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School is more than a building

The discourse is currently focussed on school vs remote learning, which usually means in the home, but there are alternatives.

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Why are we fixated with the idea of school being one building?  

Educators are rightly anxious about returning to school where social distancing measures will be nigh on impossible to adhere to.  The second option might be to consider a phased return or students attending on a part-time basis.  

However, there is an alternative option - arts centres, museums, libraries, forest schools or universities could be used to accommodate small cluster groups (same children and teacher at all times) to help spread the school population across venues in communities.  Most of these venues also have specialist educators attached who could co-teach alongside the teacher.  Imagine the potential, imagine the creativity and imagine how it could help solve the issue of equity, if all students were back in full-time education with smaller student to teacher ratios.  

When students do return, many people will want to return to normal (including high-stake testing) but this will be a mistake, there will be some catching up to do but the priority must be first and foremost, on wellbeing.  Working in new and inspiring environments, exploring thoughts and emotions, sense-making through art, literature, history, nature and given the time to renew relationships face to face, although physically distant, is key.

Another aspect of this idea is the potential for building public and private partnerships, as local businesses could also be utilised to create real-world learning opportunities.

For the past five years I have been working on a successful creative learning initiative with over 600 schools.  I have observed first-hand the power of collaborating with partners from outside the education system on teachers' professional learning and the impact of creativity on children's learning particularly, amongst the disengaged, the vulnerable and the deprived.

It's time to look at education with renewed vision and courage.  School is a community not a building.

What part(s) of the pre-COVID school system do you wish to leave in the past? Why?

I want to leave the focus on narrow curricula behind. I want to us to prioritise the values and purpose of education instead of teaching to the test. We need future leaders, we need people who are creative, collaborative and empathetic as well as critical thinkers. Our young people need a rounded education now, more than ever before if they are going to deal with the challenges of a depressed economy, climate change, technological advancement and possibly the next pandemic.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to share this idea.

I was a secondary school and college teacher for 12 years before becoming a project lead on a national programme to help students and teachers become more creative.  The Lead Creative Schools scheme was a partnership between Welsh Government and the Arts Council of Wales which aimed to improve attainment through creativity, create professional learning opportunities for teachers and artists and reduce the impact of deprivation. 

I completed an MA in practitioner research in 2015 and this helped me to have a eureka moment in terms of my pedagogical understanding.  Through the creative schools programme, I was privileged to help teachers have their own lightbulb moment when they saw the impact creative approaches to teaching and learning had on their students.  When the learning is given a real-world context, when the process is as important as the outcome and the learner has choice, the experience is unforgettable.  It is this that's inspired me to share my idea and I've recently set up my own independent not-for-profit enterprise to encourage innovative practices in education.

I'm currently the regional coordinator for the International Professional Development Association and a research paper I co-wrote for their Practice Journal is under peer review.

What region are you located in?

  • Europe

Where are you located?

I live in small village called Bethel, a semi-rural community in Wales, UK.

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Nia Richards we’ve got 4 days left before the Challenge ends on May 26th. Next week, we will have a group of students reviewing ideas. If there is anything else you want to add (examples, additional depth, reflections, etc.), feel free to use the edit link to make any updates to your post. Thanks!

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