By Shaun McCabe – College Director of The Arts

Consider for a moment, the ancient explorers setting off into the unknown without charts and simply sturdy ships, willing crews and a reliance on some nautical instruments and the just stars – that they were able to weather the worst and map the new world.

It strikes me that we are now facing a similar situation globally, where, in a world now consumed by socio-economic crisis and uncertainty, many organisations and institutions are being challenged at every level – from their finances to the well-being of their people, and to standing policies. Indeed, it’s now become a matter of survival too.

The question is then, what will allow us to exist beyond this global pandemic? The answer, I believe, is the same as what got those ships and crews through the obstacles of legendary beasts and unfamiliar waters: resilience.

The American Psychological Association defines resilience as: “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of…it can also involve profound personal growth”. The key idea contained therein is adaptability. How is it then that independent schools can survive and, indeed, thrive? There are, broadly, three interconnected resilience indicators: leadership, mindsets and relationships.

Globally there are so many examples of a failure of leaders to lead. We are seeing ideological imperatives overrule common sense and science, and politicking replace statesmanship.  Never before have we needed leadership that is going to guide countries, but in this context, organisations and institutions through this ocean of uncertainty.

Less metaphorically, management consultant and educator, Peter Drucker argues that the “greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic”. Independent schools will need to be kinetically aware – leadership teams continually responding to the changing situation and ensuring that staff are empowered through consultation and inclusive decision making.

And so, this engagement and involvement of staff will deepen the understanding of the connections between their own work, the organisation’s resilience, and its long-term success.

Whilst the prospect of limitless rum and treasure may certainly have motivated sailors to embark on perilous journeys; their curiosity, willingness to explore and a good measure of adaptability would have been crucial too. Schools are more than just the teaching staff but a team in which all the individuals have different but equally important roles but significantly there has to be unity of purpose.



With clearly communicated strategic plans staff will not only develop an understanding of the direction being taken but commit as the process taps into their passion as educators and as valued members of an institution. What is key is that the onus not only lays with the school leadership team to create conducive conditions ‘on deck’ but also with each individual in that it is a two-way connection; as though the course ahead may be plotted, changes to decisions and policy are inevitable as they come under stress-testing in which practicality and workability have to adapt to the prevailing conditions.

US inventor, Charles Kettering made the observation that the “world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress”, and so the only way that we can move forward is through continual change and adaption of methods. Change-readiness needs to become an institution-wide culture; from strategic planning by the leadership teams to the whole-school physical environment.

Paradoxically, we have seen a greater connection with each other than ever before despite lockdowns and regulations separating us; and so, relationships are going to be crucial for captains navigating their ships.

Independent schools are fortunate to be well-resourced, both financially and technologically. Whilst fiscal resources will need to be mobilised effectively to meet current and future challenges. 

Schools have had to divert funding away from standing budgets and capital projects in order to supply sanitisation, personal protection equipment and ensure all health and safety protocol are met. This allowed many independent schools to open on an autonomous schedule according to DBE communiques.

Integral to going forward is to develop effective partnerships between leadership, staff and parents – all of whom have a vested interest in securing the physical environment as well as maintaining open communication with all stakeholders. It would, of course, be prudent to forget the partnership that exists with students – surveys and discussions within the student body will allow the decision-makers to tap into the mood and feelings and so be in a position to implement policies that meet OHS protocols in order to get schools restarted but also modulated by the very people that are directly affected.

Collaboration amongst staff will allow for “minimisation of divisive social, cultural and behavioural barriers, which are most often manifested as communication barriers creating disjointed, disconnected and detrimental ways of working.”

Adequate training across schools with the rethinking of roles so that everyone is empowered to move seamlessly from one role to another – to continue the metaphor, we are all in the same boat.


Anon. ‘Building your Resilience’ (2020)


Anon. ‘Nautical slang in common usage’

Schipper, E.L.F. & Langston Lara (2015) ‘A comparative overview of resilience measurement frameworks analysing indicators and approaches’