This has been a pretty unique week. Since Easter, teachers, schools and Trusts such as Greenshaw Learning Trust, Oak National Academy and Robin Hood Trust have opened their doors to the world and shared all of their subject resources. Teachers have uploaded clips for other schools and pupils not at their school to use. Books have been read online so that children without texts at homes across the country can follow. Pretty much the whole way a school does things, shared. There’s even been an online choir.
All this bolsters and enhances the herculean efforts of teaching staff over the last few very strange weeks. Add what has been placed online to your own resources, borrow what is useful, no charge. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for more pupils across the UK to benefit from more great teachers. There are some excellent resources and they will definitely help pupils across the country working from home. This can only be good. To be able to watch and learn from so much expert instruction is pretty rare.
But of course, to reach this point, teachers have had to make themselves vulnerable. They’ve had to put themselves out there to offer their skills, laying themselves on the line. Online. There’s the hope that it helps, but also the fear of criticism, falling short, even recrimination. And people have responded. Praised. Thanked. Affirmed the work and the ideas and the generosity of others. And some, not valuing the effort and the courage needed to embark on this venture, have made digs.
Everyone will be getting some things right and some things wrong, but what is remarkable is that the rules have definitely changed. I learnt in a system where you were actively discouraged from visiting other schools. Once appointed, you were stuck with the luck of the draw of being coached well or not. Of having your fire lit, or doused. Schools competed for kids, exam results, teachers, often charged for anything that walked, discouraged visitors. At best, schools were talking to each other, and teachers experienced proper CPD through working together, the Teaching Schools, the NPQs. At worst, schools were entrenched in a parochial mindset, our school against theirs. It was bunker-spirit, helmets on, dig in.
If twitter and researchEd began the process of liberating teaching, then this week has levelled the playing field a little further, opening up access for leaders, teachers, parents and students. Parents who have struggled to find resources or access platforms can now look beyond their own school gates. Parents of children at grammar and private schools can finally see the quality out there, dismantling the age-old divide more neatly than any left wing rhetoric. Sharing is classy, but also classless.
Will this be a Pandora’s box which creates unforeseen problems? Pandora ignored Zeus’s instructions that the box must not be opened, with disastrous consequences. Out flew disease, poverty, misery and death. We may be nervous about education being opened up and made more transparent, but the crisis has created an urgent need, and this has been one clear response. And to flip the Pandora concept, the evidence is that it’s helping kids learn at home, and parents struggling to homeschool. Opening the box works.
My boys and I have been re-watching favourite films. Last night it was Avatar. The story is set on Pandora, the 5th moon of the gas giant Polyphemus. To the invading human military machine, Pandora is sinister, primal, terrifying:
“It’s kinda the garden of Eden, with teeth and claws.”
There to exploit the precious resource ‘unobtanium’, they attempt to destroy the indigenous Na’vi, unable to see the deeper potential of Pandora, the possibilities of exploring that only the scientists understand.
The crisis will change much about our world moving forwards. Our appreciation of the work of the NHS has encouraged us to recognise and notice people’s contribution. I think this has triggered us to appreciate our communities: applaud key workers, help neighbours, drop off food, check up on people.
It creating a mindset of recognising contribution, not suspecting competition. This is the culture we hope to develop with our own children. It is what education is about at its best. When we play the game of competition we compare ourselves with others, our schools with others. Under the old rules we are always looking over our shoulder, professionally and personally. When we play the game of contribution, our hand is on their shoulder, and theirs on ours. We realise there is no risk in giving away, and reciprocating.
Our place of work may look a little different right now, but we can redefine it as a place of contribution with others, rather than a podium for our success ahead of others. It’s not me or them. It’s both of us. It’s not my school or theirs. It’s all of our schools.
I hope we won’t be afraid to share, and applaud. I hope we will be refreshed with new ideas and as a result become better teachers and leaders. And I hope that as families begin to open up the education box, they recognise we are all there to make their family stronger. Whichever school their son or daughter attends, whatever their postcode.
Open the box.