Pretoria High School for Girls fully integrated, proactive change management and engagement strategy

Photo source: Pretoria High School for Girls

Strategy consulting: Fully integrated, proactive change management and engagement strategy for Attacq Limited

Facilitating institutional change management and transformation has become a permanent feature in the communications landscape. Institutions have become far more sensitive to, and more keenly aware of the role that diversity and inclusion plays within their environment.

Institutions, however, often lack the skills to ensure that these changes are sustainable over time. Communication therefore plays an integral part in assuring the success of this transition and that everyone feels included in the conversation and has the opportunity to contribute to the dialogue. Pretoria High School for Girls (PHSG) knew that they were in safe hands when they turned to Stone for guidance and assistance on the matter of change management.

Client profile

What sets PHSG apart in the educational landscape is its long and distinguished history, coupled with the remarkable stability of its leadership. With relatively few headmistresses in office over the last century, the school has managed to maintain standards of excellence, to ensure continuity and successfully embrace change.

According to Edith Aitkin, Founding Headmistress, “… the school was founded in the earnest hope that here girls of different races and different denominations might meet in that commonwealth of letters which gave Erasmus and Shakespeare to the World; to acquire there, in accordance with the ideals of Christian Duty, the healthy physique, the trained mind and the disciplined character which should fit each to live worthily in that state of life unto which it should please God to call her”.

The challenge at hand

On Friday, 2 December 2016, Gauteng MEC of Education, Mr Panyaza Lesufi presented the School Governing Body (SGB) of Pretoria High School for Girls (PHSG) with the report from the investigation team into allegations of racism at the school as conducted by a law firm on behalf of the Gauteng Department of Education.

PHSG wanted to ensure that the institution remained an inclusive, proudly South African school that recognised the diversity of our society with the sensitivity it requires. PHSG, therefore contracted Stone, to assist them on this journey.

Stone proceeded to study the above mentioned report and to use its recommendations to inform and develop a proactive engagement strategy to correct any systemic inequality or unequal engagement with learners. Throughout this process, Stone kept the best interest of all the learners of PHSG in mind and used it to drive all our intended actions. The goals of our integrated engagement plan were to:

  • Cultivate greater equality and sensitivity for diversity.
  • Correct regulations and practices that might compromise equality and diversity sensitivity.
  • Promote greater understanding across various groups represented in the school.
  • Rekindle and promote the founding principles of equality of PHSG.
  • Repair, protect and enhance the reputation of PHSG.
  • Adhere to the MEC recommendations, but within the spirit of a conducive learning environment.
  • Mitigate future risks and on-board diverse stakeholders.
  • Engage more effectively with stakeholders for their inclusion, support and advocacy.

Stone’s approach to meeting the need

In the spirit of inclusivity, Stone conducted an initial confidential, independent culture survey, to obtain the benchmark views of learners, parents, educators and other staff on matters of race, diversity, as well as cultural and religious inclusion at the School. Four tailored, culture surveys were conducted in February/March 2017. 888 parents, 1 316 learners, 86 teachers and 36 non-academic staff members completed the surveys.

As part of Stone’s integrated approach, several successful diversity training and cultural awareness workshops were conducted with the inclusion of the learners, educators, parents, staff and members of the SGB. The content was designed and based on the cultural survey outcomes and used narrative techniques. These interactive engagement sessions with the internal PHSG audiences created an environment for the narrative of the school to shift collectively (in communal transformation).

The workshops consisted of:

  • A Call to Connect – 10 March (more than 1 450 participants, including learners, educators, parents, staff and members of the SGB).
  • Diversity and inclusion workshops – 15 March (Gr 10 to 12 learners) and 16 March (Gr 8 & 9 learners).
  • A Call to Connect for Educators – 24 March (more than 86 participants).

The goals of the session were to:

  • Facilitate and co-create alternative narratives in group- and team conversations.
  • Identify and interact with the taken-for-granted ideas and beliefs about groups, teams and communities.
  • Invite and co-create connection and transformation within the group- and team conversations.
  • Respect the local knowledge and expertise of individuals in groups and teams.
  • Come in alongside groups and teams to thicken and enrich their preferred stories – based on the history and recent highlights of the school.
  • Re-author an alternative future with groups and teams.

In May 2017, Stone invited all parents, learners and staff to take part in a follow-up confidential, independent culture survey, to determine the impact of the integrated engagement plan, which included the above mentioned workshops.

In conjunction with PHSG Stone also developed a strategy for the overall improvement of the current school news publication, The Limelight, aligning it with modern trends in journalism and school news publications. The objectives of this project were to:

  • Grow the school newspaper into a fully-fledged, well-balanced publication with quality content, skilled and innovative reporting, and an overall look and feel that demands respect and compare well with the best in the country.
  • Systematically establish a skilled, competent, independent and well-respected editorial team.
  • Sharpen the skills of the editorial team and responsible teacher/s through ongoing formal and informal training.
  • Streamline work processes to utilise time and resources more effectively.
  • Increase the influence and impact of the newspaper on its readers, its peers, the school and the community.

Results achieved and value added for PHSG

Stone used its custom-engineered Pebble Ring Thinking© methodology and narrative techniques to develop a fully integrated, proactive engagement strategy to ensure that the PHSG remained an inclusive, proudly South African school that recognises the diversity of our society with the sensitivity it requires.

As Stone played a pivotal part in the revision and ratification of the School’s Code of Conduct, we also managed all internal and external stakeholder communication related to the progress of the Code of Conduct’s approval. Stone also liaised with the Department of Education on behalf of the SGB to make sure that the approval process ran smoothly.

Due to the sensitive nature of the allegations made against PHSG, Stone was responsible for managing all crisis and media communication on behalf of PHSG. The SGB also appointed Stone’s CE, Willem Eksteen, as the School’s official spokesperson regarding the matter.