A Postcard from St. Stithian’s Girls College: Uniform or not
Posted: 13 October 2021
On Wednesday 15th September, St Stithians Girls’ College hosted a RS Postcard on the theme ‘Uniform, or Not?’ to discuss the hot topic of school uniforms which, in some countries, has sparked student protests. Delegates shared their own uniforms, hair policies and if they have cultural or religious items. They discussed the importance of their school badges and if it has any particular significance.
65 delegates from 14 schools from across the globe joined in, representing South Africa, India, Australia, Colombia, Pakistan, Peru, Kenya and the USA.
The leadership cycle at St Stithians Girls’ College begins in September, which is the third term of the year in South African schools. For this reason, the planning of our Postcard was probably not typical, but this is the order in which we began preparing for the event:
- We started by selecting our theme of “Uniform or Not?” and correspond with Round Square to set the date for the Postcard – 15/05/2021
- With the date set. we worked to outline the project to the student Leadership Committee (Grades 10 – 12) and canvas to see who is interested in championing this project.
- We appointed hosts – our two new student committee leaders, Jordan and Tashmika, took on this important role.
- We designed our artwork. Our school was on holiday when the deadline for the artwork was due. Fortunately, my hosts / leaders were exceptionally keen to get on top of things so within a few short weeks we pulled everything together. The artwork was sent through to head office for publication.
- The student leaders found some interesting articles which we set as pre-reading. We also decided to ask each school to do some pre-work and submit a slide of their uniform so that we could create a visual stimulus for the delegates which would spark discussion. All of this was checked and edited by the teacher.
- As we had not previously attended a Postcard due to connectivity issues at school, the next thing to do was to participate in another’s school’s Postcard to see how it works.
- We returned to school one week prior to our own postcard, so it was action stations! The first thing we needed to do was appoint Baraza leaders for our breakout rooms. Four students, besides Jordan and Tash, volunteered.
- The team then had to finalise the format we wanted to use for our zoom:
- Duration – 90 minutes
- 10 schools with 5 delegates each so that we could have rich discussions in the breakout rooms
- Introductory speaker and panel discussion in a Q&A format
- Breakout sessions run by Baraza leaders with a list of prepared questions
- Return to the main session for feedback and closing
- Our next job was to appoint panellists and a guest speaker. As Girls’ College have recently set up a uniform committee to look at updating our dress code, so it made sense to ask the chair of the committee – our Deputy Head – to be the guest speaker. We also approached two student panellists: our new Head Girl and the Vice Chair of the Transformation Committee.
- The team then had to brainstorm questions for the panellists and breakout rooms. We had limited time to do this, so we sat down and thrashed it out together in 45 minutes.
- We decided to share the questions with the panellists so that they could prepare their responses and wouldn’t ramble on. We also had to share the breakout room questions with the Baraza leaders.
- The final steps were to send a schedule for the zoom through to Round Square and prepare a slide show of all the attending school’s uniforms.
- We were delighted to be over-subscribed for our Postcard, with several extra schools wanting to send delegates. Round Square gave us the option to include more participants, which we did gladly.
- Two days before the Postcard we received some invaluable online training from Duncan Hossack at Round Square on how to host the call and to prepare our student leaders.
- Armed with the schedule, questions and a lot of enthusiasm, out team was ready!
Our student Round Square Committee leaders, Jordan Brown and Tashmika Moodley, hosted expertly. They began the call by introducing Deputy Head, Mrs Nkosi-Mnanzana, who provided the context for the topic by explaining the colonial heritage of St Stithian’s and the drive to modernize student uniforms so that they were more congruent with African culture and climate. This was followed by a lively panel discussion. Next, the participants headed to breakout rooms to share their thoughts about their own school’s dress code.
The meeting concluded with delegates reconvening to watch a presentation of the participating school’s typical attire and to share their learnings.
We had a very short lead time as the term began one week prior to the Postcard. This meant that we needed to share responsibilities for tasks amongst the team and had to be very deliberate in our planning and preparation. Having exceptionally capable student leaders and an enthusiastic committee who were prepared to create artwork and do planning during the school holiday was essential.
Wi-Fi connectivity on campus is not always consistent, so we needed to ensure that we had technical back-up ready to assist and data just in case. Our school’s Ed Tech coach was also on hand to support. There were a few problems: one of the Baraza leader’s Wi-Fi was erratic, so we had to move her, headphones didn’t work, the slide show presentation didn’t work first time around, but our competent and level-headed hosts took everything in their stride and everything ran smoothly in the end.
This was an extremely rewarding and empowering experience for our student/planning committee, especially our new committee leaders. Being new to their roles, this was the perfect launching pad for them and has firmly established them in their roles.
In terms of learning outcomes, the most obvious ones are:
- Developing a sense of responsibility for your tasks
- Communication skills (verbal, written and graphic)
- Appreciation for diversity and sensitivity towards cultural differences
- Inquisitiveness (this was especially relevant when devising the questions for the participants)
- Teamwork – we all had to rely on each other to get our part of the job done
- Ability to solve problems – schedule, formatting, delegation of responsibilities etc.
- Inventiveness and creativity
- Independence and leadership
In terms of the wider impact, this was valuable as it has contributed to our school’s debate about what we should do to update our dress code. It will also feed directly into the development and decolonisation of our uniform policy.
The students who were involved in hosting and leading breakout rooms have grown in confidence and skill. This bodes well for leadership in our school going forward, as well as for their personal growth and attainment. In addition, for us as a South African school that grapples daily with the negative inheritance of the Apartheid era, it is a step in the right direction towards creating a school with equity at the heart and belonging as its soul.
- Go for it! As a teacher new to the role of heading up the Round Square portfolio and uncertain about presenting online, it was a scary step, but one that has been immeasurable beneficial.
- Gather as much information as you can about “how it’s been before” but be prepared to break the mould and try new things.
- Ensure you have reliable student leaders and don’t be afraid to delegate responsibility to them – this is their learning journey and they will benefit hugely from the experience
- Pick a topic that has universal significance and will evoke cross-cultural responses
- Have a strong support network – something is bound to go wrong with tech!
- Use the incredible resources that Round Square offers: they know what is needed when and will prompt you if you forget. They also provide training and support. Use it!
Author: Peta Hanly, Director of Character Education and student leaders, St Stithians’ Girls College