I get to wear a lot of hats at MICS. In Canada, I am used to a world of specialization. But here, you get to do everything — whether you are qualified for it or not. One hat that I have been wearing a lot lately is my HR Manager hat. This is one of the areas I was asked to help with when we arrived, so I have been diving in and trying to make sure MICS is a great place to work for our teachers and support staff.
Sometimes this is tedious work — writing employment contracts that comply with Zambian labour law is nobody’s idea of a good time. Sometimes it is difficult and even heartbreaking, as it was in December when we had to notify some staff their contracts would not be renewed. But other times, I admit, it is just plain fun.
One of the fun times came last Friday. We have been looking for ways to boost morale and to engage the teachers in striving to improve in their roles. We also wanted to take some steps towards narrowing the pay gap between our teachers and the government teachers. (MICS is a private school, and currently it is not possible for us to match the government salaries.) So at the start of this year we launched a good, old-fashioned “Employee of the Month” program. Every month, we select someone who has gone above and beyond in their role. They get a fancy laminated certificate, a cash prize, and some well-deserved recognition in front of their peers. (We are also working on some other perks, including a premium reserved bicycle parking spot.)
I have definitely been in some contexts in Canada where such a program might be met with eye-rolling and crossed arms. But here, the response so far has been more like wild enthusiasm. On Friday after school we gathered the staff to give out the award for January. The winner was Ms. Stembile Uli, who was recognized for creating top-notch lesson plans that are creative, thorough, and engaging for the kids. I expected her to be happy. What I did not expect was the reaction from the other staff. When her name was announced, they let out a great cheer. After the meeting she was mobbed, with every single staff member lining up to give her a big hug. Watching the scene, you could be forgiven for thinking this was the receiving line at her wedding. Or maybe that she had just won the Super Bowl.
So our new program is off to a great start, and no doubt people are already waiting to see who the deserving winner will be in February. In the meantime, I have a hunch people are paying a little extra attention to their lesson plans.
Congratulations Ms. Uli on the big win…you deserve it!