Dear CHISZ parent


The story of Horatio Spafford is an intriguing, inspiring and instructive one for us all as we enter 2014 in our CHISZ schools here in Zimbabwe. He was a successful lawyer and businessman with a loving family in Chicago in the late nineteenth century but in a few short years his life and his faith were deeply tested and challenged. His four year old son died of scarlet fever; he lost various properties in the Great Fire of Chicago leaving him facing financial ruin; the economic downturn hit his business even further then his four daughters were all drowned as they travelled to Europe with their mother, on a trip he himself was meant to have taken. There are many perhaps within our CHISZ community right now who can identify closely with this man’s experiences. The reason the story is intriguing, inspiring and instructive, I believe, is that he went on to pen the powerful and hauntingly-beautiful hymn, “It is well, it is well with my soul”, whose first verse reads: “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.

As we face a new year with the huge challenge of educating our children in the face of massive difficulties and obstacles, can we together say “It is well”? While we recognise that Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth in 2003, the concept of the Commonwealth also has significance for us as CHISZ [Conference of Heads of Independent Schools in Zimbabwe]. It is about the common ‘wealth’ but ‘wealth’ in its original meaning referred not to finances but to our well-being. So the Commonwealth is concerned for the common well-being of all its 53 member states, as CHISZ is for all our 64 member schools. Like the Commonwealth, CHISZ establishes each of its members as free and equal; we have no legal obligation to one another (only to the Ministry of Education) but we are united by language, culture, purpose and shared values, as mentioned in last July’s CHISZ letter. We are different but inter-dependent. We celebrate the same things as we look to the big picture. So while we as CHISZ members market our differences we must celebrate and maintain our COMMON ground if we are to achieve our COMMON well-being, in particular in two ways.

CHISZ as a valued and influential organisation within Zimbabwe will suffer if any of its member schools steps out of line or does not pull its weight. Parents must understand that this school is part of a bigger common- wealth, is part of a bigger picture than simply the school. Sporting pupils will not develop if only a few schools are strong. Events like the Combined Schools Concerts that are held each year (incorporating non- CHISZ schools as well) underline the beauty of the togetherness, of the collegiality, of the common purpose, far more than any inter-school sports fixture. All our children benefit more when schools share ideas, resources, expertise and experiences. Heads know that; parents must understand that too.

One of the biggest challenges that all of our CHISZ schools face is where the school and the parent do not endorse or reinforce the same message or values at school and at home. We must have the common values for the well-being of the children. In that regard therefore, there should be certain, clear, common traits of CHISZ parents, which are the very traits that the schools are endeavouring to bring out in the pupils. I simply mention three here.

CHISZ parents must be good role models. Furthermore, CHISZ parents must practise what they (and the schools) preach. It is interesting that one writer [Virginia Satir] has stated that “Every word, facial expression, gesture, or action on the part of a parent gives the child some message about self-worth. It is sad that so many parents don’t realize what messages they are sending.” The way we drive our car (and comment on other drivers) speaks volumes to our children. The way we behave at sports fixtures counts more than results. Speaking on cell phones (after being asked to turn them off) during concerts or plays sends the wrong message (if you pardon the pun). The way we speak to teachers, or about teachers, in front of our children will stay long in the child’s memory. “Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.”[Michael Levine]

CHISZ parents must be people of integrity. Integrity is a key value that all CHISZ schools seek to uphold but if the message is not supported by the parent it will not only confuse the child but deeply affect him or her. Yet some parents often tell blatant lies to the school, be it about why they are late to school, why the fees are not forthcoming, what the child is doing at the weekend. Some encourage their child to go against the school’s authority, whether it is by allowing the child to go to school in incorrect uniform or without a car license, or by picking them up when the child is not free to do so.CHISZ schools have a strong commitment to speak out and act against any bullying in schools and yet some parents will try to bully school authorities into agreeing to their personal request or agenda. They want their child to benefit more than others; they threaten the school with ‘visits’ if they do not like something. They complain about aspects of the school life but do not offer their assistance just as they complain about the referee or coach without ever having trained as a referee or coach. Parents as well as schools should stand up against such parents.

More than that, CHISZ parents must be people with moral courage. There is much bravado at braais about their ‘war stories’, about what they did at school or about what they have done in suspect business deals or game hunts, yet many do not have the moral courage to say “No” to their own child. Some allow their children to get drunk; they even laugh at it. Others allow their child to go to nightclubs under-age because they are scared their child will not like them. They come out with excuses that other parents allow their child to do so. As the comedian Bill Cosby once put it, “Parents are not interested in justice; they’re interested in peace and quiet.”Never a truer word said in jest.Some love to confront the school but not the child. Equally some parents do not show moral courage or responsibility when they abdicate their own responsibility to choose the school for their child to the child, sending them to a particular school because the child’s friends are going there. What sort of child will that produce? ‘Spoilt’, ‘arrogant’, ‘complacent’, are three words that spring to mind initially.

We have our difficulties, our challenges this year; we know that all too well. Let us not make it any harder but instead let us work, as school and parents together, for the common well-being of our children, our schools, our country, our future. It is well that we have CHISZ.

The hymn writer wrote and believers will sing, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.” The Head of your school will long to say and parents will confirm, “It is well, it is well, with my school”, even in the tough times, especially in the tough times. Furthermore, it is the well-being of all our schools that is crucial and that will depend not simply on the Head and staff but also on the parents. Together we need all to see that it will only be well when we have this common theme, common vision, common message and commitment.