I am currently in Sydney, having flown in for a week to work with new principals in the Association of Independent Schools in New South Wales, as well as with other internationally minded teachers and school leaders. Wonderfully, my visit coincides with the annual Vivid Sydney festival, where landmarks such as the Botanic Gardens, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge are transformed with astonishing light displays. I thought that last year’s displays were amazing; this year’s installations pushed the boundaries yet further; it is no surprise that this 8 year old festival attracted 2.3 million visitors last year.
In one of the most remarkable scenes of the evening, the sails of the Opera House morph into a jellyfish that is so realistic in its portrayal, so breathtaking in its natural power, and so beautiful in its shape, colour and apparent transparency, beautifully moulded to the sails of the Opera House, that the audience – on the packed quayside – were awed. It was, quite simply – along with, it must be said, the rest of the digital light performance – amazing to watch. The combination of the artistic vision, the creativity and the technological expertise required to represent this larger-than-life sea creature … this was a wonder in itself, and was a sharp and clear reminder of what human beings can do when respect, are inspired by, and work together with the natural world around us, drawing on their inner capacities to think, feel and imagine, as well as on the tools and advancements that their fellow human beings have made, and continue to make.
The resulting work, displayed for all to see, is all the more uplifting because it is a step up on last year’s work, when improvement was nigh impossible to imagine, and because, most likely, it will be improved upon yet further for next year. The human spirit is indomitable; its quest for ever greater improvement is unquenchable.
And this, of course, is what we need to be showing our children in schools, from the earliest age. We need to be igniting in them the spark of curiosity that will lead them to explore new territories, new understandings, and new ways of interpreting and using what we already know, as well as discover what we don’t. We need to be showing them pathways that others have forged to find and create the new – not so that they can follow in their footsteps, but so that they can see that such pathways can be imagined and created, and so that they can develop the confidence and self-assurance to set off on their own trajectory. Each of us has our own paths and journeys; schools need to be wise, flexible spaces where adults guide and nurture, but where ultimately they help children release their imagination and are emboldened to set off on their own unique journey through life.
Does this sound like a school you know? If so, please contact me and tell me! I see glimpses of this (or often more than mere glimpses) in many schools across the world, and I encounter many, many young people who are well on the way to becoming their unique selves … but I also see many hurdles that stand in the way of children developing their strengths, and I see much mediocrity.
Vivid Sydney reminds us of what we can achieve as human beings when we set our minds to it; our young people deserve nothing less than that we help them to achieve the equivalent in their own lives.