The world feels full of strife at the moment. There is a great desire for wise and competent leadership, and much discussion about the absence of it. So when we were choosing which Shakespeare play to perform this year, Henry V seemed an apt choice. The wild youth, Harry, is transforming into Henry the King. There are factions, prejudices, impossible odds, idealistic dreams…
We split the role of Henry between two children. One played Henry ‘the King’, as he issued his royal edicts. The other played the man, Henry, who is coming to terms with his kingship, and struggling with loyalties and the loneliness of his new role.
Adam Foster, our new teacher, directed brilliantly. The children performed on the stage at Theatre by the Lake last week. If you’d like to see the play, they’re performing again on Tuesday 13th December at 6:30pm in St Oswald’s church. The play lasts about 40 minutes. It is a play for our times. Please come along.
I loved watching the Olympics. All those ordinary people, having extraordinary moments as a result of team-work and tenacity. All of us ordinary people enjoying the extraordinary moments, with others, at the end of our “ordinary” days. There was chat afterwards about “how to be happy when you’re mediocre”. Mediocre. I found that depressing.
No-one, of course, is ordinary. If you’re in schools every day you know that. Adults turn up at school with unique little human beings. Those children are to their parents the most extraordinary humans in the world. They are right. It’s not a deluded fiction; it’s fact. Every person is uniquely important. Love and grief are the most powerful things we ever know, because to each of us, some other human beings are uniquely special. Every person has infinite possibilities for development, and is born into a “team”, a community, which will help to nurture their talents. First of all they learn to crawl, walk, talk – all astonishing milestones. They learn to make friends, to tell a joke, to puzzle things out. Is that ordinary? Every child does all of this spectacularly originally.
We’ve got Olympic and other elite athletes coming through our village on Monday. The “Tour of Britain.” It sounds relaxed, but really isn’t. Lots of single-minded individuals, supported by huge teams, will be striving against each other, themselves and the usual rain. They are obviously extraordinary. But they are no more extraordinary than any of our new starters on Monday, who will be watching them. Just differently extraordinary!
We finished the school year with ‘Arthur, the True Story’, and ‘The Leavers Service’. They were, of course, ordinarily delightful – parents and families saw their unique children performing, and surpassing their own little goals. What I think makes productions and sport particularly powerful goes beyond this individual delight. There was a moment in ‘Arthur’ when I heard the ripple of “Is that…?” followed by appreciative wonder. We are a community, and during a production, or during a wrestling competition, or during a relay race, we join together to wonder at the individuals amongst us, and of what we’ve achieved as a team. As a nation we did the same during the Olympics. Lots of people came to me after the end of term. They said, “Did you know she / he could do that?” to which the answer is “We thought they could, and they found that they could, and what do we have to lose in trying to find out?” People also said, “Where did that come from?” The answer to that is, of course, “It came from that unique individual, and from the support of their team / family /community.” We’re all part of the success of each child and adult amongst us.
I have no idea which of the humans in Grasmere on Monday will turn out to be the most famous. It could be that several or none of us become more famous than Sir Bradley Wiggins. But I know that the place will be full of extraordinary unique people on Monday. I could show you someone who can create and adapt unbelievable costumes; someone who can bake glorious gingerbread; someone who properly, properly understands electricity; someone who can swim in lakes and not get cold. I’ll stop there! They are all ‘ordinary’ super-humans to me. Those are some of the adults. I’m not going to tell you about the children. They can tell us themselves over the coming days and years. Welcome back, every single one of you extraordinary human beings!
“To be able to respond to all the challenges we face in life, honourably, courageously, positively, ambitiously and creatively.” (Grasmere School Vision Statement) We’re aiming to give children the skills, attitudes and confidence that will be a solid foundation for the rest of their lives.
Most of life’s challenges happen outside a classroom, so it’s really important that children get lots of practise at applying skills in different contexts.
This week we’ve been on residential to Hadrian’s Wall. Every child will have had a different experience, depending on what they were ready to learn. Obviously we’ve learnt lots of historical information, in an engaging and relevant way. I saw lots of other little moments of revelation, which will be built on in later life:
- Lasagne can be approached with enthusiasm rather than suspicion. (Hunger helped with this one.)
- The skill of putting a duvet inside a cover is a skill worth learning. (Some children were viewed with awe, for their efficiency with this.)
- Telling friends scary stories can make them upset, and then you need to sort it out to make sure they’re ok again.
- It is possible to keep track of gloves, hats, waterproofs, water bottles etc, without adult prompting.
- Gold really is gold! We saw an archaeologist find a string of gold – very exciting.
- Making jokes when you’re tired can really help.
- Making jokes when you’re tired can go horribly wrong.
If I had to guess which learning experience will stay with them forever, I would probably choose the workshop where we were trained as Roman soldiers. One and a half hours of intense physical training, in Latin, dressed as Romans. But I might be entirely wrong! Education is the accumulation of lots of little experiences, and as teachers we don’t really know what we’re giving the children. As I write, what’s vivid in my mind is our early morning walk in the frosty fort, watching the lambs trying to climb the ruins… We will each have taken our own pictures and learning home, and stored them for future use…
That’s the wonder and humility of being a teacher. Our aim is to try to provide an environment and experiences which will help the children to learn, for their good and for the good of the future of the world!
As Wordsworth said,
“Enough, if something from our hands have power
To live, and act, and serve the future hour”