As mentioned in an earlier post, I’m soon to be moving on from my current job and to a new school, country and challenge. I’m really excited about this move for a number of personal reasons (mostly quality of life for my young son) and professional reasons (I’m moving to a much more well established school, and one that will offer me many new opportunities). My new school is much larger and with it will come a whole host of wonderful things such as a well established pattern of student success, greater career development prospects, a larger staff base to work with and learn from and many, many more. However, before I leave my lovely small school in India for my lovely new one, I wanted to write a little about the value of a small school.
When I started at this school in 2012 we had just over 40 students and everyone was taught in mixed grade classrooms. We’ve grown a lot and now have approaching 120 students and some grades have been separated out. A big challenge for our school recruiting students has been that we don’t have a flashy campus or the best facilities – but what I’ve said all a long is that those things (sports pitches, dedicated spaces for extra-curriculars, etc) need to come on top of the educational principles and qualities of a school, not before them. All too often I’ve heard parents (and even teachers) talk about wanting shiny facilities which is all well and good, but when I look at our tiny school with its one, well-loved, half-sized, uneven, often bare pitch and the lunch room/main hall/meeting area/performance space/gym/anything else we may need it for I see students who LOVE coming here. They spend their whole day (and we run a long day!) engaged, focused, and happy.
The thing is that in our school our students are at the centre of all that we do; to take a moment out of what I’m doing to watch a group of my students who are working together to problem-solve in maths, or writing a collaborative story, or reading just for the love of it, is perpetually one of the highlights of my day. Being in combined age class means that my younger students have wonderful role models to work with and my older kids become more mature, responsible and empathetic leaders. They challenge each other and motivate each other in ways far beyond what I as their teacher can ever hope for. Students from across the whole school know each other and share in each other’s successes and challenges. They become a true community of learners and develop skills of compassion, communication and collaboration that will serve them so well in the future. My students also receive an unbelievably individualised education designed to use their strengths to help them develop in other areas too as well as pushing for greatness where the skill and passion drives them. They know me well too, and see me learn and change and grow – a model they copy all the time (and often a speech pattern or phrase they emulate at times!). I know all of their families, their interests, their successes and their challenges and we live through them all together sharing and learning from each other as well as ourselves.
Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that these things cannot be replicated in large schools, of course they can; and I intend to do just that myself next year, but in a small school they are the very fibre of its being and that for me, for the past 3 years, has been an absolute pleasure.