Work in Progress - First ERT workshop in Johannesburg

The ERT held its first ever workshop in Johannesburg at the St James School in August 2003. The event attracted over 100 teachers. They included over 40 teachers from Soweto and other township schools, as well as delegates from local private schools including St. James, Johannesburg.

There was even one lady who had set up a school under a tree in her garden for pre-school children from her local squatter camp. Pieter Steyn, head of St. James Johannesburg, had met this lady only the previous week when she brought her troupe of children to the restaurant where Pieter was having lunch, to sing for the owner in gratitude for food that he regularly provided them with. Pieter discovered that she had taken it upon herself to look after these children during the day and protect them from the possibility of child rape and had now begun to educate them. He immediately invited her to the ERT workshop, which she enthusiastically attended. Links have now been set up between St. James and the “tree school”.

Despite this variety, the mark of the day was unity. All present were brought together by the desire to teach from true authority and fully nourish the children in their care.

After an introduction by Pieter Steyn, Paul Moss, head teacher of St James Junior School, London, took the first session. He reminded everyone that education was of body, mind, heart & spirit. He spoke of the true, position of the teacher, pointing out that the great educators of the past placed the role of teacher second only to that of priest. He explained that in such a position there was a need to constantly put oneself under the discipline of true authority and to present the children with material of the very highest quality. This did not just include the work that was presented but necessarily had to be reflected in the actions of the teacher.

To assist in this Paul presented a very simple exercise which allowed body, mind, heart and spirit of both teacher and pupil to come to rest and be united. As we practised the effect was electrifying – the whole room became profoundly still until the quiet was broken by Paul’s questioning of what was experienced. People spoke of experiencing great harmony, peace, the presence of God, connection with everyone else and being energised. With this the session was brought to a close and we moved downstairs for tea and coffee.

The next session was an illustration of how the simple principles so far presented had been put into practice at St. James School in Johannesburg. Pieter Steyn and his wife Joao, also a teacher at the school, described a typical day whose focal point was connecting with the inner child. The audience was delighted and inspired to hear how simply this connection could be made, starting with greeting each child at the beginning of each day, through the format of assembly, the simple rule at lunch of serving each other, to the teaching of history through looking at the lives of South Africa’s great men and women. The audience was particularly enchanted by the examples of children’s work that were used.

We were then treated to a splendid lunch, beautifully prepared and presented by the matron of St James, Dorothy Joubert, her team of men and women drawn from the local community, and assisted by the staff of St. James. The room was quickly filled with conversation, and the assembled company quite naturally served each other.

After lunch, Andrew Bedford provided a session of practising staying in the present moment as a means to preventing stress. Everyone was keen to discover how this might be achieved, but were unaware that they would be doing this through singing! However initial reservations having been dismissed by Mr. Bedford with a wave of his baton, all joined in with the same interest, commitment and open heart that had been present in the morning. At the conclusion of the session, observations of the “timeless” and “no worries” quality of the experience were offered and there was unanimous acknowledgment that being in the present moment was both extremely productive and stress free – two for the price of one!

The final session of the day was given over to the audience to support each other by voicing practical approaches they could implement in their schools. Contributions included “speech & example; greeting the children & staff as they come to school; practising the exercise of coming to rest; coming to the level of the children; taking care of the children and producing good citizens.” One headteacher from Soweto seemed to sum up the spirit of the day and indeed the spirit of South Africa in its vigorous quest for unity when she said “We must learn to serve each other- not physical food only - everyone and everything”.

Pieter brought the day to a close by offering a prayer and inviting the audience to sing the National anthem. This was perhaps the most moving moment of the whole day, and it left hardly a dry eye in the room.

This first ERT workshop in Johannesburg was a resounding success. Participants obviously valued the words of true principle and authority, and examples of how to put these into practice. But more than this, there was a very strong appreciation of having the opportunity to meet with like-minded teachers whose united aim is the truest education possible for their pupils. There was a unanimous desire for this to be just the beginning of a renaissance of education in Johannesburg.

Special mention must be made of Gillian Wilkinson who promoted this event so extensively, particularly in Soweto and through whose practical efforts and encouragement so many teachers from there could attend.

Finally, many thanks should go to all the staff of St. James School who hosted the event so beautifully, and to Pieter Steyn, whose inspiration and enthusiasm it was that brought the event into existence.

Linda Bedford

Linda Bedford was one of a team of teachers, led by Paul Moss, who travelled to Johannesburg to run this teachers’ workshop. Their travel was funded by ERT.