I’ve recently returned from two conferences in the USA. At both I met a huge number of committed heads and teachers who, just like us, are doing their utmost to provide the best for their students. We found lots of common ground.
In common, we shared the demands of running complex organisations whilst juggling the needs of staff, students and parents. We all recognise that in terms of the economy and the political climate, these are uncertain and unpredictable times. Heads in the USA shared with me their fears for their students, and I shared mine. They were strikingly similar on almost every front. For example, I attended a one day symposium on sexuality education and issues, meeting heads, teachers and students from many schools (thanks here to the students of Georgetown Day School, who were outstanding contributors to the event). The symposium fell on the day our Secretary of State announced the proposal to make sex education compulsory for children in the U.K. The topics we discussed in the symposium- LGBT issues, online pornography, sexting, teaching consent and managing different moral and cultural values- were just the same.
So what was different? Very little. However, one thing which did strike me was the scale of the second conference I attended- NAIS in Baltimore. It’s an old cliche that everything in America is bigger, but this was HUGE (or should it be yuge?). The final day saw over 6500 delegates, coming together to hear keynote speakers in a space more suited to a rock concert. Headteachers, administrators, counsellors, class teachers, all sharing good practice in breakout sessions, of which there were hundreds, and openly talking about the challenges they face.
It was tremendously empowering and energising- and it made me think about what we could do here in the U.K. if we spoke with a common voice on issues- and I don’t mean just heads, or just independent schools, or just maintained schools, academies or free schools.
As educators, we are responsible for the most valuable asset our country possesses- our children, our future leaders. We do have our differences, but actually my trip brought home to me how many similarities we have too, even when separated by thousands of miles. We are kept awake at night by similar things- concerns about the exam system, making the money go further, the kids who we’re battling to keep afloat, physically, mentally, emotionally.
How powerful would we be, as a profession, if we could accept our differences, put aside our prejudices, see past the stereotypes on all sides (and none of us are blameless here) to the common ground, and work together? After all, it’s what we tell our students they should do. Maybe it’s time we showed them how.
(P.S. Another shout out to Ann, Martha, Sissy, Kira, Joe and JT, who all made me feel incredibly welcome. Joe, when you’re over here, dinner’s on me.)