What you shouldn’t do in a school?

Some rules have been written down for centuries, others exist in folklore, whilst a few are conveniently made up on the spot. Rules have the capacity to liberate or constrict. They help us understand who we are and pave the way for what we will become. But are we all clear on the rules that govern our classrooms, staffrooms and playgrounds? What if we started to question them – to discover what you should and shouldn’t do at school???

Sometimes we can’t see what is in front of us as we have become so immersed in the day-to-day it has turned into the wallpaper. We all operate in spaces dominated by routine and dogma. In many ways they keep things safe, protected, normal. We become resilient to change. The longer we spend in routines, they can become grooves, if left too long there is a danger of becoming a rut. It becomes difficult to see what is glaringly obvious. Sometimes we do see them, but the idea of change is even worse than initiating movement. Sound familiar? Imagine then the prospect of a Hidden Giants practitioner spending 3 months with you exploring ‘what you shouldn’t do in a school?’

In January three schools in West Lothian have agreed to house a Hidden Giants practitioner for three months. Inspired by the children’s book ‘What you shouldn’t do at school’, the practitioners will create a series of interventions that explore the rules (written and unwritten) which govern schools, to better understand the folklores and mythology that seem to prevent change.

The practitioners will be charged with creating lived-experiences which bring Education Scotland’s 4 creativity skills (Curiosity, Open-Mindedness, Imagination, Problem-Solving) into play. The practitioners will embody curiosity and open-mindedness by posing questions through their interventions. In turn the pupils and teachers will employ these skills themselves to ask questions about what rules or assumptions preventing them from creating more imaginative learning environments and experiences.

The Head Teachers have been given two clear instructions:

1. Allow the practitioner and school community to respond creatively to the question ‘What you shouldn’t do in this school?’
2. Be willing to push your limitations of what you deem should and shouldn’t happen in your school

Brave? Yes. Hidden Giants appreciates the current culture of the Scottish Education system. We understand the demands to ‘get it right’, ‘hit targets’, and deliver the next initiative that will raise attainment. These demands put pressure on teachers and pupils to conform to known programmes which, if left unchallenged, become the wallpaper. Our three schools will welcome someone who will purposely seek out disruption, provocation and challenge. They will do this to shine a light on the things we look at every day but have forgotten to see.

Lukianoff and Haidt, in their book ‘The coddling of the American mind’, introduce a useful and relevant observation based on the work of Taleb, a professor of Risk at New York University:

Distinguish three kinds of things. Some, like china teacups, are fragile; they break easily and cannot heal themselves, so you must handle them gently and keep them away from toddlers. Other things are resilient: they can withstand shocks. Parents usually give toddlers plastic cups precisely because plastic can survive repeated falls to the floor, although the cups do not benefit from such falls. But Taleb asks us to look beyond overused word ‘resilience’ and recognise that some things are antifragile. Many of the important systems in our economic and political life are like immune systems; they require stressors and challenges in order to learn, adapt, and grow. Systems that are antifragile become rigid, weak, and inefficient when nothing challenges them or pushes them to respond vigorously. He notes that muscles, bones and children are antifragile.

Hidden Giants would suggest schools need to become more anti-fragile. To be clear, we do not believe more stress should be put upon teachers and pupils but instead our schools nurture environments that demand internal stressors and challenges to provoke new thinking, practice and pedagogy. This process of problematising can be difficult to initiate if you are the person operating in the trenches (the chalk face). My hope is that our practitioners work with an antifragile mindset as we realise resilience is not enough – our schools need to push themselves into uncomfortable spaces and learn how to learn from them.

A final story:

Two fish are swimming along one day as an older fish swims past and says ‘the waters lovely today’ – the two fish look at each other oddly and one says ‘what’s water?’ as the other shrugs her fins.

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