April 28, 2016

School Are Amazing Places

“Practice kindness all day to everybody and you will realize you’re already in heaven now.”
Jack Kerouac

School are amazing places. You wanna know why? Because they are filled with kids. And people who love kids and want to give them awe-inspiring experiences. Schools are places where teachers create rock shows and magazine launches. Schools are places where kids can be athletes and scientists. Schools can be places where kids are challenged to question and research and explore and wonder. Schools are places where kids dance and plant trees and hike and run meetings. Schools are places where kids build friendships, identies and 3-D printed design projects.

It’s where they write poetry, solve equations and fall in love for the first time. School is where kids find themselves one year, only to lose themselves a year later. School is where kids find confidence and take risks. It is where they test out their jokes and command a stage for the first time. A school is a place where they can leave the orbit of their parents for a few hours a day and see which other galaxies they might find themselves in. Schools are places where kids skin their knees, break their bones and learn to get back up. It’s the place where kids have to learn to fight back or to resolve conflicts between friends. Schools are where kids learn how to socialise around a meal or to eat alone. Schools are places where kids shred a guitar solo or forget the lyrics of the third verse. Schools are places where kids roam the halls looking for friends. It’s where they stand up to bullies, learn to talk to adults to demand their rights. Schools teach kids how to be activists, citizens and free-thinkers.

Schools are the most beautiful and important places in our societies. I am here tonight to challenge the narrative that schools are broken.

I am tired of constantly starting every conversation about how schools are places in need of drastic change, disruption or re-imagining.

(Before I continue, I want to acknowledge that I realise that I am blessed to work in a well-resourced school. I work at a top internationals school, where we are wanting for little. I want to be sensitive to people who might be reading this post who work in schools that are structurally damaged and morale vacant buildings. I have worked in such schools and I know it is hard to do your job in such environments.)

But even in such places, I refuse to continue to start every conversation about school that highlights the conceptual idea of school as a place of deficit. I’ve heard all the complaints. Hell, I have lobbed many of them myself: The curriculum is too intense, too much content, too many skills, too many tests, not student-driven enough, not enough tech, too much tech.

When we spread the narrative that schools are inherently broken we discredit and disrespect the two most important things that make-up schools: Kids and teachers.

I have spent the majority of my life in schools. And for all their faults, I still think they are amazing places. I still remember the rainy day afternoons in Mozambique waiting for the rain to stop so we could carry on because the floor had flooded for lack of windows. The fact that kids didn’t have shoes or books or pencils didn’t bother us none. The fact that I barely knew what I was doing didn’t seem to matter either. We were looking at the lyrics of Africa Unite by Bob Marley as a way to learn English. We laughed and smiled and built something unnameable. It was fueled by wonder and love.

All you need to run a school are kids and teachers who love kids and want to create awe-inspiring experiences for everyone on campus.

Tonight I was at Sound Asylum which is or annual MS rock show run by the music department ( Lee, Lindsey and Evind) in a constant state of goose-pimpled skin. I watched two hours of talented kids be rock stars. The team created an opportunity for these kids to stand on stage behind the lights and the smoke and in front of their peers and live out a dream. This is what a school is all about. Everything else is administration and bureaucracy.

It is not fair to kids if their teachers are constantly focused on looking at the problems of their school. We owe them more. Take a look at your school and ask yourself how you can create opportunities born from your love and passion- opportunities for your students to be inspired. If your curriculum has you down, or if you are buried under mandates of which you have no control, find other ways to build a culture of wonder in your school. A poetry reading, a basket ball league, a hands on science club, a coding team, a rock show, a magazine launch, a place to knit, plant a garden.

We don’t always need to focus on how to re-build our schools. Let’s change the conversations and focus on the fact that schools are by default great places because they are filled with kids. Everything else must grow from that understanding.

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