Tuesday, February 15, 2005
The power of people and ideas.
In a few hours a very good friend of mine and her husband are coming to stay with me for a few days.
The last time I saw Marion and Chris was in 1980 when I stayed with them in the UK but we had all originally met in 1969. In the sixties in our town in New Zealand a number of us were very interested in ‘open education’ and, in particular, the English junior school approach. As a result in 69 I decided to spend a year in the UK to see for myself. It was to change my life and, as it turned out, many others back in NZ. 1969 was also to be my first year of teaching having been an adviser since leaving training college.
I eventually ended up at a wonderful school Kings Farm situated in a building estate in a large industrial city on the Thames. Coming from rural New Zealand this was quite a shock to me and I began my teaching career with some apprehension.
I had chosen Kings Farm because it was a well known ‘progressive school’. My experience there was to be mind changing. The school couldn’t have been more different than a equivalent size school in NZ.
The Head teacher Irene was, as I soon discovered, a real educational leader and she had gathered around her a team of teachers the like I had never seen before. In NZ at the time teachers were sent to school by distant authorities. Marion and Chris were two of these teachers. Both are currently touring the world after retiring from teaching having completing their careers as successful head teachers.
Right from entering the Kings Farm things were different. The foyer was full of beautifully displayed students work; there were displays of flowers and interesting objects to look at and think about and comfortable chairs to sit in. Wonderful messages for the young children and their parents from the estate and for visitors like myself. Before my interview Irene took me on a tour of the school and at the end of this I knew that this is where I wanted to be. Each classroom seemed more impressive than the last. There were aesthetically pleasing displays in each room to motivate student curiosity and the walls were covered with impressive student research, language, maths and art.
I had never seen a whole school aligned behind a shared philosophy. There are few to be seen today.
Marion was one of the teachers that Irene was most proud of and it was obvious why; her room must have been a paradise for the children from the estate. Chris’s also. Chris turned out to be a real enthusiast for real life mathematics. I had never met anyone before with such a passion for the subject; his enthusiasm was infectious.
I had great year educationally ( and socially) and was able to visit a number of progressive school with the deputy principal Peter, who was part of a post graduate university course. His course was based on visiting schools and then discussing what had been observed and I was happy to tag along. To this day I believe visiting other schools is the best way to learn.
When I returned to New Zealand I couldn’t wait to share the ideas I had seen with a group of creative teachers I had worked with before leaving. This group of New Zealand teachers added their own dynamic ideas and the combined influences have continued to be felt in our local schools to this day. Well those of us who were involved still recognize the influences if others have long forgotten. All of the original teachers have long since retired.
Today Marion returns. She had spent a term teaching in NZ in the 1970 and is remembered fondly by all. Tomorrow might we are having a party with about twenty people who had an association with her in 1970. We are all very excited.
I share this story because to me it represents how creative ideas in any area are spread. Ideas have to be experienced first hand and by meeting people who share a passion for them; they cannot be imposed. If the ideas are worthwhile they will spread by themselves. The ideas I picked up, both in England and from my friends in New Plymouth, have formed the basis of the educational philosophy I share today.
I am sure you all have people in your own lives that have inspired you.
It will be certainly great for us all to meet up again. It has been a long time since we all got together and we will have a lot to catch up on!