The full return to school by all of our students has been something to be proud of. As would be expected at Tavistock College, all colleagues have pulled together to ensure that the carefully crafted LFT plan and relational policy have been implemented without too much difficulty. We have quickly been able to adapt to immediate needs without any major complication. Thank you to everyone who has made this happen. The small, incremental and, seemingly, trivial actions have all added up to one massively positive school to be in right now.
There has certainly been a buzz of excitement about the place. The conversations with staff demonstrate how much we have missed each other, and, of course, the young people in our care. Jo Neill said to me the other day “It’s not that we haven’t all been working, it’s that we have not been working together that has made me tired”. We now have an opportunity to put this right, and bring alive our exceptional ethos once again. In taking the time to talk to students this week, I know that they are understanding of the need to maintain the health and safety controls, and are supportive of what you are all doing for them. Whilst the return to their academic and vocational studies is high on the agenda, the minds of most of my Student Voice group are full of socialisation, their friends, their families and their worries. Tutors have time to manage conversations over the next two weeks to allow for powerful discussions around social needs alongside the tutor programme. It is a wholly human trait to want to re-connect, and we should not shut opportunities down.
All of this is really about seeing life through the eyes of others. We already know that what a teacher thinks is happening in the minds of their students, and what is actually happening in the minds of their students may be two very different things. The teacher may think that everyone is on the same page, with the same understanding of what has been explained, but the truth is very different. Part of the art of teaching is to try and get everyone to see what is inside their own head, so that everyone can then think about the same thing together. What happens in the classroom after all, is a communal act, and it should be highly dialogic. If we want to be able to work together in a classroom and get to the point where there is meaningful discussion, we have to begin by making sure that people have the knowledge to enter that dialogue. That is why recent professional development has intentionally revisited retrieval, modelling, chunking, scaffolding and ‘just in time’ feedback. The return to face to face learning, therefore, will continue to require ongoing attention in these areas.
We are still in transition. As in all things in life that change, one thing does not just end and another begin. Life is a collage of beginnings and endings that run together like still-wet paint. Yet before we can begin any new phase in the life of the school, we must sometimes first achieve closure to the current stage we are in. That is because many of life’s experiences call for closure. Often, we cannot see the significance of an event or importance of a lesson until we have considered the changes that we might make, for example in recognition of the lockdown. It is this sense of completion that frees us to open the door to new beginnings. There are plenty of new practices and systems that we can now reflect upon and decide which actions to now put our efforts into. If we pay attention to the values that we have built this school upon we will not go far wrong. They are, after all, expectations about our behaviours and relationships, not words on the wall.
Despite the all-absorbing return plan, we still found time this week to promote International Women’s Day. It is important to recognise that when we choose to consider issues of equity and equality that we are not acting in a way that promotes only lip service. Students will never forgive us for that. To be specific, it is not acceptable to pose for a picture with your hand raised, and then engage in ‘banter’ about feminism. Feminism is not an ‘anti-male’ stance. To quote G D Anderson (founder of the Cova Project) “Feminism isn’t about making women strong. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.”
Whilst we accept that all people have their own way of being in the world, there must always be an expectation that our behaviour around issues of equality and equity will never be to the detriment of others. In other words, it must be authentic. We grow up in different environments, affected by a unique range of influences. The preferences, values, and beliefs we embrace are frequently related intimately to our origins. Additionally, the need to individualise our experiences is instinctive, as doing so enables us to cope when we must face challenges on our own. Consequently, each of us has developed a perspective that is uniquely ours. Interacting peacefully and constructively with people from all walks of life is a matter of first understanding where they are coming from, accepting it and then championing the changes in ourselves. Then we can adjust our expectations so that we avoid making undue assumptions and judgements about what they are about. When there are barriers keeping us from connecting with someone else, it is possible to think of questions you can ask them to gain a more thorough understanding of their point of view. We may discover that in addition to the differences in perspective dividing us, we are subject to insecurities and other personal issues that influence our way of seeing the world. It is likely that we will never fully grasp the myriad complexities embodied by humanity, but we can go a long way toward encouraging mutually satisfying relations by reaching out to others in the spirit of sympathetic comprehension. I believe that this is exactly what we must do as we move forward.