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Roland Martin - Issue #45

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Lighting fires not filling buckets - Society of Heads' annual conference 2017 - Lord Sir Robert Winst
 

Roland Martin

February 28 · Issue #45 · View online
Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

Lighting fires not filling buckets - Society of Heads’ annual conference 2017 - Lord Sir Robert Winston’s address.

The Society of Heads
Being away from school during term time is always a bit of a drag; the emails keep flying in, requests for all manner of assistance don’t stop when you’re away from the office. So it’s always with a slightly heavy heart that I - and no doubt most other heads feel similarly - turn out of the drive on a Sunday and head off for conference after a weekend of checking everything is in order for the home team while we play an extended away fixture.
That all said, the collegiality of a conference of Heads of schools, is welcome. That, and the fine and stimulating array of speakers and workshops that are arranged for heads and spouses, which bring about reflection and inspiration at their best. The Society of Heads is a warm-hearted body; it’s not only a fantastic network of support for new heads when one first takes on the role, it’s also a great meeting of minds where we get to connect with our counterparts across the country and share visions (and the occasional whinge!) for education. 
I’ve been fortunate to chair the Futures Group for a few years now, and although I’m conscious that I must pass on that mantle before I overstay my welcome, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the opportunities it has given me to discuss and plan agendas for the future of our schools. Today’s meeting was ribald and energizing, for which I thank my fellow members. The main point of our agenda revolved around the Government Green Paper - Schools that work for everyone - and we are anticipating that the government will communicate with us - and with all associations - about the dialogue with which professional bodies in the independent sector have been so purposefully engaged. The Independent Schools Council - under the excellent leadership of Barnaby Lenon - has been blazing a trail with Government at this important time for education. Watch the proverbial space!
A brief report
Whenever staff members take trips, or themselves benefit from professional development courses, it’s always welcome to receive a report, as the Head of the school. I enjoy the second hand accounts of what was worthwhile, essentially, what was of benefit to the school community at large. With that in mind, I thought I should probably share my observations from the first 24 hours of conference.
Chairman's Address
Cokethorpe School Head, Damian Ettinger, is chairing this year’s programme. His conference theme is: Lighting Fires, not Filling Buckets.
It’s been a well accepted pedagogy throughout my teaching career that we should not, as educators, consider ourselves as jugs of overflowing knowledge ready to decant into the teeny tiny cups (the students!) our wisdom and learning. Gone are the days of ex cathedra dictation that my generation will remember; our classrooms are no longer - I should hope - just chalk and talk. 
So, the collection of speakers at this conference has been advocating an education which ignites passions, an education which crosses the traditional disciplines, an education which lasts beyond school or university graduation, but one with which we need to take care.

Head, Hand, Heart
The Steiner model of educating the head, hand and heart, has garnered increasing mainstream credulity over the last couple of decades. David Boddy is in the middle of writing a trilogy of books running somewhat parallel to these strands of thought. It has at the heart of it what Schools - and parents - can do to cultivate warm-heartedness; I’ve just received number two, so will write more on him/it in a later blog when I’ve had time to read and reflect. I might even suggest a group read for Lent! He spoke yesterday about Mind their Hearts (I enjoyed Mind Your Head greatly, and have passed on copies to friends who are school leaders) alongside Sir Anthony Seldon. Both men are inspiring and charming orators, and both gave us food for thought when considering how to nourish the young people in our care. But for the purposes of this blog, I’m going to focus on just one speaker, the keynote address given by Professor Lord Winston, of Imperial College, London: ‘Why bother with Science?’
Holistic education
Being in the audience for Robert Winston’s address was quite a privilege. He cemented much of what I’ve been advocating in earlier blogs, but also to my staff at Freemen’s; most obviously evidenced, I hope, by the introduction of our Free Minds programme. His thesis was very much concerned with educating polymaths, or Renaissance men/women for the future. There’s an accessible discussion expounding on what makes a polymath below, by a lifestyle blogger called Peter - he dwells on Leonardo Da Vinci as the ultimate Renaissance man. 
What Makes A Renaissance Man? | Renaissance Man Journal
Winston unsurprisingly touched on Leonardo too. Towards the end of his talk, he showed the painting, Ritratto di Frà Luca Pacioli, attributed often to Jacopo de’ Barbari, occasionally to Guidobaldo, Duke of Urbino, or to Albrecht Dürer. Winston posited that it could well be attributable to Leonardo himself, appearing over Pacioli’s shoulder in a mathematical studio.
There’s an article on the mathematics in the painting here:
Mathematics on the "Ritratto di Frà Luca Pacioli"
Winston drew our attention to the polyhedron filled with water as near enough proof that Da Vinci would be the only person who could have painted it. Of key interest though, was the fact that this painting was/is communicating about maths and science. The Renaissance scholars did not subdivide students into distinct faculties; universities were set up in the middle ages, a crucial derivation from the word universal. Indeed, in their early days, they did not force students into specialisms, but advocated breadth across a range of disciplines or seven liberal arts.
For more on the evolution of universities in the UK, there is a detailed history by Derek Gillard (copyright Gillard D (2011) Education in England: a brief history) here:
Education in England - Chapter 1
Back to Winston. 
His talk took in: Brexit (he was dashing back to the House of Lords to vote); crania and women in science; Galileo - connecting cosmology and weapons, dwelling on our fascination with bearing arms; Beethoven and the birth of a radical explosion of creativity; synthetic biology and his work at Imperial; Bruegel’s Ploughman, and the human pursuit of the next development, asking if technology has made us any happier; the laser, first thought of by Einstein, but not really put into productive use until much later; #blueskiesresearch - advocating for such open-mindedness in science; genomes and genetic disorders; T.S.Eliot’s Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, both men and women in the conference consequently coming and going, talking of Leonardo rather than Michelangelo; ending back on another Bruegel - The Alchemist - warning that the pursuit of scientific advancement should not be at the cost of nurturing the next generation.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder | The Alchemist | The Met
In the piece, the ‘window’ is not really a window, but a vista or portal into the future - the children allowed to run amok in the laboratory (one sporting a pot on his head in both images) will fall into ruin if the adults looking after them are not present for them in their youth. 
EQ
So somewhat like our alumnus Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker, with great knowledge (if it equals power) comes great responsibility. Winston urged us as Heads to lead our schools and to urge our teachers - the stewards of knowledge - to use themselves (and, importantly, to encourage our students to use) emotional intelligence in their teaching and learning, particularly when we are pushing our charges to consider - like Prufrock - whether or not to ‘disturb the universe’.
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