Hope Rekindled – empowering those let down by a failing education system

In June 2023, I attended Rekindle’s launch of the paper ‘Exploring Education and Joy in Mainstream Schooling’ by Sadhana Narayanan in association with Goldsmiths University. 

I hadn’t known entirely what to expect, and I nearly didn’t make it that evening. As a then head teacher in a South West London primary school, getting away ‘on time’ was almost impossible, and doing anything other than work in the evenings was a rarity in those days. Although I was flustered, out of breath and embarrassed about arriving late, it took seconds for me to know I was grateful to be there and glad I’d come. 

It was the authenticity – palpable from the very beginning and consistent throughout the evening – that was able to bring me back to the moment, in the first instance, and then to keep me away from busy day- and worry- laden thoughts. 

As I listened, I looked around the room and observed that I felt a little out of place but not unwelcome. It was a space filled with the mix of people that I now know make up the best version of an Educational ‘Commons’: young people, educators, families, academics and elders (those in the community who bring experience and insight, rather than those who are necessarily ‘old’). 

Although the topic was joy in education, much of the discussion – in the Q&A which followed the presentation – was filled with anger about how schools are failing young people. The frustration echoed how I was feeling about the system of state education I’d spent three decades working within, but I came at it from a different perspective than that held by many in the room. 

I wanted to add caveats and modifiers to broad school-blaming statements because I knew not all schools, educators and leaders in education deserve those levelling and critical brushstrokes. I wanted to explain, and justify, speaking of intentions vs practical possibilities, and of under-funding and over-burden, within the failings of education. But instead, for the most part, I held my discomfort in silence, because this was not the time or the place to have those longer debates. The feelings of resentment and exasperation were utterly understandable and a resulting negativity could have tainted the entire event, but that’s not the Rekindle way…

So I made my way home with three far more positive feelings that evening.

The first of these came from a sense of belonging which I’d felt in the room and – although I didn’t have a place within this Rekindle Commons group yet – I knew from that very moment that I absolutely wanted to be a part of it. There was a sense of respect, warmth and of open, reflective, critical thinking: contributions were welcomed even from those not yet known and were built on or courteously challenged, in the kind of active listening you get in the best of conversations.

The second feeling was one of inspiration. Seeing the calibre of dialogue and the quality of collaborative conversation (possible when there isn’t a structure imposed by those in positions of power, and with no glass ceilings or exclusionary participation rules) was the best kind of motivation. The discussion was full of powerful impact possibilities and it was clear that any resulting action would be underpinned by organised aims and systems-change approaches which were entirely equitable. 

And, most of all, the core feeling I left with that evening was one of hope. The event was packed with those determined to make a change, to work imaginatively and collectively towards this, and to welcome new Commons members on the journey. It helped remind me that there were people out in the world who were passionate about education and focused on young people at the heart of this, who were brave enough to demand change, compassionate enough to offer to walk alongside those making improvements, and also insightful enough to not reduce views to single word judgements. 

Rekindle not only welcomes and supports these people, provides the spaces, and leads by example; above and beyond this, it is nurturing and supporting the leaders of tomorrow, is taking charge and is building the Educational Commons to create the systems change that is needed. Being a part of it is a total joy. I wasn’t sure I’d find that again, in education, and I’m so very grateful that I have. 

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