i was privileged enough to get to visit Lavender Hill High School three times last week.
Now i imagine that sentence will make some people curious. Heading into Lavender Hill is not something that most people might connect to the idea of privilege. But i will wager that those people have never pulled up at the gates and been welcomed to: The Best School in the Western Cape.
Is it the best school in the Western Cape? Can any school make that claim? Would that be best academically? Or from a sport perspective [where Lavender Hill High has a much more obvious claim given the exceptional sporting facilities they have been gifted!]? Or in terms of how they influence the community? Regardless of trying to settle on an answer to that question, all i do know for sure is that being greeted by that statement every single time you head into the school grounds – as your very first prompted thought – starts to shape the way you think about it.
i work for a non-profit values-based organisation called Heartlinesand on Thursday last week, i got to share some of their ‘What’s Your Story?’ work with the staff at Lavender Hill High.
One of the most exciting parts of this 42-person story-telling session was that Mr Viljoen and i agreed to widen the circle of staff – which might normally be thought of as teachers – to the admin and cleaning staff at the school. So we created a workshop where no matter what your role was at Lavender Hill High School, you were part of the conversations that took place as an equal. All hierarchies set aside for ninety minutes of story.
Realising that this workshop took place at the end of a long teaching day, and the end of a long week, right in the middle of the ever-so-stressful pandemic times we live in. This was not the optimal time to be given a group of people and be told: Have fun with them!
Especially as they arrived in the hall to find two huge circles, socially distanced to the max, with the inside circle chairs facing those on the outside creating a number of pairs of people facing each other. Everyone was invited to take a seat and fortunately, we landed on even numbers. After a brief introduction of me to the staff by Mr. Viljoen, we were ready to begin.
A moment of extreme hesitation and panic as i asked everyone seated if they had heard of ‘Speed Dating’ followed by a quick assurance that we were NOT going to be doing Speed Dating [nervous laughter] but a similar idea which is called ‘Speed Meeting’.
Basically how it worked was i asked a question and each person on the outside of the circle had 45 seconds to answer the question. Then a second question which the person on the inside of the circle was given 45 seconds to answer. Then everyone would move one chair to the right [moving everyone two people away from their starting person – a great way to get people talking to people they didn’t choose to sit next to] and i would ask two more questions. The questions would start light and easy [interests, favourite food, way to spend free time] and get harder and more personal or critical as the activity continued [What is one thing you hate about your job? What is a hope you have for the Lavender Hill Community?] All in all, each person answered six questions and partnered with six people.
The River of Life
A fun activity involving each person finding a block of paper with a shape and a colour on it under their chairs and needing to find the other three people in the room with an identical paper to make up their small group.
Then each person was given an A3 piece of paper and 10 minutes by themselves to represent their life as a river perhaps drawing the river wide when things were going well, a split in the river to suggest a path not taken, a waterfall to suggest turbulent times and so on. The focus was not on how good the picture was but that it would represent your life. i asked them to include aspects of Education [whatever that meant to them] in their drawing.
The rest of the session and the main focus really was in the sharing of the stories. No-one is coerced or pressured and so you can really share as much or as little as you want to. But the hope is that if you have created a safe enough space and everyone commits to listening actively when you are speaking, that you might be up to going a little deeper. One of the absolute best sounds i have heard this entire year was about three minutes into this activity when there was just such a beautiful buzz in the room. Groups of four scattered all around the hall with people pointing to their rivers and sharing some aspects of their lives that their colleagues had never heard before. Each person had around six minutes to share and each group was asked to choose a time-keeper so they could keep to it and everyone could get an equal chance.
The Very Best School?
On one of my previous visits to the school last week, i was given a goodie bag with a bookmark in it that had a piece of lavender attached to it [so good!] and this statement:
“Lavender Hill is a community that is slowly embracing its true potential, and constantly striving to uplift itself and its image.”
Unfortunately, the session we had with the staff did not give us time to do a debrief and hear how it landed for them. But i have heard positive feedback from Mr. Viljoen on behalf of them. And we are scheduling a follow-up session to build on the story-telling we already did in the next few weeks.
One of the key significant outcomes of that session for me though, can be found in the tagline of Heartlines which is: “You know my name, but do you know my story?”
So having staff who may pass each other in the corridors and never have the chance to stop and have a conversation be given that chance to just slow down and connect and see each other – as well as the cross-pollination with cleaning and admin staff that may seldom happen – feels powerful. As i mentioned to them all, the hope is that this session is just the beginning for everything that might flow out of it. That people may stop and take an extra few minutes at the end of the day to check in with a colleague or make a time to talk a little more deeply about their hopes for the school. And more.
This is one reason why i loved the privilege – and it is a privilege – of being invited into a school that i am starting to see as “my school” in the smallest of ways of being able to be called a stakeholder – three times this past week.
Lavender Hill has a reputation. And through the day-to-day work that an amazing principal and group of dedicated staff are doing in that space, so the story starts to shift. And we start to imagine together a time when everyone looking in from the outside will have transformed things to say about both the school and the community.
Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world's most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn't bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.