Reflections of an Educational Leader

Mark Nichols

This article was written by Mark Nichols, English Subject Lead at The Avanti Grange Secondary School following his experience of a Talk The Talk oracy workshop. A link to the original article, published on 17 February 2024 on LinkedIn, can be found at the bottom of the page.

A Day of Unexpected Learning

Have you ever found yourself standing at the precipice of a day so far removed from your meticulously laid plans that you can’t help but question, “What now?”

Have you felt the pulse of anxiety when the unexpected sweeps through your classroom door, leaving you to dance with the unknown?

Can you recall a time when the day you envisioned was upended, yet what unfolded was something profoundly unforgettable?

If ever you have taken part in your own schools ‘drop down’ or ‘extended learning’ days – those days where normal lessons cease to exist – and you are thrown into enriching lessons themed on whatever topic has been chosen as a point of exploration by the leadership team, then you should have formed some answer to the above questions within your minds eye.

This reflection is not just of my own such day, but an invitation to you all to reflect on those moments we’ve all encountered in the tapestry of teaching.

It’s about the unexpected turns, the laughter that fills the room when plans go awry, and the deep, often unspoken connections we forge with our students through these shared experiences.

The scene is set on an ordinary morning, poised for an extraordinary deviation from the norm. The external company, Talk The Talk was scheduled to transform the day with a workshop aimed at enriching our students’ speaking and listening skills. Yet, as fate would have it, my forms facilitator was delayed, leaving me adrift in a sea of anticipation. With no desks, only chairs drawn into a circle, and a room full of expectant eyes, the day demanded improvisation.

What followed was not the chaos one might expect but a spontaneous eruption of joy—a dance battle to the sound of Run DMC’s ‘It’s Like That’, a game of ‘Kumcha Kumcha,’ and an energy so infectious it reminded me of the very essence of teaching.

This unexpected start to the day, while nerve-wracking, served as a prelude to an encounter that would transform my apprehensions into admiration. Enter Claudette Dawson the facilitator, whose arrival dispelled any lingering uncertainty. Her presence, marked by a warm smile and an aura of ease, captivated us all. Claudette’s approach, blending clear guidelines with engaging activities, not only garnered immediate respect from 8 Courage, but also facilitated a collective investment in the day’s journey—a lesson in leadership and engagement I’ve come to cherish.

The workshop she led was no ordinary session; it was a confident communication workshop tailored for secondary students, designed to challenge and refine their oracy skills. Each student was encouraged to speak before their peers, fostering a supportive environment that celebrated every voice. I for one could see just how beneficial this day would be in developing my students oracy skills, benefitting not just their English studies, but all studies across the school. As the day progressed, the initial reluctance gave way to a vibrant collaboration, transcending usual social boundaries and nurturing a spirit of unity.

During period three, I gained myself a much-needed break, where the baton was passed to my esteemed colleague, Oliver Day, affording him the privilege of steering 8 Courage through the next leg of its journey. This transition, (affording me no break at all), presented me with a golden opportunity to drift amongst the other vibrant classrooms in session. My first port of call, 8 Empathy, greeted me with a lesson in humility unlike any other. Tasked with employing their oracy skills to introduce me, I was met with a description that painted me in strokes of arrogance, self-centredness, and pomposity—a character seemingly prone to sowing seeds of confusion in the corridors! This unexpected roast, while startling and most certainly untrue, served as a spirited reminder of the rapport and open dialogue we foster in our learning environments.

Continuing my voyage into the heart of 8 Gratitude’s classroom, I was met with a heartwarming scene. Here, the students were deeply engaged with a topic close to my heart—the role of Comedy in the English language. Witnessing them weave through the nuances and complexities of humour, using tools and concepts I had previously introduced, was nothing short of inspiring.

Upon my return, the transformation within my classroom was palpable. The orderly semi-circle had evolved into dynamic groupings, a buzz of activity filling the space. This to me was an indicator that something good was occuring. The class did not even recognise that I had re-entered the room as their full attention was placed into Claudette and the goldmine of information she was sharing with them through a game of ‘Stop the Bus’ (which, I will ofcourse be stealing for year 7 Drama lessons). As I took on the role of the groups’ VAR judgement system, I was struck by a moment of profound connection. Watching my students interact, their laughter and camaraderie painting a vivid tableau of youth in its purest form, I was reminded of the day’s spiritual essence.

In that moment, as I observed their unguarded joy and teamwork, I realised the depth of our journey together. It was a reminder of the potential within each student, a potential they might not yet see in themselves. This was not merely a day of learning but a spiritual awakening, a shared experience that underscored the transformative power of education. For me, it was a moment frozen in time – and I could not help but feel gratitude toward Claudette and the Talk The Talk team who foster such enthusiasm toward what a daunting subject of public speaking can sometimes be.

As an educator, days like these reaffirm my commitment to promoting environments where students can explore, grow, and connect on levels beyond the academic. It’s a reminder of the impact we can have, guiding our students not just through the curriculum but through the invaluable lessons of life itself.

In reflection, this day was a gift—a vivid illustration of the unexpected ways in which teaching and learning can unfold, revealing the heart and soul of education. It’s a day I hold close, emblematic of the reasons we, as educators, devote ourselves to this calling. For in the laughter, challenges, and collective triumphs of our students, we find our own purpose and joy, a reminder of the profound privilege it is to guide the next generation along their path.

To my fellow educators, this narrative is a mosaic of the moments we’ve all lived—a testament to the unpredictability, the challenges, and the sheer beauty of our profession. It’s a reflection on the days that push us out of our comfort zones and into the heart of what it means to teach and to touch lives. Let’s journey together through this day, remembering our own stories of unexpected lessons and the profound impact they hold.

Republished by Talk The Talk on 5 March 2024 with permission from Mark Nichols. Many thanks.

Original article: Click Here (Clicking this link will take you to LinkedIn)

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