Steer the ship of my life, Lord, to your quiet harbour, where I can be safe from the storms of sin and conflict. Show me the course I should take. Renew in me the gift of discernment, so that I can see the right direction in which I should go. And give me the strength and the courage to choose the right course, even when the sea is rough and the waves are high, knowing that through enduring hardship and danger in your name we shall find comfort and peace.
Insightful in the light of the experience of the last three days for both of us, which have been crisis after crisis, mostly of adults (including me) not behaving at our finest. In the one case where children were involved, the adults all did behave in a very considered and wise fashion, and to all of them I am grateful. It has been a flurry of storms with particularly high waves, and yesterday I was conscious time after time of the Holy Spirit lifting my hands or arms to the task (or to the phone) when it was getting too tiring. Trying both to remain of use to, and in service of everyone, has been the struggle, whilst containing the fallout to those who actually needed to be involved.
And that, actually is only a part of the story of the last fortnight, which has been marked wonderfully by many beautiful and rich experiences and which continue to bless and feed me as I think back on them.
This rich fortnight began with a course in London last Wednesday on new leadership challenges in schools, led by the redoubtable John West-Burnham. The course was attended by just 5 of us, from across the South East, and took the form of a round-table discussion loosely based on some printed materials. Looking at the post-election context and the ongoing and likely future challenges was enlightening, though very depressing at the same time. What it did for me was to lever open my mind to the big picture in English education whilst offering models of improvement through conversation with other leaders. The sense of place – what works here may not work elsewhere – was part of the conversation but the size of the group meant that we certainly got to the bits that were worrying each of us as heads. But having JWB plus 5 in a room all made it pretty intense! And I much to think about and reflect on before we meet again as a group in November.
The following day we hosted, as a group of MK heads, Matt Little from the Real Ideas Organisation, a social enterprise group working in the south-west. The purpose was to get us as MK leaders (about 35 of us were present) to think about the way we related to our communities for the benefit of the children’s learning – not particularly just for the benefit of the communities. This was a welcome emphasis because too often community focuses have been bland and uninspiring and unfocussed. I went away wondering whether the input was too far removed from what most heads wanted or could manage, but the work Matt shared with us from North America, especially the inspirational Southwest Charter School in Portland, Oregon, which is committed to a unique form of Community Service Learning in a way that serves its precise community and links precisely to the needs of its community, was really interesting. The school’s mission statement and purpose read like this:
We believe young people learn best when they are actively engaged in learning that relates to their physical and social world. We strive to help learners develop connections with the community in which they live, extend their appreciation for the natural world, build on their prior knowledge and experiences, and cultivate a desire to serve as active and committed citizens.
Interestingly, they have no library, intentionally, so students would use the local library and reinforce the need for it. They have no canteen, so students will use the surrounding shops and cafes for lunch. By structurally “forcing” a reliance on local community, and making themselves interdependent with it, all sorts of emotional bridges are crossed and psychological links created.
There were other examples in Matt’s talk, but I found this particular example imaginable. Again, what he shared with us was not directly able to be put into practice, but it has for me formed a huge construct in my thinking that will sit there and not go away. We are thinking hard about how to create genuinely meaningful links with our community. Matt’s advice was – you may not immediately find any buy-in from those that want to link with you, nor will they find a linking point in your school, but work away at that until you find it. He said that artists often want to do “a project” that has no real meaning for what you want for your children, but careful negotiation will find something that will bless both parties – the same with businesses. He counseled that we often think that the other partner wants the same as we do, but we have to establish this rather than see it immediately, which is rarer. So, some criteria for community development are beginning to form:
- It must impact directly on pupil learning, no question. “Service-learning” must be part of the deal.
- It must be a link that is sustainable.
- It must be of genuine not tokenist use to both school and community partner.
- It must lead to some form of real interdependence (like the Portland libraries).
- It probably should be needs-led, and should lead to curricular outcomes consistent with the aims and requirements of our curriculum.
This week, I was hugely privileged to attend the launch in London of the LICC’s Transforming Work discipleship tool. Sally and I went to the event in LICC’s HQ, St Peter’s Church in Vere Street, on Tuesday evening. About 150 people were there and we were addressed by Paul Williams from Regent College, Vancouver, one of the world’s top theological colleges. Paul (whose background is in economics, in consulting and in the relationships between the gospel, capitalism and globalization) spoke at length on the creation narrative and the role of the imagination in transforming our workplaces. His talk was one of the most insightful perspectives I have ever heard on this and I will need to write it up separately here – 12 pages of notes need deciphering and reflecting on. But at the end, I had a number of my perspectives that I have been developing in my own work confirmed, but mostly I came away with new ways of looking at some of the problems and scriptures that I have been using and applying to develop a workable theology of school. And we got burritos when we arrived. AND ice-creams at half-time. This was a proper event, treating those attending like real, hard-working humans who had struggled to get half way across the capital for it. The Transforming Work tool itself looks really exciting and I have been wondering since Tuesday how we might get it into practice, so that more workplaces can flourish through its use. More on this in a later post, I think.
Finally, on Wednesday night we had a super event at the Ridgway Centre in Wolverton Mill South, where the majority of our Y5 children joined children from Two Mile Ash and Priory Rise Primary Schools to work with David Lawrence singing material from the musical Choosing Chums. We also provided a recorder group to the event, and we were joined by an amazing string group from New Bradwell Primary School and the bhangra/Bollywood group from Green Park Primary which was visually stunning. The whole event was for parents and friends and was infused with a confidence and joy that was thrilling from first to last – 70 minutes of delight that made me very proud to be there. This has just been one amazing event in a whole fortnight of them at school, and it puts the way this week ended into some proper perspective.