginning with purpose. When asked, she formulated her purpose as “wanting to leave an enduring contribution to the betterment of society.” It was still vague and very general as life-purposes often are. As we continue exploring the themes, she began to appropriate that purpose to the school context. She came up with an inspiring concept of educating children to become worthwhile citizens for a worthwhile community.* We began to explore that with questions such as: what would it look like if a student (Thebogo was a fictitious student we used) is a worthwhile citizen?

What would a school producing people such as Thebogo look like? How would she know that the school she leads is successful in producing adults (alumni) such as Tebogo? It became clear to us that she values community involvement and leadership (or initiators), volunteer service, professional accomplishments, supportive (family) relationships, honesty and integrity as important characteristics of worthwhile citizens.

We then turned to questions about the context. What changes are happening in the school environment? How does it make the school different from previous years? What cause the changes? Are there systemic factors that she cannot control, and how do these contribute to the changes? What can she control and what must she accept as part of the reality of being an educator in South Africa 2019? It soon becomes clear what was important to her. She focussed on prominent contextual factors that related to the personal life of individual members of the community, such as family structures (and the breaking down of these structures), violence and opportunity to contribute to society. These factors fundamentaly impact on children’s ability to develop and learn, and become “worthwhile citizens” of society.

We can now begin to envision what a school producing worthwhile citizens in a context of limited opportunity, family violence and structural break down looks like for Tebogo. From this she can now lead her staff, all of which has an own sense of purpose and contextual insight, towards a new relevant vision for the school.

* She acknowledge that the concept “worthwhile citizens” is from a quoteby an anonymous author.