Antartic-like weather conditions, London traffic and a GPS navigation unit that appeared to have scant regard for road rules did little to detract from what has been a truly inspirational week for me. It proved to be a week of contrasts in terms of facilities, approaches and demographics, but the common theme that everyone I met with had at the centre of their educational philosophy was student wellbeing.
Wellington College is one of the top public schools in England. They have a world-renowned wellbeing curriculum. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Head of Wellbeing, Ian Morris. It’s always good to engage with people who are on the same page as you, and as I said to Ian, it’s even better when that person is a few pages ahead of you! Ian has pioneered the teaching of wellbeing to school students and I learnt a great deal from our chat. Ian has also written a book entitled, “Learning to Ride Elephants – Teaching Happiness and Well-being in Schools”
John Donne Primary School
John Donne Primary School is in Peckham in inner city London. A far cry from the £GBP 30000 a year Wellington College. It was here that I had the pleasure of working with Jenny Fox Eades for the day. I observed and assisted (which was great for me), as she ran a couple of activities from her Celebrating Strengths program. It was the first time that she had run these activities in at John Donne, and it was interesting so see how well the students and staff received them. After spending the day working with Jenny, we then sat down and discussed her approaches to strengths based education and my goals for education. We also discussed how to affect change in schools, and she was able to offer me insights based on her years of experience implementing the Celebrating Strengths program. These insights were invaluable.
Last week when I was at the Sir Ken Robinson talk, I bumped into a bloke, James Lynch, who I played rugby league with 14 years ago. Turns out he is now deputy head of Springfields School in Wiltshire, a nationally renowned residential school for children with Emotional Behaviour Disorders, who have been excluded from a number of schools, or who are on the autism spectrum. He invited me along to see what it was all about. One of the key criteria for students to attend Springfields is they need a Special Educational Needs Statement. Around 2% of all students in the UK have a statement. Over 90% at Springfields do. They offer a 24 hour program focusing on what the children can do, and run a number of vocational and sporting programs aimed at building the self-image of these otherwise disaffected children. James and I discussed the notion of establishing a partnership, where at the most basic level would involve the exchange of ideas, programs and expertise.
Grange Primary School
Grange is a primary school consisting of 440 students in Nottingham. It could be the most famous primary school in the UK. It is often mentioned when talking about leading edge education. It has been the subject of debate in the Houses of Parliament and features in a number of books. I read about it in Sir Ken Robinson’s book “The Element”. I met with the current headteacher Mike Hannon, a fellow Mancunian and Manchester City fan, and as well as spending a great deal of time talking to me about school leadership, he essentially gave me run of the school; to go where I wanted and talk to who I wanted. Going on Friday proved to be a master stroke as this is when they run the Universities program. A day of workshops where staff run workshops based on their interests and/or passions and the children get 7 weeks to have a go at something that may not otherwise be covered in a school curriculum. This runs alongside other initiatives such as the school radio and TV stations, a student-run tuck shop and student council that appears to have a genuine say in the running of the school. This whole program is called Grangeton. The school also strives to run a cross curricular curriculum, where everything is linked so the children can see relevance in everything they do. It was a pleasure to spend time with the kids at Grange, who without exception said they loved University workshops and really enjoyed school.
I was also very fortunate to receive a phone call at the start of the week from the headteacher who initiated the programs at Grange 8 years ago. Richard Gerver has worked as an educational advisor with the British Government, was the British Head Teacher of the Year 2005 and now speaks all around the world to conferences of educators and business leaders. He also works very closely with Sir Ken Robinson… and on Monday, Richard gave me a call seeing if I fancied a beer with him after visiting Grange.
What followed was 2 hours of inspiration. I spoke to Richard and his assistant Les Seymour (who still works at Grange) about how to achieve a meaningful educational experience for students. We talked about the challenges Richard faced and the likely challenges I will face. Les seemed to be the logistics man, while Richard the visionary. I was so appreciate of their time and I look forward to chatting to them again soon. Richard will be in Australia in June 2011 speaking at education conferences. I’ll put the details on here when they come to hand and I cannot recommend strongly enough going to hear him speak… take a sicky if need be! 🙂
To sum up this week in a few words would prove impossible. The most exciting thing to come out of this week is that all the people I met have urged me to keep in contact and they are keen to offer their expertise where they can in my future work… it’s been an amazing two weeks in the UK!
On Sunday, I fly to Indiana where I will spend time with John Yeager at Culver Academies, before spending a few days in New Orleans working with the Youth Empowerment Project – an organisation that work with the most at-risk youths in New Orleans.
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