It has not been easy to find time to blog now that the term is underway. There is plenty going on already, and the danger is that we get to the end of the second week and have not had serious time to reflect and process.
However, there are some themes that we need to articulate in school as we approach this new year. Perhaps the biggest one is that of community – of moving together and staying together as we move, so that we bear each other’s sufferings and celebrate each other’s joys. Part of the wholesome way that this term has started has been to see how the relationships between some of the schools on the west flank of Milton Keynes that have previously harboured suspicions of each other have begun to grow. It won’t all get repaired overnight, but the willingness of leaders to express support for and encouragement of each other has been good to see. Just in the last two days I have received significant encouragement as a leader from two colleagues – both of these had “distant” relationships with Christ the Sower, but in each case there is now an explicit determination to find ways of working together.
Three years ago I travelled to Northern Ireland – a lovely experience of a country once described to me as like a picture where the painting was nice but the frame was gorgeous – and amongst many others, took this photo in Derry: two men reaching out across an invisible divide, mostly a divide formed by shared experiences differently interpreted. This is obviously serious stuff, infintely more painful than a couple of schools whose relationship has cooled, but conflict roots are not that different – shared experiences, differently interpreted. Jonathan Powell’s account of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 is named after Yeats’ line “Great Hatred, Little Room”, which expresses more intensely the same idea. Bleaker, but worth the read to explore this area more deeply, is Susan Mackay’s Bear in Mind These Dead.
That is near to the root of most conflict – a mixture of apathy and an unwillingness to challenge our own assumptions when trying to get our own way. The apostle James’ analysis – you desire and do not have…, you covet but cannot get what you want. On Tuesday I am meeting the coordinator of CitizensMK, an organisation seeking to encourage and build bridges and alliances that will build a better Milton Keynes. Certain organisations, churches amongst them, have been suspicious of these sort of alliances, since they involve working with people from other faith backgrounds or convictions. Really, how is this going to help? I enjoy robust debates on faith with Muslims, but if we are together trying to build something for all our communities, why step back and make the faith differences reasons for inaction?
Along with community, another theme must be innovation and bravery, the willingness to try things out and back ourselves for the sake of the children we serve. Judith Clegg, arguing for this approach in small business on Radio 4 yesterday, got me thinking about what barriers as educators we put in the way of children and staff using initiative and developing their thinking separately for their classes. For starters,
- fear of failure
- exposure before colleagues
- thinking that they must do the “whole-school” approach
- lack of confidence in their own leadership (very common, this)
- OFSTED might not like it (they don’t like much, so why not try anyway?)
- the need to stick to the planning
- the need to go at a particular pace, rather than take your time (the tyranny of the “now”)
- clamming up and staying in your comfort zone when being observed by a member of the leadership team!
What might an educational entrepreneur look like, and how could I as a leader, recognise and support one? Just starting Keri Facer’s excellent book “Learning Futures: Education, technology and social change” (Routledge). She argues persuasively both for the need to be a community -based school and in innovation-based one.
You have probably already seen the paradox inherent here – how to live as a community, growing together, exploring and building together, whilst innovating all over the place. Community does not mean conservatism, whilst innovation does not necessarily equal radicalism. What joins both together, and holds the paradox, is service.
Anyway, off to BETT in Olympia tomorrow with colleagues. Should be an exhausting end to a week!