Stephen Heppell dropped by Learniture Towers earlier this week to see how the builders are getting on and how our little office is starting to take shape. Over a coffee in the fabulous Granary Deli below us, we chatted about this and that: the backlash that had been aimed at poor old St Catherine’s School in Sheffield over the weekend after Jonathan Lear posted a tweet showing a video of their fantastic Year 6 classroom; Anne Knock’s great blog about change from solo to team teaching. “The trouble,” Stephen lamented, “is we’re dealing with false dichotomies: they either think we have to have kids sat in rows or everyone lounging around on beanbags.”
And that, of course, is the point with next-generation learning environments – or ILEs as they prefer to call them in Australasia. (I’m personally not a fan of using the word ‘innovative’ here, because what to some is an opportunity, to others is a threat. ‘Next Generation’, to me, links the concept of moving forward with the very people the learning spaces are for.) Because over the last 15 or 20 years, as the concept of creating spaces that question the one-size-fits-all didactic approach to curriculum delivery has been gathering pace, I haven’t heard a single proponent suggest that direct instruction is always wrong. Merely that it’s not always right.
I found myself saying something similar the following day to one of the contributors to Learning Spaces magazine, which I edit. “Whilst I don’t want it to become an echo-chamber,” I explained, “I do see it as celebratory: we should be applauding those professionals who are looking to do things better, whilst I do accept, too, that we should not be afraid of pointing out areas where things haven’t gone to plan.”
Which is precisely why I find it so distasteful simply to snipe from the sidelines about people who are doing no more than trying to create the very best spaces for young people to learn in. “Why not visit the school on one of their open days,” suggested Di Pumphrey at our favourite West Thornton Primary Academy, before continuing, “and see for yourself why they were recently judged outstanding instead of making a churlish dismissal of their efforts?” The answer, as Stephen pointed out to me, is contained in a quote from anthropologist, Margaret Mead. “Never doubt,” she said, “that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”