Collaboration, social flow and a search for a school vision

This week, together with colleagues I spent a couple of hours brainstorming a way towards formulating a new school mission/vision plan.  Prior to the afternoon I’d already given the subject some thought.  I’ve been doing it quite a bit since the Covid interruptions that started back in 2020.  What sort of school environment do I want to work in, and what do I miss at the moment.

Exam results are a subject that often raise their head in such discussions.  They are a very tangible piece of evidence to the successes or failures in any school.  But an overly focussed attention on this the academic success of an institution often leads to a vicious circle of pressure.  Teachers need to perform better to squeeze the best out of their pupils, pupils need to work harder and focus more on the teachers’ message, and the teachers need to be more aware of the needs of their pupils when constructing their lessons, and the pupils need to make the best use of what the teachers offer them.  It all sounds obvious and sensible enough, but this upwards educational spiral can equally become a downward one where pupils point fingers and the shortcomings of their teachers and teachers lament the failures of their pupils.

Within this educational pressure-cooker the pressure builds on all involved, and in the end reaches into most corners of a school.

One of the things that came out of the productive discussion table I found myself sitting at during the mission statement discussions this week reached into this area.  It touched on areas of well-being and state of mind amongst staff and pupils at school, and how by addressing shortcomings in this area we might contribute positively to relationships between:

Staff and staff

Pupils and pupils

and

Pupils and staff

It’s a personal view, but in the classroom, I generally think that we have too much of a ‘them and us’ view when considering the educational process.  Staff and here to teach and pupils are here to learn.  Of course, this is true to a degree, we are in the process together, there should be more space for a sense of ‘we are doing this together’ as opposed to ‘you have to do this’.

We seem to escape this ‘them and us’ relationship on occasions in education, on a school trip, exchange or excursion, a snippet of doing things together, but get back to school and things seem to change back again.

Togetherness, contact and collaboration were, for me, the key words in our brainstorm session.  Steps towards a greater sense of positive wellbeing, where pupils and staff work together on a better flow of contact that stretches beyond the academic level.  Get this right and it will surely bring its own contribution to the academic performance.

Let me repost an earlier piece I wrote on the artist/educator whose work made me first take steps towards entering teaching.  Tim Rollins knew the importance of working together and the benefits it could bring.

Tim Rollins and collaborative educational processes

A new generation exhibition visit

I often write and reflect on exhibition visits I make.  Last weekend took me to such a visit, but one that had a small extra significance.  My daughter Nynke and five of her peers, from the art school where they are studying. were presenting work that they had made in the last year or so. 

Apart from obviously putting their creative output out into a public environment the purpose was very definitely meant as part of a learning process of familiarizing themselves with all the issues and detail that come with exhibiting their work in a gallery space.  Things like the pressures, particularly of the last week of preparation, are only aspects of exhibiting that you can learn about through the experience of going through it all for yourself!

Personally, it was great to see Nynke’s work first hand and close-up.  Inevitably we have seen rather too much the last couple of years only in photographic form.  And so, on Saturday afternoon we joined a considerable crowd at the opening afternoon at the Omstand gallery in Arnhem.

The exhibition looked good together and the diverse work combined well.  But as a parent your eyes are inevitably very much on the work of the family’s next generation and Nynke’s work looked good in the space. It showed ambition to create complex and technically well worked out large-scale statements.  A proud parent moment!!