James Biddulph reminds us how inspiration lies all around us, but we must first find it for ourselves before attempting to inspire others.
As educators it is our duty to be inspired: to find the joy in life, the magnificence in a butterfly’s tongue, to notice the gilding on a coffee table as the autumnal light filters through copper leaves.
To be inspired? The word originates from Latin for ‘breathing into’, to infuse (as life) by breathing, to draw forth or bring out and to exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence. And yet as teachers we often default into believing we are machinists; churning the mix, rotating the conveyor belt with our precious product – the children in our midst. How often do we inspire ourselves? How do we nurture our own sense of self and identity so that we come to the classroom fully present to inspire the smiling faces in front of us?
John Dewey, one of the most influential educators in the last hundred years said that education is life itself and it struck me that what we do day in day out is about inspiring a life of learning. The challenges of opening new schools from scratch shows us that we, as adults, are on this everlasting journey… Dewey seems so right.
The Avanti Schools are about inspiration for the children and the wider community. But how can we breathe into the imaginations of the young people in our care if we do not breathe into our own imaginations the sense of possibilities? How do we involve them in exploring their world and indeed in constructing their world if we do not spend time writing, painting, dancing or singing our own worlds?
Maxine Greene, another incredible educator and philosopher, comments that engaging in dialogue (and within this, listening) is a corner stone in building respectful, thoughtful and fuller communities. She suggests that there are many voices silenced in the discourse about education and in my own PhD study I realise more and more how little we know of children’s lives, let alone hearing their authentic voices.
We have talked in our meetings and collaborations about developing Listening Schools and a key motivation has been how do we serve our unique communities; to hear them and respond to their needs and concerns.
“We are all different, but we all burn the same bright spark of inspiration”
This is not always easy. The ethos of our schools does, somehow, inspire reflection and thought about the purpose of life and what contribution our schools make on our young people’s journeys of self-discovery.
We try to engage them in discussions about their school, the material and spiritual aspects of life, and ask them to think deeply. Deep listening requires time. To find time in a crowded curriculum and the pressures of the normal school day requires commitment, tenacity and belief in the joys of life and a heartfelt need to connect.
We try to listen to our parent body by including them, in breaking down the traditional school gate divide and bring them along the journey our schools are taking. We try to respond to their views by giving time. We try to acknowledge the differences and find ways through.
My time at Avanti Court has been inspiring. I am not sure whether there has been much time for me to be inspiring but that has been the learning point for me. As I move onto my next life challenge, I reflect on what my sojourn with Avanti Schools Trust has taught me: to be kind to oneself, to find time to connect with people, to find the joy in what we do, whether cleaning flooded toilets or in singing with children, to acknowledge that things go wrong and then they come right, that good things always require extra effort and that whilst we are all different, we burn the same bright spark of inspiration (whether called Krishna, spirit or humanity) that can burn brightest in challenging moments.
Once my good friend said to me that in every task that comes our way we should come to it with the same energy and spirit as a child feeding ducks and I rather liked the image. If we can inspire a little and be inspired, we will find ways through for every child, I think.
Robert Frost once said, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” So in being confident that listening deeply will inspire, I think our schools will ignite so many possibilities and huge joy in the incredibleness of a butterfly’s tongue.