Walking through the bunches of grapes draped around the doorway, my eyes were opened today to more than just an amazing little space in West Brompton. This space was the scene of our latest ‘Thinking Saturday.’ Ross and Megan Ashcroft (alongside their enchanting daughter) created a space for collaboration between Independent Thinking and Renegade Inc. The thought for today… “We are on the verge of cultural collapse.”
This is not the first time that I have heard this grim message. Just one week ago, Independent Thinking Associate Paul Clarke delivered a lecture on the same indigestion inducing subject. He blew my mind with the severity and the stupidity of our situation. While we (teachers) are all desperately trying to march our students through an unfair exam system, our greed and collective blindness are marching us towards the end. We find ourselves forcing children to sit still (or else). Compliance will allow us to train them to pass exams in a system that ensures failure remains a yearly fact. It’s easier to ignore than to act. It’s easier to see this situation as, “not my problem” or “too big to even attempt.” I’m just one person. What can I do?
News makes me cry and BBC Radio 4 puts me to sleep. I’ve never thought of hugging a tree and meat is my number one food. I know that plastic and waste are bad and yet I buy and buy and buy. I’m entrenched in the consumerist society that keeps me in my place; it is easier than opening my eyes. I recognise brands but could not tell you the names of the trees in my local park. Living in the matrix, I’m disconnected from the world and plugged into the empire of corporations that feed off me. I’m in a bubble and that bubble is heading towards the needle’s edge.
The lowest ranking member of teaching staff, I’m supply. I’m working in my little pit village, filled with the seemingly aspiration devoid ‘working’ class. Amidst the awe inspiring speakers in today’s thinking space, Ian Gilbert turned those kind, soul piercing eyes in my direction, “Where’s the optimism in what you’re doing?” He asked. A supply teacher, trapped in a bubble, now in the spotlight and surrounded by a panel of the best in the business. What optimism can this one person provide?
Up until now, this reflection feels filled with gloom and hopelessness but wow did I feel optimistic. Despite the subject matter under dissection, there was no gloom around our thinking space. How can you be gloomy sat next to Dave Keeling and Stephanie Davis? This pair deal in the currency of laughter and happiness. How can you be gloomy with the personality power house that is Jim Roberson filling the room with his utter pleasure to be alive? Head teachers, film makers, musicians, comedians, psychologists, leaders and me… supply. My optimism comes from knowing that these people and more exist. Thinkers and doers, perhaps not ‘popular’ or mainstream in their thoughts but great and full of the promise of action.
I’m just one person but I am connected to people that make me feel powerful. I don’t feel powerful like a politician or a rich person with a rich education, paid for by rich parents. It’s a very different kind of power. A power fuelled by the education that spaces like ‘Thinking Saturdays’ provide. Education brings power. I could close my eyes forever and live (probably) comfortably until I die. The digital world allows us all to be connected if we choose to be. Independent Thinking do not simply discuss these ideas behind closed doors, feeling very smug and clever that they are enlightened as they shut out the rest of the ignorant world. Instead, they are actively seeking connections to grow in their own education. Today, representatives from Independent Thinking, Renegade Inc, SPARK and WWEP were not dismissive of each other’s directions but learning from our connections, questioning, growing and doing.
Whether we are NQTs, supply, head teachers or consultants, we are all part of this world and can all open our eyes and actively seek change if we choose to do so. We can all connect to cause thinking and education. We can move into the future making educated choices. Teaching communities like Pedagoo, Teachmeets, Northern Rocks and TLT show that we don’t all want to narrow our curriculum to pass exams. We want to change lives, love what we do and make a positive contribution to our children’s futures.
Watching the reaction of classroom teachers listening to Paul Clarke’s message, I could see that some ideas feel too big to take to the classroom stage. However, big thinking can lead to real action. Where is the optimism in what I do? I can teach children to think for themselves, to question, to challenge and to reject ignorance. I can use my understanding of the importance of reading, writing, communication and mathematics to create a confidence that can pass exams but not only pass exams. I can show others how to use our current curriculum to deliver real facts that our children need to create a future worth living for.
Where is the science in global issues? Where is the art in world peace? Where is the mathematics in tackling famine? Where is the computer science in creating a connected world? Where is the MFL, the RE, the geography, the history, the media, the PE…? It may not be on the exam but it can easily be brought to everyday classrooms, making education rich and purposeful. If we make a difference to one child, we have made a difference and for that, I am optimistic that we can succeed.
No matter how lowly a position you think you hold, how dark the horizon or how insignificant as a single person on a planet of billions you feel you are, all teachers are in a privileged position of shaping the minds of children. It is possible to pass the exams and have a broad, challenging, purposeful experience.