“We are spiritual beings having a human experience” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

In UK Education we get a chance to reflect on new beginnings twice a year, because of course the start of the academic is divorced from the calendar by 4 months. This separation does allow me as a school leader 2 bites of the cherry, and so here goes.  Hold that thought…

…as it happens my https://jameswilding.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/a-pig-flying-through-the-air/ post was the most read of my words last year, and continue to be digested by those who visit anew each day. In part, its popularity won’t actually be down to my words, but those I link to, such as former Children’s Poet Laureate Michael Rosen and Professor of Education, Bill Boyle. M Rosen continues to ‘flame’ at Michael Gove and his acolytes, whose logic bears no reason, and in all probability are causing the greatest damage to education since the emancipation of education in England.

The fuller quote I lead into 2014 is “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

My own staff are probably used to my mantra that we only exist because we offer an academic education. Yes we play sport, we make music, we create great art, we nurture and provision for at least 8 hours a day and for many perhaps rather more like 10 or 12 hours. But that wrap-around is precisely that. At the core of the Claires Court essentials lie the development of a whole host of questions and challenges through which the child gains knowledge, skills and insights into the world in which they are very much part of. Education is just that (from the Latin), a process by which we lead out of the child the adult they are to become – in modern eduspeak, the leading out of the successful learner.

In previous writings, I hope I have identified that the major research organisations of the world continue to spot that the most successful schools are those that blend the need to ensure that each learner develops successfully, within a school environment in which the extraordinary nay impossible seems  to move within reach.  And what makes the latter happen in successful schools is the construction of a whole school experience for the child’s time therein that holds true to the cause.

Schools are absolutely at the heart of socialising the community therein, but by no means the only way that learners become engaged or inspired. But I ask you “How many knew you could ‘flop’ at High Jump until Dick Fosbury showed us you could?” And that is what you find within great classrooms each day; boys and girls showing to each other skills and crafts beyond their ken until surfaced. And that’s where great teachers are to be found; most of the time not leading from the front with ‘chalk & talk’, but working with their children as a lead learner, discovering anew, and showing excitement and passion as they master and memorise, peruse and take in all to be covered that day.

Where MG and his ilk go wrong is to suggest that it is competition that makes learning happen. Because it does not. Competition is how to hone skills acquired to achieve peak performance, but it is not how we learn anew. “Does the English test side coming back from Australia need some more competition just now?” you might hear me ask.  Absolutely not, and it is the very failure of our Test team, and the success of the Australians in the same series that points us at where great learning happens.

Classrooms, be they cricket nets or nests of chairs & tables, outdoors or in, are places in which children need to feel secure and able to learn. Our charges are not animals to be herded and trained like showponies or carthorses to be prepared for the work we have identified for them for the future. That’s where de Chardin’s revelation is so helpful, because each one of us is a spirit personified in human form (and I am not going all religious on you now).  You can’t corale spirit, in fact you can’t touch it, but you know when it’s there and equally when it is not. Sometimes a brave face hides the hurt therein; in many ways it’s the small parts of school time that make a child’s experience of school so much better. The quiet words with those alongside as they await assembly to begin, or when lunch is underway, or the acts of kindness from/to others that cause the spirit to glow and grow.

Most obviously, for those who are successful at school, MG argues that they need greater challenge; ‘Exams need to be harder so that the thrill of succeeding is greater’ or some such tosh. What’s he is right about is that at public exam level, our exams need to be fit for purpose and achieve consistency of qualification from one year to the next. None could argue that motoring on the roads in 2014 is rather harder than 1964, so it should be no surprise that we have extended the demands on the ‘learner’ driver during their training period as well as in the test itself.  We don’t argue that the driver needs to be on the race track at any stage, in fact advice is often the opposite, and we don’t have prizes for the ‘winners’ and they don’t ‘take all’.  I am all for profit-related pay, but for all in the education team, not just for the man of the match. The best that happens in my school is the smallest of actions, be that the return of a mislaid coin or hold of door open, and what monetises that, and all the thousands of other small acts of learning each day is the culture that we enable through service to each other above self.

Despite the appalling weather that is causing such hardship and heartache around the country, I feel really very optimistic about education local to me for 2014. Above all, it is the holistic development of the child, challenged and encouraged in equal measure at every stage of their ‘growth’ in school that will ensure their spiritual, social, moral and cultural development is as rich as it needs to be to sustain them as humans in a complex world. Along the way, qualifications and achievements will arise and surprise, they’ll witness as well as perform deeds of such daring do it, and in such way take all of our breaths away, and help our spirits soar.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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