I am writing this 48 hours after the second day of the visit of our European partners under the Comenius program, to Christ the Sower. The stress levels have gone down somewhat, yet I am overwhelmed still by the impact of the visit. So much goes on and into these visits that it is hard to look back and see them for what they are. The Friday of the visit was notable above all for the enormous impact of our guests’ teaching in our classes. The impact was varied, but all the teachers who had hosted a teacher from on of our European partner schools reported a tremendous sense of engagement of the children, whether it was Year 4 children learning in a Montessori technique from a German teacher dressed as a Celt (yes, really) or magic tricks from Belgian pre-school teachers or stories and dances from Slovenian practitioners, or re-enactments of folk tales from Swedish teachers, or painting and stories from Dutch colleagues – all of this was magical and enchanting and has had me thinking ever since about what Bettelheim called “the uses of enchantment”. There is another blog here waiting to come out once I have interviewed my teachers more fully.
The second day enabled us all to build deeper friendships, to give and receive more from one another, to learn through conversation and dialogue and laughter and then in the evening to dance together in what we billed as “Ceilidh and Tea” – staff, parents,governors, children (who make interesting participants in dances where size is actually critical!) and our guests, before adjourning over the road for a curry. The ceilidh band, by the way, was 3 Sticks, one of the best groups I have ever danced to. Their impromptu music to an impromptu Slovenian polka was worth the entrance fee, had there been one.
There have been times during this visit where exhaustion has begun to set in, but the openness of all the teachers involved – both our own who have been involved in the various activities and the European teachers who have been gracious through all our efforts to make them feel at home – has meant that there was always been plenty of grace and ease to allow all the friendships to flourish, even under pressure. Even at the difficult project meeting on Thursday evening, when we had to negotiate around some difficult areas to ensure that the project came first, rather than individuals’ take on the work that was to be done, we found it possible to find wholesome agreements that will benefit the work we do with children.
So – some themes are emerging that will need serious reflection – openness, grace, enchantment, diplomacy – as well as a strange depth of friendship that can almost be characterised by the concept of holiday romance (serious, meaningful friendships reached over a short period because of the intensity of experience felt by all).
Back in 2007 I was asked to present a talk at a West Midlands gathering of schools involved in international work, and called the talk Transformations. The central theme was that the value of international work was not the impact on children directly, but the direct impact of a new way of thinking and seeing upon the teachers involved, and the later, diffuse and maybe indirect impact that that had on children and the school “conversation”. We had recently returned from a visit to Umbria and I had seen some astonishing work from teachers that took seriously the need to be artists themselves if they were going to be able to teach children to be artists. The presentation was probably a fairly naive view of the value of some continental European educational values, but it does stand up to scrutiny and I believe it more now, after these few days.