Some are big some, some small, some rural and some inner city. Some are set in beautiful grounds and some have to do their best with a tennis court sized slab of concrete surrounded by chicken wire fencing, overlooked my glimmering glass towers. All of them, I believe, have the best of intentions at their heart. Hundreds of smiling children filing into classrooms. Columns of ant like figures marching with eager minds into buildings that we hope are homes to learning, knowledge and safety.
But that is not, of course, all our school buildings are.
I recently saw a tweet pinging around the internet outlining the many ‘roles’ of a teacher. Of course educator was on the list but there was also, nurse, therapist, protector etc. For schools this is no different. For some children their school is literally the only constant in their lives. Whilst families may change and circumstances alter as long as the child remains enrolled in the school it is a constant. Familiar, safe and caring.
When tarmac carpets spread across our green spaces and houses spring up like some sort of bizarre bricks and mortar plant, a school is one of the first things on the list of needs and requirements. This isn’t just down to the need to educate our children this is due to the inherent force for good and for social change that they represent. Think for a moment about the myriad of activities schools are involved in, the money raised for charity, the food collections, the carols at local nursing homes or gifts sent to less fortunate schools around the world. These are just daily occurrences in schools across our nation, being a small cog on the inside means we sometimes miss the significance of what we are part of every single day.
This really hit home to me when last year I was charged with ‘manning the gate’ an illustrious and regal position that came with a thick blue coat emblazoned with the school emblem and a bell to ring to get the little ones to charge towards the entrances. Now to be fair my year group partner and I were only tasked with doing this due to the fact we were on PPA and a senior member of staff wasn’t available. However when doing this two things really hit me. Firstly, how being safely ensconced in my own little classroom bubble I know what very few of our parents look like. Secondly, that by simply putting on that coat, standing at that gate and giving a smiley good morning to all who entered, there was a natural inherent respect. An acknowledgement of the school’s reputation, atmosphere and standing in our community.
When the centenary of WWI rolled round our staff spent a long time thinking on how to commemorate the occasion. We decided to task every child with painting a poppy and attached the hundreds of flowers to the local footbridge. They were arranged to fall away from the figures of two soldiers in a wave. We loved it, our parents loved it. What we didn’t expect was the reaction from the public. Facebook groups, local newspapers and radio stations took photos, shared the details and discussed its impact. When silently stalking one of these groups a series of messages popped up voicing opinions on our school. Every single was positive, not just positive but glowing, outlining that this kind of thing was ‘nothing new’ from such a caring school. Now naturally many schools would have such comments but it really made me think about what we are to the community.
The fact is for many children they leave Year 6 and that’s it, so long, thanks for the memories and the now obligatory leavers hoody. We remain, missing them perhaps but keen to keep going, our own lives a private story that carries on in the wings of the main show. Even for teachers, they leave, they move on. Heads are no different venturing off for pastures new. But the building, the name, the feeling and place at the heart of the community doesn’t change. Some schools even open during holidays to provide food for local residence. This is incredible. If you pause and think, truly incredible. A building designed ‘just’ to educate kids is arguably the most important agent for social cohesion and change in our country.
We change lives in so many ways, actually educating is just one small part of what we do. Community, whatever it truly means, losing its strength when it loses faith in its school, it loses identity when the children in it lose theirs. There are terrible days, stress, tears even on occasions blood when you are a teacher but never ever forget that you are changing your village, town or city every single day by being that sentinel in a blue coat with a bell. You change lives.