From the heart of the Head

As I sit listening to the rain fall for yet another day, my mind wanders back to 2020. What a year it was, how many of our goal posts were shifted during that year, what we began the year striving to achieve became a distant memory by March. For many of us, we had revitalised these goals again for 2021 and yet the start to this year has forced us to adjust our plans once again. 

One goal that parents and teachers at HeronBridge have always shared is seeking to ensure that our children become all that God has made them to be. While each party’s role has always been different, we have sought to make them complimentary, however, after the last eighteen months those roles have not only blurred, they have morphed into something completely new. While our goal to raise kind, courageous and authentic children remains unchanged the playing field has shifted significantly. This has been my experience, both as a head, as well as a dad of three boys at our school. 

I believe that the best chance that we have of achieving our goal is for our parent and staff bodies to agree upon a playing field. This series of monthly podcasts is intended to unite our community’s thoughts on issues central to our school, by revealing the heart and thinking of our team. In so doing, I hope that we can bring out the best in each other to get beyond the obstacles that this year may place in our path. 

The first challenge I would like to look at is that of the individual and the whole, the exception and the rule. 

We can all cast our minds back to a day where we experienced or witnessed a teacher disciplining or rebuking a child for a dress code violation of some sorts. The unity of this memory ends at this point and each individual’s opinion (shaped through upbringing and experience) takes over and judges that interaction as either fair, correct and appropriate or as archaic, non-sensical and restrictive. Fast forward to today and the complexity of this dynamic is clouded further by society’s deeper acknowledgement and understanding of personal and cultural intricacies. A school’s uniform represents much of what people both love and loathe about school.

At HeronBridge Prep, we have set ourselves three key goals:

  • Chasing after meaningful relationship with pupils, staff and parents   
  • Providing an education that leaves children thirsty for more   
  • Developing children who are courageous, kind and authentic

In the context of school uniform, the word ‘authentic’ seems misplaced because it seems like this word is diametrically opposed to the concept of being ‘uniform’. How is a child to become unique and authentically themselves, when they are expected to be squashed into a cookie-cut, regimental version of what someone else deems acceptable? Equally, how is a school meant to develop spirit, identity and unity if we have each child on a journey of “finding themselves”?  To add further difficulty, many parents choose HeronBridge because we seek to develop well-mannered and respectful children and these parents believe that a neat appearance is a part of that ideal. On the other hand, there are other families who appreciate our efforts to step out of the traditional approaches to life and they enjoy our willingness to embrace an acultural and open view of the world, all the while remaining true to our Christian belief system.

HeronBridge Prep wants to meet each child where they are at and HeronBridge Prep wants to build a school with character, common values and pride. This challenge has been the source of many disagreements in the staffroom, I am certain that they have been dinner table discussions in homes and possibly even resulted in annoyances while reading school letters or simply sitting in our car park. Let me state now that I do not believe that we (HBC Prep) are in possession of the silver bullet in this debate – because no such bullet exists. However, if relationship matters to us, I feel that, as a school, we need to engage in a discussion with our parent, pupil and staff body around how we manage the complicated dynamic of meeting the needs of the individual, while still strengthening the whole. 

I believe that God made each of our children, beautiful, unique and exceptional and that the wonder of education is to grow and shape these creations into all that they were designed to be. As parents, we have a similar belief and a similar objective in our homes, we are proud of and grateful for the opportunity to nurture children who will display our family values. At no point would we force a child of ours to behave contrary to their nature and yet there are many times where we seek to institute common values of honesty or kindness or even the love for a particular activity or concept in our children. In order to develop these common values, certain ‘uniform’ practices take place in our home, they may be simple corrections of behaviour, like, “what do we say” or regular practices like attending church or family braais. Yet these shared elements of our family are what make us the Lubbes or Tshabalalas or van der Bergs – the link between our objectives and structures are not always explicit but they are always intentional. 

Similarly, at HeronBridge, we wish to develop a child who knows that they are loved by God, who cares for others and a child who is courageous enough to face life’s challenges with integrity. There are certain uniformal aspects of school that we believe will develop this sort of child – our assemblies, the greeting of adults and the neatness of our grounds are some of the structures that we have created. Further to this we want our children to be uniformly and neatly turned out each day – we believe that this unity in appearance will build pride in their community and a greater sense of family. Another example of this is our expectation of a uniform set of behavioural standards for our children, whether they are in class, on the sports field or on stage – HeronBridge Prep kids will be identifiable by the unity of their behaviour in these various contexts.  

Should our children not behave in these ways, we do not ex-communicate, we do not simply punish, but we raise, we nurture and we shape them in the direction that we ultimately believe that they should head. 

Moms and dads, I know that exceptions are necessary, the grey space in-between is a part of life but I also know that every exception to a unified approach makes it more difficult to achieve that common goal. With this in mind, I am happy for us to discuss the details of this conversation as it pertains to individuals and individual situations, over a coffee – this is the beauty of being in relationship.

However, as I suggested earlier, I genuinely believe that we share a common goal – we want to raise and educate children whose courage allows them to achieve all they dream, whose kindness changes the lives of those around them and who are children, completely comfortable with who God has made them to be. So, whether it be uniform, behaviour or another element of school, let us work together on a playing field designed by our staff, to achieve that goal.

JP Lubbe
Prep Head, HeronBridge College