Lessons from Hotel Impossible

HotelImpossibleI am a huge fan of Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible – a show in which hotel “fixer” Anthony Melchiorri visits ailing hotels and works with the owners and staff to turn the business into profitability and success. When I watch the show, I am often reminded of the privilege we have to work in a school in which the aesthetics, maintenance and care of building and grounds is given priority.

Our campuses undergo an annual audit during which the overall appearance and feel is checked. A critical eye is cast over every nook and cranny of the campus to ensure that nothing is overlooked. This reminder to our staff is important as it is easy to slide away from the high standards we set ourselves. Creating an environment in which learning remains a priority but is also a beautiful place to work and play remains a top priority for our school.

Here are three takeaways from the show which I believe are applicable to us as we strive to create our special “home from home”:

1) The little things matter:

No matter how big or small the hotel, Melchiorri always makes a point of looking for the small things which can make a difference to a guest. This principle needs to apply to schools as well. Way too many schools ignore simple things which can make a huge difference – the way the school receptionist/secretary greets visitors, the neatness of school bags outside/inside the classroom, clear signage, clean bathrooms with fresh flowers and so on. Most of these can be fixed with little or no expenditure. We continue to work at paying attention to the small things and welcome fresh eyes to point out to us when we may be missing something!

2) Be willing to see your school through the eyes of others:

In each episode, Melchiorri makes a point of showing the hoteliers what the guest experience is like. Delays at check-in, poor service in the restaurant, confusing arrangements for key collection and so on all create a negative experience which translates into poor reviews for the hotel. Attention to the experience of our school by others is an important part of building a quality school – we need to make sure we do it! We continue to take an intentional look at our learning spaces to consider whether they are exciting and engaging places for our children. We consider how we communicate to parents and whether our communication actually meets the expectations of our parents. What does our admission process feel like to a family desperate to enrol their child in our school? Do we have good relationships with those contractors we bring in to service our school? Once again, we welcome feedback on these issues so that the experience of our parents, pupils and staff remains truly excellent.

3) Be open to correction:

Some of the most entertaining episodes of Hotel Impossible are those in which the owners are adamant that they know more than Melchiorri despite the fact that they are responsible for running an inefficient, failing business. On many occasions it turns out that the owners have never run a hotel before nor do they have any experience in working in a hotel! Yet, they seem determined not to take the advice of someone with over 20 years of hotel experience and a proven track record of turning hotel fortunes around. This type of arrogant attitude has no place in business and it certainly should not be welcomed in schools. When we have been shown areas which need improvement, I’d like to believe that we have responded well and addressed these. Our parent surveys and the quality assurance evaluations which we undergo as part of the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa ensure that we are held accountable.

Yes, its reality television and yes, I’m quite sure there is plenty of behind-the-scenes manipulation. However, the show is entertaining and certainly gives those of us in school leadership much to consider as we lead an increasingly complex organisation in an increasingly complex world. I welcome any constructive suggestions and comments as to how we can improve our offering.

Arthur Preston: Head of Primary


Being a lifelong learner…

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I have always been on a quest to learn and am of the opinion that actually the more you learn, the more you begin to realise how much more there is still to learn! I have been so fortunate to have been able to study teaching full-time. This was my desire from a very young age, when I would line up my dolls and teach them! There was never any doubt in my mind what I wanted to do once I left school.

I completed my teaching diploma at Cape Town Teacher’s College then I went on to study Special Needs at UCT.  I then embarked on distance learning through Boland Teacher’s College.  Over many years, I have loved attending various workshops, conferences and talks to grow me as a teacher and to further enhance my skills.   I am so very grateful for all the opportunities that have been afforded to me.  As I graduated in the 1980’s, if I hadn’t been determined to be a long-long learner, I am convinced that my career as a teacher would have hit rock bottom.  Society and children have changed  and  in order to teach and reach the children, we as teachers also need to change. In my career I have gone from Talk and Chalk using blackboards, with the teacher being the knowledge base, to information at one’s fingertips using Google, ipads and collaborative learning. Continuous learning has helped me change and grow.

Recently, I have signed up for my first online course through FutureLearn.

This course, Education for All, runs for six weeks and is part of the University of Cape Town’s distance learning courses.  Best of all  – it is free and can be done when it suits the student.  You can also earn CPD points and there is a certificate of attendance that can be purchased as proof that you have completed the course. Being a busy Deputy Principal and looking after the needs of my family, time is precious and I have felt that this has really fitted in beautifully into my week with little or no adverse effects.

I started the course a bit skeptical, but reassured myself that after all I have nothing to lose.  I was very pleasantly surprised! I have been thoroughly enjoying each new week and the learning that it encompasses.  My mindset about learning online has been totally changed.

Although this course is online, I have felt a great connection to the presenters and to my fellow students.  There are videos to watch with a transcription provided as well.  It has also been wonderful to be able to leave your comments after each section and to receive comments back from the other students.  Networks with fellow students have been made across the globe and my mind has been broadened by learning first hand from others what their circumstances entail.  I have really appreciated that the course has been broken up into weekly chunks – in all, it requires a commitment of only about 3 hours per week.  This is really doable in anyone’s busy schedule!

Week 4 presented us with an assignment.  I had to post a short essay, which was then passed on for comment and review to a fellow student.  There was also an opportunity to view other people’s ideas.

Best of all, I have simply loved the journey of learning that I have been on.  It is always good to put yourself in your student’s shoes and to view learning from the other side of the classroom – that of being a student!

So, with my course coming to an end soon, I have already started looking out for other learning opportunities online.  I have really felt inspired, empowered with knowledge and equipped to continue on my journey in the pursuit of learning.

Jill Blackbeard – Deputy Principal




What makes for a happy, healthy classroom?


A child will spend at least 6 hours a day, 5 days a week in a classroom for the duration of a school year. It is therefore so vitally important that they are happy. I have seen how this one factor can make a considerable difference in their academic performance as well. It brings joy to my heart to see a child happily skipping into class with excitement in their hearts. This is infectious! The opposite is true as well when a child walks into a classroom heavy-hearted, tearful or down in the dumps. Small things can bring about big differences in a child’s life.
At Elkanah House each child is loved, accepted and cared for. It is a place where teachers can live out their passion and constantly strive to improve, develop and grow.

So what makes a classroom happy and healthy?

• Keeping a classroom as clean as possible. Get the children to wash their hands before they eat and after they have visited the toilet. This should become entrenched in their daily routine and should be strictly adhered to.
• Encouraging the drinking of water and promoting healthy food choices. Eight glasses of water is the recommended norm. Staying hydrated helps you to think. Healthy snacking helps to keep the blood sugar level. Giving the children water breaks helps them gather focus for the next academic challenge.
• Ensuring that the children are seated correctly at their tables. The work space should fit the build of the child. It is important to know each individual really well, so that you can place them in the correct position in the classroom.
• Teachers need to look after themselves as well. Mental and physical health is very important. Teachers are a vital tool in determining success. Long after the child has forgotten the concepts or facts, they will however not forget the teacher, what kind of person they were and how they felt in that particular classroom.
• Consistent,  fair discipline and presenting lessons that are fun, engaging and challenging.
• Preparation – both teacher and child need to be thoroughly prepared for the day in the classroom. This helps for smooth running throughout the day.
• Being open and flexible to new ideas and to changes in the school day that might crop up.

Let’s live out our school motto by seizing the opportunity to have a happy, healthy experience at school each and every day!



Jill Blackbeard – Deputy Principal

Understanding your child’s love language – showing meaningful love.

As a parent, you know you love your child but how can you show love in a way that is meaningful to your child?”

I have so enjoyed reading “The Five Love Languages of children” by Dr Gary Chapman. “In this book, the author states that children need to feel loved and not just told that they are loved.  We, as parents and educators must never underestimate the role and importance of our love and attention when it comes to our children. Dr Chapman goes on to state that there is a strong link between love and learning.  Learning is not isolated but rather happens alongside stable emotional development.  A child that feels loved is easier to discipline and guide towards a path of success.

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So, how do we parent and raise children to grow into positive and confident individuals that are able to reach their full potential?

Each individual, children and adults alike, have different love languages which allow us to give and receive love in different ways.  A child’s emotional reserve will depend on how much love is in their “love tank”. Children who have a full love tank are often more content and can play independently.  Children need their emotional tanks filled so they can feel secure and develop a healthy self-image which will enable them to face the challenges of everyday life.

Parents, teachers, sport coaches and many other adult figures in our children’s lives play a role in showing love toward them.  As individuals we all have different ways in which we FEEL loved. Furthermore, it is our responsibility to find out what makes our children feel loved. If we don’t feel loved it can ultimately lead to feelings of rejection or resentment, even though the child is very much loved.

In order to show love effectively to a child, we need to speak the right love language. The five love languages are words of affirmation, physical touch, spending quality time, giving of gifts and acts of service.

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If your child’s love language is words of affirmation, they will thrive on positive verbal feedback. Your feedback should be legitimate, specific and genuine.

Children who have physical touch as their language of love, flourish with hugs and touch. If you can offer the physical touch before they have had to ask for it, it is likely to be much more powerful.

Giving quality time is another love language that fills up some children’s love tanks. Making eye contact and giving undivided attention through activities such as reading together and sharing a meal together can equate to love through this time spent with your child.  For this child, quality time equals love.

The act of giving gifts is another love language which makes some children feel valued and loved.  If your child falls into this category, it is suggested that you take everyday things and turn them into gifts. Through this act of giving, your child will feel validated and cared for.

Acts of service is the final love language that I am going to mention.  If you want to show love to a child who receives love in this way, offer to help them and do tiny, thoughtful things which they will appreciate and in turn will make them feel loved.

To conclude, every human being has an inherent need to be loved. This is equally true for our children. Over the years, I have seem children blossom and thrive when a connection has been made with them which has tapped into their language of love.

As parents, I encourage you to discover your child’s language of love and to show your child each and every day that you love them – in a way that they will feel and understand.

Pippa Sinclair: Sunningdale Prep campus principal

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Flip, That’s Interesting!

With the huge amount of information, opinion and ideas available online, teachers need toBVGF1440 have a space to collect and curate digital resources. A group of our primary school teachers recently spent an afternoon learning how to use Flipboard for their professional learning. This digital curation tool provides users with an opportunity not only to discover interesting and useful articles but also to publish their own digital magazines which can be continually updated.

The teachers were encouraged to use Flipboard as a regular part of their professional learning and to consider publishing their own magazines and sharing these with their colleagues. Through lots of laughter and playing with the options available, those at the workshop discovered new opportunities for sharing and learning.

Professional learning and upskilling of digital competencies is core to our practice. Flipboard has given our teachers yet another arrow in their digital quiver.

Click here for the Re:Imagine Education Flipboard magazine

Arthur Preston – Head of Primary


Take Time To Talk

Blouberg Prep children eating lunchIn our busy and oversubscribed lives, it is often the little, but important things that end up being sacrificed. I was pleasantly surprised when this morning upon being asked during our school assembly how many children eat at the table, a vast majority raised their hands. Why the importance you may wonder. One just has to take a look around a family restaurant to see evidence or lack thereof that less and less time is spent teaching children the value and importance of good table manners and effective communication. The dinner table is the perfect place to do this.

While running the risk of sounding decidedly “old-fashioned”, besides teaching manners eating together creates a climate for conversation. It is in this moment where we can share our highs and lows of the day, share stories about who we are and where we have come from – a strengthening of family ties. It is a moment to slow down and to practise real listening skills. The art of face-to-face conversation is on the decline as more and more communication takes place online. In so saying what are some of these valuable skills we need to model and impart to our children?

  • Encourage eye contact
  • Speak clearly and slowly – use the correct pronunciation
  • Take turns and don’t interrupt (that’s a difficult one even for adults)
  • Pay attention and don’t become distracted
  • Respond appropriately
  • Enter conversations in a polite manner
  • Ask questions to gain clarity
  • End conversations in a polite manner

Children learn best by observing and imitating so while they are young let us take the time to talk “with” them – not to them and not at them!

Happy conversing.

Sharon Moore (Head of ECD; Blouberg Prep campus Principal)


Just A Teacher

In a recent staff meeting, a teacher shared that an old school friend had recently been appointed into a prestigious senior position in the medical field. He said that his initial response was one of delight for his old friend and then the thought that although they were the same age, he was just a teacher. Upon further reflection however, he realised that he was extremely happy and fulfilled in his chosen profession and that the outward trappings of success, so often portrayed in social media posts, were not the indicators of success which mattered to him.

The idea of someone being ‘just a teacher’ is one which has bothered me for years. Those who invest hours of time, heaps of passion and bucket loads of love and support into their pupils are never ‘just a teacher’. Teachers are professionals whose practice, expertise, insight and knowledge shape futures and impact nations – they are never ‘just a teacher’. The teacher who shared the story of a school friend achieving great success in the medical field is an outstanding practitioner. His classroom is filled with the excited chatter of children learning together and he gives tirelessly of himself to his pupils through a genuine love for each little person in his charge. How sad that a teacher of this quality would ever feel that he is ‘just a teacher’!

An effective teacher plants the seeds of self-belief, the love of learning and the excitement of discovery into children who will become the professionals of the future. Teaching should be a pinnacle profession which attracts only the best and hold them to a high standard. Elkanah House is fortunate to have a team of outstanding professionals who understand how important it is to grow professionally, to give of their best in the classroom and who understand that effective education is not simply the accumulation of marks which show success. Our children’s lives are touched by teachers who understand that they are never ‘just a teacher’!

Arthur Preston – Head of Primary