I felt genuinely fortunate and blessed this past week to have navigated reams of pre-travel requirements successfully and to have had the opportunity to contribute as a speaker to the GESS Dubai conference. I was speaking on values-led leadership in schools, and the importance of understanding and developing self in order to be a highly effective and impactful leader … and what a pleasure it was to meet, connect (and re-connect) with many other leaders, friends and colleagues in this phenomenal international profession, which is driving the future of our world.
One of the most inspiring talks I attended over the 3 days of the conference was given by the wonderful Dr Rana Tamim, with whom I subsequently shared the platform in the GESS Arena as I reflected my personal journey throughout my career in understanding why schools are not always set up to be the best places for children and young people to learn and grow, and why it is so utterly imperative to place the student and their needs at the very heart of any consideration around their education.
Dr Rana eloquently challenged the separation of schools from the rest of a child’s life, and I was particularly struck by her focus on the ideas and observations of the late Alvin Toffler, whose book ‘Future Shock: The Third Wave’ is now on my ‘to-read’ list. Thinking about schools and their role in the future, he gave a prescient interview in 2007 where he spoke about his vision for a future school, anticipating the 24/7 life we all lead online. A flavour of the content …
“Any form of diversity that we can introduce into the schools is a plus… like in real life, there is an enormous, enormous bank of knowledge in the community that we can tap into. So, why shouldn’t a kid who’s interested in mechanical things or engines or technology meet people from the community who do that kind of stuff, and who are excited about what they are doing and where it’s going? … I think that schools have to be completely integrated into the community, to take advantage of the skills in the community. So, there ought to be business offices in the school, from various kinds of business in the community … “[The school of the future will be] open 24 hours a day. Different kids arrive at different times. They don’t all come at the same time, like an army. They don’t just ring the bells at the same time. They’re different kids. They have different potentials … I would be running a twenty-four-hour school, I would have non-teachers working with teachers in that school, I would have the kids coming and going at different times that make sense for them.”
Is there a simple, straightforward, one-size-fits-all answer to the question of what schools can and should be? Of course not! Schools are complex organisms, and part of a wider ecosystem … more importantly, each child is even more beautifully complex and unique. What matters is that we keep asking the question, and keep seeking and trying out answers.
And in Dr Rana, I have a new and wonderful friend; together, we are all stronger, and have a better chance of contributing solutions to the world. Onwards and upwards!