Find out more how every Kairos child thrives by completing a “Find Out More” form at the bottom (or just give us a call at 011 646 6221).

In my previous Headmonsterly Hmmm (7 February), I offered an observation that at Kairos there is a noticeable presence of empathy in our school, especially when compared to most other schools in our country. I do hope you agree. We often hear stories of incidents in the playgrounds and classrooms out there which sound foreign to us. What is it about Kairos that makes empathy our norm, with a conspicuous absence of malice, disrespect or anxiety?

Well it’s not because we hammer our core values — Integrity, Mastery and Harmony — into everyone’s heads. (We don’t.) Nor do we put up these words in a large luminous font on playground walls. (Do you think we should?) It’s certainly not because we ensure our children can repeat these words on demand. What is it then? 

One factor is the visual experience of the school. Instead of an archipelago of classrooms along corridors, our school is a house, and feels like a home. It’s friendly and welcoming, with a glorious garden. We meet often in circles, and often outside, and we often create beauty together — children engage meaningfully in texts, illustrating them on a daily basis, instead of the conventional ready-made textbooks tasks and fill-in-the-gap worksheets..

Another factor is our intentional championing of the idea of Nonviolent Communication. This is an invisible feature in the school. It’s not in the timetable, it’s not in the children’s bookwork — and it’s certainly not tested (as it would be in the mainstream schooling system). Nope — it’s a commitment to prioritise wholesome relationships between everyone and a commitment to be courageously honest and vulnerably open. It’s a commitment to be genuinely empathic about others’ feelings, and to be sincerely curious about what makes them tick. And it’s a commitment to being able to listen to others when we impact them by mistake, and to do our best to restore a sense of connection with them.

I am human and fallible. I fall into old patterns of unkind, unthoughtful or unconscious behaviour — and it’s comforting to know others will too. We are a school that emphasises the willingness to grow, and learn from mistakes, and that means mistakes are expected, normal — even necessary. For this reason we don’t use the word “punishment”, a foreign word to us. (We prefer “acts of accountability” for “agreements broken”). 

Our pupils learn this collective tolerance and institutional patience from the teachers and other staff, and they come to learn that we all aspire to model empathy and non-violence as best as we can. I believe we succeed in this mission frequently enough because the pupils who have been with us for years are able to successfully model those same qualities for new pupils just joining us, and support their classmates to learn them too.

Yes, there are specific, explicit practices that are seminal in our school that emphasise empathy and non-violence. Most obviously, we offer a thoughtful introduction of formal, quantitative tests, in glaring contrast to the very sudden introduction of tests in the conventional schools — with them usually starting, out of the blue, at the beginning of Grade 1. Our rationale around our assessment framework sets a new standard for how primary school testing should happen in the country for all schools — more on that in another blog. 

For now, it’s worth observing how our thoughtful implementation of assessments contributes to radically improved levels of anxiety in our pupils. Children arriving at Kairos from elsewhere usually report feeling highly anxious when it comes to tests, sometimes to the point of emotional paralysis or panic. How tragically unnecessary! 

Children want to learn for intrinsic reasons: indeed, learning is an intrinsic part of being human. But tests send messages that learning is not intrinsic, that we need to be pressured to learn, otherwise we’ll remain ignorant and incompetent. Test marks are deemed necessary in order to persuade the child to exert effort. But at Kairos, pupils exert effort because of a harmonious set of educational relationships with their teachers and classmates. We’re able to avoid the conventional levels of anxiety that is inevitable from an educational system rooted in premature testing practices.

Our daily check-in of our feelings and our use of a thoughtful Physical Education curriculum instead of competitive sports are two other examples. Perhaps most importantly, our pupils’ lived experience in our school is that they have a genuine voice: to express their opinions and to offer ideas, to which we always listen. There are several traditions in our school that come directly from our pupils.

Don’t you think we are a fantastic case study for an anxiety-free schooling system for South Africa? 

“This morning I once again felt validated in the choice we made for my daughter’s school.”

— Kairos Parent

“Fun, play, creativity and constant learning finds a mix with real empathy.”

— Kairos Parent

“Kairos School is unique in what it offers.”

— Kairos Parent

“You and your staff can be extremely proud of producing a young man of D’s calibre…”

— Paul Edey, St Johns principal

“Strong, inquiring, mind-minded individuals with heart = Kairosians! “

— Kairos parent

“The relative ease with which our two older boys have coped with the obstacles the COVID-19 pandemic brought for all of us, is to a very large extent due to the foundation they received at Kairos…”

— Kairos parent

“…highly skilled teachers…”

— Kairos Parent

“My child is so happy… I feel like I have my little girl back!”

— Kairos Parent

“Certainly the most innovative and nurturing primary school in Joburg!”

— Kairos Parent

“I’ve not seen the personal care received here anywhere else.”

— Kairos Parent