I was listening to David Hieatt, from Hiut Denim Co., talking about different brands, ones that we love and ones that we don’t. He mentioned about not wanting to be in the middle of these, to be indifferent. It made me stop and think about this in relation to schools, and how being safe in a system with much fear can drive behaviours of indifference. A few months back I heard of an executive headteacher saying he wanted ‘bog standard’ to several of the leaders around him. I wonder why he said this? I imagine it was clear to those around him what he was moving away from but not what he was moving towards. Our children deserve an education they love, a reason to get up in the morning! It has to start with Wonder.
We must think about what mountain are we trying to climb? Schools need courageous leaders and teachers who move from being driven by external accountability of an exam result towards a long term accountability for students having a readiness to live their lives and keep learning beyond school. To move from merely remembering things to being able to create questions, problem solve and make. This would suggest a school without walls. Where would you take children to develop their sense of wonder? How would they connect to nature, history and science in the world around them? Taking my children today to Dartmoor to see several stone circles was amazing. Their questions came naturally, why were they made? what did they do here? how does it link to other circles? why are there rows? What questions would you ask the inhabitants of four to five thousand years ago?
Sometimes the changes to our practices are based on the intention of what you are trying to achieve. Debating in schools is something very traditional, the development of oracy through the work of Voice 21has been really good to see. But are we discussing to win the argument or to develop our own understanding and the development of truth? It is interesting when you break down the word Understand into component parts it translates, in a literal sense, to go deep beneath my own experience. The purpose or intention of activity matched with a process fit for this learning can easily get lost when the curriculum is crowded and the external assessment tells the teacher what is valued.
The new initial teacher training consultation in the UK appears to exemplify this. It could drive the development of teachers without a reference to their purpose. I am not suggesting that this should be one thing for everyone, but that teachers should be able to consider their approach in relation to things that matter like sustainability, well-being and creativity. It appears to focus on their technical abilities relating to an evidence base of what was and what is easier to measure. How do we develop teachers (or even inspectors) who can learn themselves and adapt when there will not be a clear handbook? It is not that an evidence base is of no use but if this is what drives everything there is no scope for failing forward or developing new practices, just a common static set of practices in a rapidly changing world where there is no normal.
We need diversity to survive. We know that the best learning is purposeful, authentic, has an audience, is collaborative, involves our hands, head and heart, mixed age ... but we persist with memorising, sitting in rows, subjects silos, year groups, accountability measures like progress 8 which value exams over projects ... We know this and yet our profession has struggled to change the system. Let’s make sure we act and grow to become something that is never indifferent. I love that more schools are connecting together through worldwide groups like learnlife and planning learning spaces rather than being brilliant and isolated. If we could all see purpose as an antidote to indifference perhaps we would walk through life a little differently. Let’s search for purpose in learning and life!