Response and recovery

A message from the Director of Education

In his summer term message to schools, Director of Education, Ed Gregory reflects on the crucial and changing roles of schools and the ‘new normal’.

Based on research evidence following disruptions to education in New Zealand, USA, UK, John Hattie recently stated that schools, ‘No matter via what medium, can be hubs of response and recovery.’ (Hattie, 2020, download below). Wisdom, hope, community and dignity are words we have heard a lot recently and they remain at the heart of our Church of England vision for education. As we enter another phase of school life we need to draw on our strong, shared, foundations. Why? For the foreseeable future I believe that our ‘new normal’ will be a cycle of ‘temporary normals’. Throughout these cycles schools and churches together will be crucial places of response and recovery within local communities. Thank you all for your incredible work and willingness to do the right things within the context and capacity of your school and for the good of your community.

This way of being, cycles of ‘temporary norms’, will continue to bring great demands and the discomfort of constant movement, rather than feeling settled and stable. The introduction of track and trace systems, the subsequent potential for local ‘lockdowns’ and the possible rise in holiday travel may impact different communities at different times. Mahatma Ghandi recognised, ‘Dignity of human nature requires that we must face the storms of life.’ In the face of this particular storm, and all of its manifestations, our schools’ visions and values are key as we continue to support and promote human dignity in all that we do.

This way of being will surpass continuous improvement models and mere ‘tweaks’ to what we have always done. This way of being seeks transformational change. Transformational change is not about problem solving, it is not about partial re-modelling, it is about designing a whole system to meet new challenges and needs. It is an opportunity to apply our values and vision to aspire to a new future. In the film ‘Hidden Figures’ the aim was for NASA to put an astronaut in space with a safe return to earth. To do this meant looking ‘beyond the numbers’ to something, a goal, not yet within our experience. That said, the final calculations eventually came down to a historic formula and emerging IBM computer technology still required humans to verify its results. Our goal for the best education will be underpinned by our time honoured values, 2000 years of Christian narrative and the dignity of human beings.

Einstein said ‘Wisdom is not a product of schooling but a lifelong attempt to acquire it.’ Wisdom is about so much more than a prescribed, often narrow, curriculum. Strong moral values, a sense of community and well being, open and enquiring minds, constructive learning behaviours, great communication skills, a positive mindset and much more are all so important. This week on ‘Springwatch’ one of the presenters wore a t-shirt with the slogan ‘There is no planet B.’ We are all learning a great deal from this pandemic, with new realisations and understanding reaching far more widely than medical science.

Thinking of ‘hope’, Malcolm X said ‘Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.’ There is real hope. So many schools have, often at great cost of energy and emotion, swiftly changed the ways we share education, use technology, build new professional relationships with communities and families. There is still much to learn, not least in the human dignity of supporting those most vulnerable in our communities. We are preparing for the future through our thinking and actions today. The shape of that future will depend on our willingness to learn now and our courage to do the right things, to do things differently, for good, not simply for show or short term gain.

What do we hold most dear, as we look to the future, as we look ‘beyond the numbers’ yet hold firm to our moral compass, to our values? As we seek to live out those values, to support our communities, to reach and raise up the most vulnerable, we see why Henri Nouwen said ‘Community is where humility and glory touch’. So much over the past weeks has been about reaching out to the most vulnerable and those deeply, possibly newly, affected by the implications of this pandemic.

Nouwen also said ‘By prayer, community is created as well as expressed.’ Amongst all of this is spirituality, an awareness of something more, the possibility of relationship with God. Throughout this pandemic there has been an upsurge in people asking ‘big questions’, seeking meaning and to understand more about faith and religion. As education transforms, our school communities, and our church communities, will be essential places in our wider community ‘To support emotional recovery and promote social togetherness – and this is as important as any achievement gains.’ Hattie, 2020 (download below).

‘Community is gathering around a fire and listening to someone tell a story.’ Bill Maher. Our Christian foundation has been passed on, through story, symbolism, images and songs for generations. Hattie urges us to build strong community fusion, for our children, young people and adults. We can do this in ways with which we, as church schools, are very familiar with. We could use ‘Symbols, rituals, and identity; model connectedness; use stories and other artefacts so that when schools reopen there is a symbol, a thing, an event—a mosaic, a play, stories, collective memories of the at-home socially distancing experience.’

‘Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other,’ John F Kennedy.

What are we learning that will bring about transformation in education and schools, transforming learning, promoting wisdom, hope, community and dignity?

Perhaps, individually or in teams, we could ask ourselves five questions…

  1. From recent experience what has been a great success, something to develop further?
  2. What have we lost that we have greatly missed and look forward to getting back?
  3. From recent experience what have we been freed from that we don’t want back?
  4. What opportunities have not yet been grasped that will make a real difference going forward?
  5. So what? Having thought about the questions above, what do I do with that thinking now?

To help with your ‘so what’ thinking, downloadable below are simple bullet points (Shaping the future and flourishing schools). They may be thought provoking or merely confirm that you are already thinking well ahead! It is not a list of expectations or a worksheet.It is aimed at encouraging you to be bold and proactive in your decision making.

The key message is that as a diocese we will support you and your robust decision making, which will be values led and have the best interests of your school and community – the people, young and not so young – at heart. We will stand with you and walk with you, offering all the support we can to help you, and those your serve, to flourish.

 Ed Gregory

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