Having 29 years’ experience as a teacher, Ms Mpho Lephalo has been a Principal for 11 years. She took the time to share with us her journey to becoming a principal in a school that achieved 91.4% pass rate in the 2019 National Senior Certificate examination How was the journey to becoming a school Principal?
It was a spiritually fulfilling journey because I understood the promotion to be a spiritual calling. Our school community is burdened by a dark cloud of social ills which have a negative effect to the community and learners. This new position would give me the resources and opportunity to free the community of it and have light shine on us all.
Were there any challenges along the way?
There were various challenges, and most were emanating from the societal gender stereotypes perceptions. There were people who did not believe that a woman could successfully lead a team that would eventually remove all the negative labels that were given to our school. However, that perception changed when the community started to see the change in the behaviour of our learners. There was an improvement in the attitude of our learners and educators, concerted involvement and participation of the parents in various school activities and the general improvement in the overall performance of the school.
Do you think there are sufficient women occupying Principal roles in schools? If not, how do you think this can be improved?
There is an emerging and encouraging upward move in the primary schools as there is evidence of an increased number of women principals. We need to see this also happen in secondary schools by addressing the issues that have given birth to the current low statistics of women principals in that space.
Your school achieved a 91.4% pass rate in the 2019 National Senior Certificate examinations – What would you say your recipe for success is in achieving these results?
We attribute this achievement to constant motivation of teachers and learners, team work, believing in each team member’s ability to meaningfully contribute towards the achievement of team goals, sharing the school dreams with the external stakeholders and enjoying their support; and also appreciating every effort made by all towards the realisation of our team goals.
What support did the school/you receive from FSDoE during the Covid-19 lockdown?
We received various print and electronic learning support material from these officials. We were also constantly notified and reminded about the radio as well as television programmes which were meant to assist learners in different subjects. The guidelines received by the educators assisted them to prepare and share the audio lessons and assessment activities.
How has the lockdown impacted teaching and learning at your school? Are you confident that the Class of 2020 in your school will achieve a 100% pass rate?
The pandemic and subsequent lockdown compelled us to reschedule the implementation of our curriculum programmes and this had a negative impact on teachers and learners’ motivation levels. However, we have not lost as hope as we are working harder to ensure that all learners are adequately prepared for the final exams despite all the covid-19 and gang wars challenges we are faced with in our immediate community. A 100% pass rate is still our ultimate goal, and it is possible to achieve it.
What additional support do your Grade 12’s need to ensure positive outcomes in the final exams?
Our school is in an area where gangsterism is rife; and when these erupt we always have to cancel camps, afternoon and weekend classes as a measure of ensuring safety for our learners and teachers. We therefore request financial support that will enable us to pay for accommodation for the organised external camps or at least be allowed to use the unoccupied government buildings to camp our learners until they finish writing their exams.
What advice would you give to young people, especially young girls, who are interested in the teaching profession?
Teaching is a labour of love. For them to enjoy being in this profession they will need to love what they do and love those they serve. Classroom frustration and despondency can be be avoided by having a clear understanding of the fact that all learners come from different socio-economic backgrounds; and the teachers’ primary role is to love and support them all, equally. The basic principle for success in executing this role is that ‘the tougher the learner’s circumstances, the more love you should apply’. Never make an adverse judgement on a learner until you have objectively listened to and understood their story. It is important to give each learner a voice.
Why do you love your job?
My job is all about planting the seed of hope in the community I serve; and making a meaningful contribution in changing their lives through education. Seeing learners gain self-confidence, their yearn for success and believing in their dream of a better future brings me great joy and fulfillment. This is my assignment as the servant in this school community and I am passionate about it.