When I truly think about the word ‘School’, I come to the sudden realisation that it’s been a place in my world on and off for almost 45 years! The importance of school settings has sculpted my life and continues to sculpt my future: as a child growing up, as a professional in education for many years, as a parent of a teenage daughter, and now as a Headteacher, school has been and continues to be a place that my thoughts always go back to. So, what is ‘School’ in an ever changing world?
S – Social Interaction.
“One of the most beautiful qualities of friendship is to understand and be understood” - Lucius Annaeus Seneca
As a child, school was the place where I formed my knowledge of relationships outside of my family unit, supported by the adults around me, rather than just members of my family who had their own ideas of ‘what a good friend looked like’ for me. It had its ups and downs; I formed friendships, learnt about those idiosyncrasies that people have and how to manage them in a way that was best for me. I learned who I ‘gelled with’ and who I didn’t. I learned to let go of friendships that actually weren’t ‘good’ for the direction I was going in, and I learned to hold tight to the friendships that fortunately still stand today. I find myself now watching my daughter working this out for herself, although I am learning that it is hard as a parent to see the emotions she goes through when a friendship breaks down or naturally ends. In spite of this, I know that as a teenager, she has needed these experiences to prepare for the adult life that stands in front of her. So for me, school appears to be a natural environment that allows students to explore the complexities of relationships to support them into their adult lives.
C – Curiosity.
"Ideas come from curiosity” - Walt Disney
Schools should be places where curiosity is fostered. Curiosity solves problems, and problems definitely crop up throughout our lives. But if we have been offered experiences that make us curious from an early age, solving future problems becomes an easier process, and has less detrimental impact on how we can cope in more challenging situations. When I reflect, my own curiosity was ignited at a young age; as I moved into my teenage years, my curiosity for the world around me grew, leading me to paths that may not have been the best for me at the time, but this allowed me to learn how to direct my curiosity more positively. School was a place that allowed me to develop and feed this curiosity in a safe environment and learn from my mistakes. I believe that school is a place that needs to focus on growing curiosity within every student.
H – A ‘Home’ Away From Home.
“Home is where you feel at home and are well treated” - Dalai Lama
I find myself continually thinking about how we, as a school, can make it so that every student has a sense of belonging, feels welcomed, and feels a part of something special; an extension of the sense of security that our homes are supposed to make us feel. As we grow up, we tend to spend so much time in educational settings that it just makes sense that the culture of the school finds ways to create a feeling of safety for students. I look back on my childhood and there are truly times when I felt that I was a part of something special, felt safe to explore my interests, but also, as an adult, reflect upon the times I didn’t, and how that moulded me. I endeavour to make our school a place where our students should think of it as a safe space to be able to explore, make mistakes and grow within it.
O – Observation.
“People learn more from observation than they do conversation” - Will Rogers
Schools are a busy place. Time can seem to just run away. For some, school is a place where time can completely stand still. Ultimately though, it is a place to be able to observe and draw your own conclusions in an environment that strives to make you feel secure. It provides an environment that leads to transferable skills in the future, and allows us to build coping mechanisms for the hustle and bustle that society rightly or wrongly expects us to cope with as we move into adult life. So for me, it was and is a place that allows for observation to take place, stepping back to visually learn from the experiences around us within a safe and secure environment.
O – Opportunity.
“Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday's success or put its failures behind and start over again. That's the way life is, with a new game every day.” ― Bob Feller
There is no question that schools can provide everyone with wonderful opportunities. It just has to be the right school for the young person. Opportunity can lead to achievement and success. This may look different to each and every one of us, but it has the potential to offer all of us that little spark that leads to greater things.
L – Learning.
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better” - Maya Angelou
Learning looks different for everyone, but a school is the environment that offers this in abundance. Learning experiences are fostered across all areas, as learning provides that ‘sense of purpose’ and without purpose, we can become lost in our lives. Learning comes in all different shapes and sizes and cannot solely rely on academics; it is the offer of learning socially and emotionally that leads to acquiring that excellence in academic areas to support the paths we desire to take in the future.
This is definitely not an exhaustive list of what a school can offer, and for some, school never quite feels like the right place, but in my position, and as a parent, I will continually reflect on what a school is, and focus on ‘Unlocking the doors to opportunity’, striving to create that sense of belonging, so students can experience success and explore opportunities for their futures.