A parent’s perspective – The Fish Hoek Primary School (FHPS) Grade 7 Ambassador Leadership Development Programme
Two weeks into ‘back to school’, I met with a friend for coffee. “I’ll be running the Fish Hoek Primary School Ambassador Leadership Development training programme next week” she told me as we sipped our cappuccinos, admiring the pretty foam pictures the barista had created in our cups. I was vaguely interested in her “Ambassador training” and as only a caring friend would do, I asked what she did in this programme. Personally, the thought of engaging with 120 thirteen-year olds, was enough to make me whimper in the corner.
Anne-Marie, a Life and Business Coach by profession, explained that she’d been involved with the school’s Grade 7 Ambassadors for the past four years. At the beginning of each year, all the Grade 7’s, yes every single one, is presented with an Ambassador badge, and a one-day training session in Leadership, followed by peer mediation and conflict resolution training over the course of the year. I rolled my eyes. “That’s ridiculous” I responded incredulously, “In my time, you had to stand out to become a prefect. Not everyone is actually special you know”. As you can imagine, there was an uncomfortable silence as she looked at me pityingly. She took in a deep breath, and calmly explained, “Mel, the reason the school does it this way is to give everyone an A. If you give every child the opportunity to be an ‘A’ upfront, you are opening their eyes up to their possibility to grow into, versus labelling them ‘not good enough’. Get it?” Of course I got it. I had read the Art of Possibility by Benjamin Zander. I loved it, I believed in it. Yet here I was staring into my now empty cappuccino cup and wondering how I had let my old school beliefs cloud my adult knowledge. Clearly I had been indoctrinated at school. I had been shown that some kids were just better than others, and I still thought like that. My narrow-mindedness made me feel queasy.
Anne-Marie tactfully changed subjects and we caught up on the December holidays. But I couldn’t let it go. I was hooked! I ordered more coffee and pushed on. I wanted her to share more about the training and what they covered She explained that the one-day training session equips the FHPS Ambassadors with skills to fulfill an effective leadership role. From understanding and nurturing themselves, emotional intelligence, mindfulness, mentoring others to working together in teams and supporting each other as peers. They learn how to be an example to fellow learners and also the importance of their personal brand. She looked at me, raising her eyebrows slowly, a smile playing around her lips.. I couldn’t resist “Can I help you? With the brand part! Brands are my thing…as you know” I asked her before I remembered the 120 thirteen-year olds. Naturally she beamed like a lighthouse. I could almost hear her say “Gotcha ” to herself. That was how I got myself caught up in one of the most insightful programmes of my life. Over four days, Anne-Marie and I, as well as one of the schools’ staff members worked our way through all the Grade 7’s.
So what you may be thinking? Especially if you are a teacher who teaches children, day in and day out. But for a marketer used to boardrooms and adults, this was radical. Thirteen-year olds are a bizarre species. They are tall, they are short, they have high EQ, they have none, they are girls and they are boys (trust me, the boys and the girls, at this age, are from separate solar systems). And horror upon horror, some didn’t know what a brand was (my heart cracked a little that day). Perhaps you have a thirteen-year old, but I haven’t got there yet, so hence my shock at discovering the existence of this species. My respect for teachers grew to the power of ten (not that I can recall how to even work that out anymore, but it’s a lot). The patience, the noise, the repetition, the diversity in understanding and ability to grasp concepts. The misinterpretation, the “she isn’t my friend, I can’t work with her” issues. On and on the onslaught of the reality of 30 plus children in a classroom from various backgrounds and cultures floored me into a puddle of my former hard-core self.
I managed to work through it, touching base regularly with the school Principal, Neill Kinkead-Weeks. Each day, when he spotted me, glugging copious amounts of tea in the staff room, he would chuckle to himself and stroll over to check in on me. He calmly assured me that what I was experiencing was called ‘teaching’, and I would get used to it. That wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted to know from him how the school managed to work with this thirteen-year old species, “We are in this together – parent, child and school. We need to work as a team to get through a very difficult time in any young person’s life. Most of them will become unpleasant and difficult to read during the year, especially at times of stress. Understanding the changes they are going through physically and emotionally really helps. We encourage the children and their parents to speak to us. We are here to help. We have seen it all before, and we can advise parents on various strategies” he told me. By the end of the fourth day, I had calmed down, and began to allow myself to feel the process unfold. I no longer saw odd shaped children trying to be adult-like. I saw gorgeous souls peeping their heads out into the world, grappling to understand what being an Ambassador meant. I saw many A’s. In fact I only saw A’s. I also saw, finally, what teachers must see. I saw hope. Beautiful young shoots of hope for our country. Thank you FHPS’ Grade 7’s of 2018. You gave me much more than any brand could ever promise.