The next Parents’ Night

The Bruce had his spider, Burns had his mouse, I seem to have a skip. Not that I want to put myself into the same historical significance as Robert the Bruce and Robert Burns, but I think I share their love of a story and a metaphor. It just so happens my story and my metaphor are centred on a skip that doesn’t seem to be going away!!!

For those of you who don’t understand why I’m talking about a skip – please read my first ‘skip’ blog (Learning to Stop) to help this story make more sense. My feelings of fear and anxiety had almost passed by Monday morning and I was ready to start exploring this new world. Together with my daughter I had spent Saturday filing the skip, ensuring all our junk was cleared from the garage. I eagerly awaited the skip company arriving early to remove my trash. As the morning progressed it slowly dawned on me that the skip man wasn’t coming, which was confirmed by a finely worded text message at 12.57pm “Hey. Closed until further notice.”

The skip was now full but with nowhere to go. Much like my current work situation – I had identified my redundancies but they seem stuck in purgatory, in limbo – in a skip parked in my driveway. This visual reminder will be there for the foreseeable future – a very public reminder of what has been thrown away but not gone. I wonder how many people have filled metaphorical skips this week, only to realise they are not sure what to do next as our junk sits in our front gardens.

This process of letting-go whilst holding-on seems like a useful conversation. This week I have begun to reconnect with our schools and hear stories of how people have adapted to the current situation – both encouraging and depressing. I was struck by the impact of Katy Anderson’s blog and pleased by the recognition she received. I was saddened by stories of the perpetuation of tired orthodoxies requiring pupils to hand-in work on time, of spending X numbers of hours doing numeracy, and of teacher-directed tasks & worksheets.

One of the most interesting conversations this week was with a long-standing collaborator who we have worked alongside for a number of years. She spoke of the children’s promptness to arrive at the google classroom on time and their frustration with classmates who arrived 2 mins late. It seems being on time is still very important. She worried about their desire – their need – to be told what to do, still waiting for instruction in a world that needs courage, autonomy, and creativity. What have we conditioned our children to understand as learning?

I’ve started to consider this as an opportunity to re-wild our children. Much like reintroducing wolves to Scotland, it is fraught with potential hazards but also presents great opportunities. What have you noticed in your children over these past two weeks? What has excited you? What has worried you? Are they free thinkers? Are they adaptable? Are they imaginative, creative, lively? I wondered if this is an opportunity to create huge spaces for our children to be free – to re-wild themselves. They might mean the return to school is a little more disruptive, but our children will be full of new skills and questions. This might sound idealistic and not suited to all learners, but I believe all children, no matter their abilities, are able to guide us – and we can respond accordingly.

There seems to be an intriguing similarity shared by many successful ‘global’ entrepreneurs – who have rejected, or spent significant amounts of their formative years away from formal education – and found their ‘way’ not in spite of – but directly because of this. Could we change the conditions to allow our wild children to make their own discoveries through adventures? The conditions seem perfect for a national opening-up opposed to a closing-down. Are we, the adults – who are experiencing our lock-down – shutting down possibilities by locking-in our children even more?

Maybe a full re-wilding is a step too far, but what is becoming very obvious is a need for our world to engage in a conversation about the components of our education systems that needs to be reimagined – for the current circumstances, but also for the future.

I have started to wonder about the next Parent’s Night – a very different experience to the orthodoxies of ones that have gone before. As a parent, what will you share of your understanding about how your child learns, what excites them, what bores them, where their passions lie? And as a teacher, the joy of hearing another adult share an understanding of one of your pupil’s learning. The term ‘co-construction’ begins to feel increasingly appropriate. This will require some re-imagining – please, please let’s not go back to the regulation 7 minutes of rushed chat or assembly halls packed with impersonal conversations. There is an opportunity to pay attention to what is emerging. Let’s reimagine Parents’ Night. Let’s reconsider formal assessments. Let’s wonder about the role of the teacher. Let’s realign the strangulated formality of curriculum-as-plan to a free-flowing and vibrant curriculum of lived-experience. We can only do this if we start to fill our skips with what isn’t working.

This is going to be a long and difficult process, but already I am witnessing new communities emerge, eager to support this process of re-wilding, re-imaging and co-construction. Let’s stop the pretence of being in control – it’s unsustainable. One of the participants in a conversation this week, told a story of her daughter feeling the pressures coming from school to ‘keep up with the right course work.’ After several stressful days, her daughter simply said, “It’s pointless”. In a world that has many unanswered questions, surely now is the time for our children and young people to believe that learning has a purpose beyond the tired dogmas of the old.

 

** I am aware that I speak from a place of some security in these extraordinary times. My family and I can eat, and we will not face homelessness. I feel secure in the emotional support I share with my partner and our children. I can’t begin to imagine what some families and individuals are currently experiencing. My hope is that by paying attention to what emerges, we can find a collective response to our new challenges and build something that ensures we all grow together.

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