At the beginning of the school year, and the start of a new year for Schools in Transition, the secondary schools that are taking part gather at Sharpham House outside Totnes for a residential weekend. Teams of pupils and teachers take a critical look at the state of the world and remind each other that a new kind of leadership is called for. It’s the kind of leadership that admits we don’t have all the answers but that if we set aside barriers between “teachers” and “pupils” and learn together, then we might come up with effective actions for the wellbeing of ourselves and our planet.
This year the schools taking part in the pilot programme are Crispin Academy (Somerset), Wellington College (Berkshire), Wellington Academy (Wiltshire), and KEVICC Co-Operative Trust School (Devon). On Friday evening they watched snippets of the film In Transition 2.0 and had conversations using the Ingredients Cards from the Transition Companion. On the Saturday pupils step forward to solve real-world problems on the Sharpham Estate and at the end of the day present to a (quite friendly) green dragons den. Teachers step back and have their own afternoon programme, talking candidly about the challenges they face in nudging whole-systems change in their schools. On the Sunday the teams action-plan for the coming year, back in their schools, and share their goals. The whole weekend is enlivened by songs and systems games led by Robin de Carteret, who worked with schools and Transition in Leicester.
This unashamedly enthusiastic guest blog is by Stu Packer of Transition Glastonbury who accompanied Crispin School. Crispin was given the challenge: “how can the woodlands on the Sharpham estate be sustainably managed?” Back at school they have the challenge of re-introducing Transition thinking and actions into a learning community that has let that focus go. For the last 20 years Crispin has been a leading light among secondary schools in Education for Sustainable Development, but now finds itself beleaguered by the drive to improve academic standards. Over to Stu:
Friday October 11th
Arrive at Crispin at 3pm and meet the students – all very keen and excited. Somehow we squeezed the luggage into the car, then squeezed the students in too! Only 5 minutes late in leaving was quite an impressive start. We arrived at Sharpham House in very good time. A really warm welcome was on offer. We took it! After getting over the elliptical eggshaped hall and staircase we were given our rooms. The weekend then got even better. Amazing (no over-exaggeration) rooms with perfect unadulterated views.
We then headed into dinner. Vegetarian food that was to mirror the weekend ahead of us – wholesome, yummy, full of love and food for thought. Gorgeous, the weekend got even better. After dinner, with rounded bellies, we all met up in the learning room.
Isabel introduced Robin who led us into a couple of warm-up games. These ‘games’ were extremely well thought out. Everyone warmed, shook each other by the hand (collaboratively!) and then reflected. We watched brilliant snippets of In Transition 2.0.Discussion was engaging, creative and intuitively intelligent. The weekend had got even better.
The thing that struck me most on the first evening that across the schools, there was no us-and-them feeling with adults and students. We most definitely were us. Robin led us in singing Belle Mama. Evocative singing together, and so very wonderful and fulfilling to have sung it together on the staircase of the elliptical egg-shaped hall. Our souls glowed.
Saturday October 12th
Waking up and eating breakfast in those surroundings was a massage for our whole beings. Going to ‘work’ at 9 o’clock was not chore, only a sheer pleasure. Isabel led us in a silence for a couple of minutes – with minds cleared we were ready to crack on.
Robin led some more brilliant warm-ups and systems exercises. Interdependence became tangible. As did interconnectedness and oneness, for me. This was mind body and soul awakening work. Very pleasant.
Each school did a presentation to the rest. These were very illuminating, illustrating clearly the diversities between each school. The Crispin school presentation could easily have been a tale of woe. Mr Wrathall and the students telling of the hard times in the school’s recent past. The potential arrival of a new science block would wreck all their work and infrastructure in the school’s green area. The leaving of a powerful friend and ally in Mrs Thomson had left a yawning gap. The team looked weary when telling the tale. It was compelling. It was a tale of defeat.
This was when the magic of the weekend first appeared. The students talked of their yearning to carry on. They are Rainbow Warriors, future leaders of the Now Tribe.
Truly. This was when I first started to realise that they had been leading already. Next Generation Leadership didn’t start in this weekend, it had started already and this meeting simply affirmed it and was giving them the tools and support to carry further.
The different schools were then given their different tasks for the day. Crispin was set the question of how to make the management of the woodland sustainable. The educators were asked to set themselves back and therefore allow the students to lead. I became a very interested observer. Our guide and facilitator in this task was Louis (Duddridge). Louis looked like Thor, only taller. He was a gentle giant of the woods with a clear experience and very ready to answer questions and, just be. The weekend…yep, just got better.
Crispin based themselves in the kitchen area of the woodland camp. The one heavy rain cloud of the weekend kindly went over whilst we were under canvas. This allowed the students to talk with Louis about woodlands and what they were and what feelings were attached. Early in this task Phoebe came to the fore as a natural and, obviously experienced leader. Jake and Alysha very ably supported Phoebe and, at appropriate times, took leadership responsibility when the moment called for it. They were doing it! They had been asked to, and they did it. Very well.
Sporadically Kieran was interested in the task, and when he was, he was an asset to the collaboration. This brought about another aspect to leadership: a challenging co-worker and how to deal with it. Whilst clearly frustrated by Kieran’s behaviour, Phoebe in particular, was simply brilliant. She was empathic, supportive and solutions-focused. She is already, and certainly will be, a really good leader and eco-creative. Kieran looked like he knew that he was being treated firmly and fairly. Brilliant all round.
As the rain cloud mentioned that it had disappeared, we went for a woodland walk with Louis. Everyone was really interested in practices like coppicing and pollarding, very soon understanding this jargon. There was a hilarious moment when Jake said copparsing!! The humour in the group was evident and welcome. When we returned to the camp kitchen, Jake made drinks for us and we ate our self-made packed lunches.
Jake, a really likeable young man, took the lead on making sure everyone was alright and serious note taking; almost to a fault. Elliot remained eager and was attentive, making a couple of great suggestions. Alysha took the lead in recording the time with photography and supporting Phoebe. Phoebe led the presentation preparation, readily asking the others for their inputs. For the most part, with the students and Louis, it didn’t at all feel like work. Though work hard they did!
We all wandered back to the house. Wellies off. The five of them carried on with their presentation. They were to present and pitch their ideas to the Green Dragons. I was one of the Green Dragons, so, unashamedly on their side. Again, lead by Phoebe, they all presented their ideas well. Simon Roper, an experienced woodsman, was clearly impressed that not only had they learnt about coppicing and pollarding earlier, they confidently showed their understanding by talking about the uses in a sustainable woodland. They impressed the reclining Green Dragons. In fact, all the schools did.
The atmosphere was one of support, fun and encouragement. The diversity between the schools was entertainingly apparent, providing learning and more food-for-thought for the audience. It was so fun and so engaging. Collaboration disguised as entertainment. The students got immediate feedback about their day’s work and were so obviously filled with passion and energy.
We sang a song about love and celebration. Together. Up the winding staircase.
It was so fitting and so beautiful. Dinner was again gorgeous. As someone who is currently walking down the road to vegetarianism this was soul food. The discussions at dinner were lively and varied. Good food, good company, good night. Although it wasn’t good night yet. There was a funny fire alarm, started by deodorant being sprayed near to a smoke alarm. Then we ventured out by the light of the half moon and Kieran’s Sony Ericsson to the fire pit. In a retrospective afterwards, this was many people’s favourite time. Camp fire gatherings quite often are. For me, it was all my favourite, each lovely moment giving way to more wonderful lovely moments.
Bed was brilliant too. In an elliptical room with a million fruit flies dying so that I could sleep.
Sunday October 13th
After bringing all our linen down stairs to Polish Joanna – one with a tale to keep you for many minutes, we breakfasted. We then convened again for very soon after 9.
More welcome silence to start. Then another gorgeous reprise of Belle Mama, and a great fun exercise or two from Robin, in the octagonal room. His ways of turning the perspectives of systems are truly astonishing. Fun without doubt and creative science to hang on to for a long time. We then returned to the learning room and reflected on what the traits, attributes and qualities of a next generation leader are. Very affirming indeed, with everyone very much on the same holistic page. We hadn’t been taught, we had come to these conclusions of our own free will. [More on this in a future blog].
The action planning went almost like a dream. Mr Wrathall (and I to a certain degree) went through an Inner Transition. This action plan gathering was the first time that the realisation that the students were now the leaders really hit home. The crushing experience of the recent times in Crispin School was still very much present in the room. It was palpable. It would have been understandable if all nodded to each other to quit. Go and have a cup of tea and be silent. Or scream in to a pillow. But no. No.
This wasn’t going to crush the enthusiasm and passion of youth.
Alysha stepped forward to say that she would restart the Green Police – a cool humorous way of pointing out the value in turning out lights and turning off computers etc. Mr Wrathall came up with the inspired idea of a ‘raising funds thermometer’ though with the temperature reading getting cooler once targets were achieved. The students jumped on that one, calling it the upside down thermometer. Maybe that’s right as the world needs turning on it’s head.
Phoebe, the force that is Phoebe, stepped up again and led with integrity and passion the discussing of action points and the noting down of them. Jake took on the responsibility of designing a Power Point Presentation, asking at times, if anyone wanted a cup of tea. He’s a great guy. Kieran said he would look into the idea of making a website or having some sort of web presence; maybe in the school online Newsletter. Frog, the school’s online communication tool was mentioned too. Elliot said he might give being a member of the School Council a go. Mr Wrathall was still struggling in the ashes of the previous devastations. For my part, I observed, occasionally suggesting or tweaking ideas. Mainly, I was there to witness this Phoenix, in the guise of Next Generation Leaders, rise out of the ashes of the recent past.
Right. There. Before me.
It was directly after their brilliant Presentation of their Action Plans that it hit home with Mr Wrathall. He was so moved by the experience that he said to the gathering that he was so moved! He clearly was moved. He now saw this Phoenix too. He is, as is Fran Thomson, very much part of this rising. Their past combined efforts along with this weekend have laid the pathway that the students now walk. They are the leaders. They will go through their journey knowing about collaborative bottom up leadership. We are better for it.
Lunch was made with more love and served so that our taste buds didn’t want to leave Devon. Much hugging and smiling. We left. Exhausted and fulfilled. Knowing that the teachers have surrendered the lead. The students now have that lead. The good wholesome hard work of Fran Thomson and David Wrathall (and others) has paid off.
It has worked. This New Generation of Leaders are already leading.
I’ll be there to facilitate and help, when asked.