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Head's Blog: What it means to come back

Our Head, Paul Dwyer, shares his thoughts as we prepare to come back together as a school community to start the new year.

“We come from all the divisions, ranks and classes of society…To teach and be taught in turn. While we mingle together in these pursuits, we shall learn to know each other more intimately; we shall remove many of the prejudices which ignorance or partial acquaintances with each other had fostered…in the parties and sects into which we are divided, we sometimes learn to love our brother at the expense of him whom we do not in so many respects as a brother…we may return to our homes and fireside with kindlier feelings toward one another, because we have learned to know one another better”  - Thomas Greene at the opening of a community Lyceum in Massachusetts in 1829. 

This extract, as quoted in Bowling Alone has stuck with me throughout the lockdown period, because it speaks to the strength of a community when gathered physically; something I can’t ever imagine taking for granted again. Greene speaks to the special possibilities that are afforded in social spaces, particularly those designed to ignite discussion and encourage collaboration.

Given that a new set of cliches has now entered our vernacular as we refer to the ‘new normal’ and ‘unprecedented times’, I might be forgiven for falling back on a slightly older cliché to highlight my feelings on the eve of a new school year: a school is not just a building. This has never been more true than the last six months as schools have gone to great lengths to replicate our community in an online environment. We remain just as passionate about our subjects when delivering content via Teams or Zoom.

This should not disguise the excitement that I feel about welcoming all students and teachers back into school at the start of a new academic year. Bringing people together provides a chance for us all to reconnect as a community and share in the joy of learning in a way that is harder to replicate online. Anyone who visits a school in full flow will feel the energy that emanates from classrooms and corridors. Physically sharing spaces provides conditions ripe for scholarly effervescence to ripple throughout the site. Thoughts ignite as students connect new ideas with old and build bridges between subjects or sources; between their current understanding and their aspirations.

There is no substitute for over-hearing snippets of conversations in corridors as students continue passionate debates that had started in the classroom, or sharing a knowing glance with a group as you reach a key passage in a text or recount the ebbs and flows of battle and heighten the anticipation for what comes next. These are the shared experiences I look forward to sharing once again with all members of our school community as the new year begins. It is something from which we all draw energy.

We cannot avoid the fact that (to use another cliché), this will be another year like no other. The safety of our students will remain our key priority as we continue to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. There are still unknowns about the shape of the year to come; will exams to be delayed? What lessons can we learn if schools are asked to lock down once more? These thoughts are at the forefront of our minds as teachers and what is best for our students will guide our actions. Not just best for the few months that lie ahead, but best for their futures.

Challenges remain for all of us. Preserving bubbles might remove some of the ease with which we move through the school day but it will not take away any of the energy. Passion will still inform our teaching and acting with care for each individual will always be at our core so that “we may return to our homes and fireside with kindlier feelings toward one another, because we have learned to know one another better.” 

Date Posted: 03 September 2020
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