A Chess set and a social experiment

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post entitled Collaboration, social flow and a search for a school vision.  It was prompted by an afternoon of brainstorming by the teaching staff about the sort of school of the future that we wanted to achieve in the forthcoming years. At the table I sat at, with a group of five of us we found ourselves focussing rather on the social aspects of education.  Exam results are important, but the feeling we had was that a well-functioning social environment is also extremely important.  The sense of well-being, at all levels, of an educational institution also has a significant role to play in a healthy learning environment.

My own personal feeling is that the general levels of social engagement should be given more priority and we should be considering ways of facilitating interaction and in the long-term improving a feeling of wellbeing between pupils and pupils, staff and pupils and indeed also amongst the staff.

I left the discussion afternoon with the feeling that I wanted to do something.  I reflected back on my own secondary school days and remembered with fondness the inter-year football league that was played during the lunch breaks and featured a couple of teams made up of the teaching staff.  It did, back then, undoubtedly bring the school together. 

I’d been sitting on an idea, not unrelated to this, for a while.  A modest step that I could perhaps individually realize.  I decided I was going to make a large-scale chess board and accompanying pieces and then just one day leave them standing in the hall at school, take a step back and see what happened.

Two weeks later after many before and after school drawing, sawing and painting sessions I was finished, plywood pieces on a 120×120 cm board.  I carried it down to the hall after the lunchbreak.  A few groups of pupils were sitting around, taking it easy during a free lesson.  I set it up, took a photo for myself and withdrew to the balcony around the hall to look down on my handy work.  I really wasn’t sure, were the pupils at the school really waiting for a giant chess set?  Would they play?  Would there respect the pieces and leave them where they are meant to be?  Would it just become an ornament that nobody touched?  I had no idea.

I needn’t have worried, literally within two minutes the first game started. The early signs were good!

Since then, we’re a week further on, the board has been in virtually constant use, from early in the morning until the very end of the day. Serious players, beginners and everything in between, often with large groups watching and discussing the action.  It has been such a pleasure to watch.

Often it really hasn’t been the groups of pupils that I’d expected to see.  The problem cases, required to stay behind at the end of the school day have been playing, the youngest in the school, the oldest and yes, the staff too.  I really seems to be working the way I hoped, its fabulous to see, dare I hope that it will continue?  The signs are good, but I’m realistic enough to know that we will have to wait and see!

I find myself pondering what to do next. I have a number of possibilities, but perhaps first up is a sister board for the chess set, but this time the popular Dutch game dammen, comparable to draughts, but played on a larger board and a few small differences in rules. An extra job for after the Christmas holidays!

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