February 09, 2006

A dying school?

Normally when I read the Exc-el blogs it's a quick glance to see if anything in East Lothian's diary affects me. Today I read a post that caught my eye and made me read on. Angus McRury is the Head Teacher at Innerwick Primary School, a rural school if ever there was one. In Cold Comfort he's worried at this time of year that his school will not be populated with enough kids to keep going. "Are we a dying school?" he asks, several times. He also seems to feel that no matter what the school does to attract new kids they still won't come, especially since the Grammar school in the main town will be opening a nursery section, taking away even more of his own school's population.

I have to admit that this presents a problem for those teachers featured in David Warlick's end-of-year podcast ("Our classrooms are irrelevant, not obsolete!"), some of whose visions of the schools of the future do not take account of the dynamic that exists in a rural school - or any school building, for that matter. Successful schools are built on the ethos that runs through the corridors. Unsuccessful schools fail on the threatening atmosphere that can run through their corridors. In a small rural school times that by 10. At least.

So what of a school where there are no physical corridors, but the IT-led virtual corridors hinted at in Warlick's New Year post and many thereafter? I don't think it can work, and reading Cold Comfort will show any IT leader not just how important people's face-to-face interactions are but also how important the ethos of a group of people is.

If you've ever heard me speaking in public you may wonder if this is not a contradiction of what I have been getting at. It might just be that. I have said that the school of the future will not be based around walls. That might be the case for some students, still, but for a large number that group dynamic of eating together, playing together, having some banter with their teacher in the corridor, taking part in a lunchtime club or just saying 'hi' to their favourite teachers in the corridor is lifeblood and you can't take it away or replace that with a computer or PDA. Not even with a blog.

Is your school dying, Angus? I don't think it will or ever should. It might get smaller physically but it is the growing microcosm of safety, happiness and productive learning that is important here.

UPDATE: See the VERY interesting reply from the Head of Education, Don. I think this is impressive for a 'superintendant'. How many Head Teachers (Angus) and Heads of Education (Don) blog like this?


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Thanks for this post. I think that you are "right on" in pointing out the importance of face to face education. I grew up and was educated in a very small mill town in western North Carolina (lot of Scottish blood in that part of the country). The best part of my education was the relationships that evolved between teacher and learner. There is much that can be accomplished online. This is clear.

But readying our children for their future requires that we hold their hands and guide them there.

I just want to clarify, that the views in my podcasts of fully virtual schooling where teachers work from home, are not my views. I was merely passing on the rather quick and candid responses of educators to the question -- "What will you see in your classroom in 2015?" I think that it is natural for many of us, who were raised squarely in the 20th century, to be in awe of technology, and to think about where technology is taking us. But this is a HUGE mistake. It is we who are in control, and we who are responsible, and we who must observe, reflect, imagine and vision, and then use technology to take us there.

Thanks again, Ewan!

-- dave --

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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