Our latest Edtech Superhero shares her love and passion for education, what is it like to be the change in education and how that drives her involvement in multiple educational projects in South Africa.
Urshula Saindon is an educator, and principal of Silvermine Academy, in Cape Town South Africa with a strong desire to impact the educational journey of her students and colleagues.
Urshula Saindon has been working in the education industry for the last 7 years but her passion for learning developed at a very young age.
She has a strong belief in education, with experience as a business manager for NGO schools in South Africa. Urshula is fueled by her belief that education is a powerful agent of change, she volunteers for various educational organisations in South Africa.
Let’s jump in and discover more about Urshula’s passion for curriculum, pedagogy and classroom engagement.
How to become the change you want to see
1. What’s the first thing you do to get your day going?
I have this great application that I’ve discovered called Buddhify.
The application has these five-minute mindfulness sessions that you can do while lying in your bed. It took a while for me to get used to it because I used to just fall asleep while listening to the session.
Now I enjoy taking those five minutes to start my day. The instructors are also so affirming and calm and that helps me get into the groove.
After that, I have coffee and then, it’s all systems go!
2. Which music artist best describes your working style?
I like a huge variety of music.
Lately, I’ve been really into old-school disco jams. The likes of Earth, Wind and Fire and Boney M. Anything old school.
This past week, I discovered a band called Covet and they are part of a genre called Math rock, which is cool, so I’ve just been jamming out to that while I’m working in the office.
3. Do you consider yourself a team Google or team Apple person?
The only reason I have an iPad is so that I can use my Google apps.
I’m team Google all the way I use it for everything.
I work for four different non-profit organisations and the first step in starting with each of them has been, do you have Google Workspace? If they don’t, that will be my first step in getting them set up.
4. Can you tell us a little about your journey? Where did your interest in education begin initially?
I’ve had a passion for learning since I was really small, and I think that has a lot to do with my grandmother. She was a general knowledge wiz and so I grew up with her learning lots of different things from a myriad of topics.
We used to read together. She’s one of those people who used to read every newspaper and she had subscriptions to all of the newspapers.
Growing up around her ignited my joy and love for learning.
I studied for a Bachelor of Arts, in which I specialised in Ancient Cultures, English and French.
“Growing up around her ignited my joy and love for learning.”
In my third year of study, my student loans and fees became too expensive and I knew this was not going to work for me.
I started doing part-time substitute teaching and tutoring as basically a way of hustling to pay student fees.
Then, the teaching bug just bit me!
I didn’t have the patience to do a full-time Post Graduate Certificate and I didn’t want to stop working to do it. I then decided to look for a job at a school and I was lucky enough to find one at a school in Somerset West.
About two years later, I got involved in the management of that school which was a great experience and an awesome opportunity for me.
In 2020 I moved over to Silvermine Academy where I have recently been appointed as the Principal of the school.
In between that, I found a literacy organisation that educates teachers on how to integrate literacy into all of their teachings. I’ve been very involved with the organisation and we’ve been training teachers this past year. I’ve trained 200 teachers with the Western Cape Education Department so far.
“…I found a literacy organisation that educates teachers on how to integrate literacy into all of their teachings”
The programme is a fully online training initiative that we all run through Google Workspace.
I am currently in a place where education is tied to non-profit for me. I’m part of a project now to build a three-stream model high school in Ocean View.
The three-stream model
This is when there are three different curriculums in one school.
This means that you enrol into an academic curriculum which is the channel that takes you to university.
There’s the technical curriculum which takes you either to engineering, Information Technology or even the hospitality industry. This will still lead to a tertiary step and then into the workplace.
There’s also an occupational stream which is also called the School of Skills stream which is for learners who struggle with the academic side of things.
So they do a curriculum that is 75% practical and 25% academic and that leads them directly into the workplace.
So there’s this beautiful pipeline for those kids who leave school and then immediately go into a job for an internship.
I’ve just been really lucky with meeting the right people at the right time in terms of my career trajectory.
5. What inspires you the most in the Edtech space?
Currently, I am about Jam board, but as a whole, what I’m enjoying about the Edtech space is this happy joyful burst of energy that’s happening in the space.
“…there’s a freshness about the Edtech space at the moment.”
It’s not that traditional teaching is somehow incorrect or too old for us but there’s a freshness about the Edtech space at the moment
I’m enjoying that because I’ve seen teachers who’ve been teaching for a long time, some for over 20 or 30 years, suddenly get rejuvenated and excited about teaching. This is because they’ve encountered an app that they like.
“…I’ve seen teachers who’ve been teaching for a long time, some for over 20 or 30 years, suddenly get rejuvenated and excited about teaching”
We have a teacher here at Silvermine who’s just discovered Kahoot! Which we know has been around for a while but to her, this has been like, oh my goodness, this is the best thing ever.
I think that’s so positive that there’s this rejuvenation in teachers.
After all, teaching is about the magic, it’s about the joy, the connection that happens between you and the student in the classroom, right? Whether the classroom is online or in person doesn’t matter.
6. What do you think educators can take away from the past 2 years in their dealings with the challenges that have arisen through the pandemic?
I think as educators we’ve had to go outside of our comfort zones and learn new ways of teaching.
I think the most important lesson for me at least has been that as a teacher, you’re not the fountain of knowledge anymore.
I don’t think we ever were, but we’ve become aware that we’re not the fountain of knowledge and for some teachers, it’s shaken them to their core. However, we have also become aware of the fact that we’re facilitators of knowledge because phones and the internet have everything you need to learn.
“…we have also become aware of the fact that we’re facilitators of knowledge…”
A teacher’s job is no longer to teach content but to teach kids how to learn and how to engage with the platforms that can get them to the content.
I think that’s such a valuable lesson that I don’t want to see teachers slide back into feeling like the gatekeeper of knowledge; rather, we’re facilitating learning and acting as guiding coaches.
I was involved in an online training program for teacher training with the Western Cape Education Department recently, and it was a really interesting experience to see how teachers engaged with the online platform as a learner.
During the lockdown, teachers were complaining about kids not being able to log in or not knowing where to click, “oh no it’s just a link” you know, this sort of thing and to see them be put in that position and then do the same thing the kids are doing was interesting.
7. What is your Mantra for the year?
My mantra for this year is; “be the change.”
“be the change”
I’ve gotten to a point in my professional life where I’m tired of people complaining about problems and doing nothing about them. It is up to the fresh young people in education to say this stops now and drive the change they want to see.
Let’s take the reading crisis for example.
The phrase itself is problematic but says that 80% of grade fours can’t read in their home language.
But those grade fours who took the test in 2016 are now in grade eight and grade nine.
So it’s grade eight and grade nine – high school teachers – who should be saying this stops here, I am going to fix this, and I am going to intervene for the kid in my classroom in front of me right now.
That mindset became clear to me this year and so a lot of my projects and interests have been around addressing the problems that I have in my school, in my class, and my challenges right now rather than focusing on the crisis because there is always going to be a crisis.
This is not the last pandemic and these issues and challenges are all true things. Although we cannot fix all these issues directly, we can intervene for the kids in our classes right now and the teachers in our schools right now. I think that to me this is a powerful compass helping me to discern where to go and where not to go.
“Although we cannot fix all these issues directly, we can intervene for the kids in our classes right now and the teachers in our schools right now…”
Edtech Superheros in the world of Education
Thank you very much Urshula for your time and for sharing your journey and passion for education. I hope you found her message and journey as inspiring as I did. It was an absolute pleasure talking with you and I look forward to having more chats with you in the future.
Read more about our EdTech SuperHero series, a series that was inspired by International Women’s Month. I’m exploring the themes in our greater series to draw attention to the role that we all play in creating a better and safer world for our students to learn and grow in.
If you would like to have a chat with me about the state of Education in your region or globally, or would simply like to share some tools and tips with other educators, please don’t hesitate to reach out and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org as I’d love to have a conversation with you.
Team Mobile Guardian