Education systems innovate. They can’t seem to stop. Tweaks in practice and radical policy overhauls have been too numerous to count. Innovations often pass too quickly for their subtle and sustained influences on the system, schools and students to be easily evidenced. Unfortunately, this can be equally true for positive and negative outcomes both in the short and long term. We each carry the benefits (and scars) of the educational innovations of our own time in schools.
Personally, my engagement with the London Festival of Education curation team gave me reason to pause and consider how my adult life has been shaped by the intended and unintended outcomes of the educational innovations the Ontario government introduced during my own school years. For starters, I can recognise an Ontarian of my age group by their inability to do mental math(s) or explain specific grammar rules, because these were not curriculum priorities back then.
Another legacy of my Ontario schooling experience is the ‘innovative’ open-plan education I shared with 700+ grade 6-8 students in our formative early teenage years at the local state-funded Emily Carr Middle School (ECMS), outside Ottawa. On the outside, our school looked like any other. However, once inside, it was hard to miss the fact that it had few walls. Our open-concept schooling experience was unusual in Canada and probably completely untested. At the time, we simply accepted the innovation as our lot and got down to the business of adolescence and learning.
However, the legacy of the open-concept learning environment has left me with a rare ability: my peak concentration is generated in spaces with high-level distraction. It took me many years to accept this fact but I am fine with it now. My more creative and intense work requires boisterous loud crowds that trigger my middle school-influenced laser-focused concentration. As a result, I spend hours working in coffee shops, pubs and museums. To me, it seems a natural solution to finding peak productivity. To others, it is completely illogical.
While my caffeine-infused public working habits have been challenged by colleagues, they often yield interesting returns. One such unintended outcome will come to fruition on February 28th at the London Festival of Education here at the IOE. About a year ago, while working at the Phoenix Cinema in North London, I serendipitously started chatting with another café-working professional who turned out to be the award winning film maker and social advocate Yoav Segal.
At the time his most recent directorial work was a film called Irons in the Fire, produced by Joe Dives, narrated by Idris Elba and featuring the spoken word artist George the Poet. The film traces the lives of five young Londoners and tells the story of how their work with innovative youth organisations across the city helped them redefine their trajectories and find their passions.
Our conversation that day, my subsequent viewing of the film and our continued coffee-shop chats brought us to the point of wanting to a) publicly celebrate and showcase the work of some of London’s most innovative youth organisations and b) create a space for honest, dynamic discussion and debate for and with London young people and youth organisations. The London Festival of Education will provide just that space.
I was fortunate to convince Yoav to co-curate our LFE Youth Engagement strand. We are thrilled to have George the Poet kick-off the day. While he is widely recognised for his insight and advocacy, his star continues to rise and with it his ability to articulate, via his own experience and observation, what is needed for young people to succeed.
Next up, we are truly fortunate to have a very rare screening of the now multi-international award-winning documentary Irons in the Fire with a Q and A for the audience facilitated by young Londoners working with BiggaFish. Both Yoav and Joe Dives, as well as Nii Sackey, the founder of BiggaFish, will be there! This session will offer a moment to pause, celebrate and ask big questions about the sector, London, young people and the future.
The strand’s final session will involve colleagues from Brazenbunch, A New Direction and IOE to facilitate an interactive session that will give participants a chance to get to the heart of the issues facing youth and youth advocacy and support organisations. We know there will be debates related to upcoming elections, changes in funding and emerging needs of young people in London. As part of our commitment to those leaders and advocates in the sector, we are also convening a follow up gathering to continue the dialogue on topics identified at LFE.
I write this blog fully aware of the opportunities and challenges posed by current national and international approaches to improving education for all students. My distraction-requiring work habits pale in comparison to some of the more serious and catastrophic outcomes that can push students out of the system of school and work all together.
Whatever inspires you to join us at LFE 2015, be prepared for big debates and passionate opinions. If we do our hosting job well, there will also be plenty of opportunities for serendiptous meetings that will, we hope, plant the seeds for new collaborations and synergies. See you there.