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Research School Network: Away from Normal In his blog ​“Away from normal”, Will Smith (Senior Teaching Coach and Metacognition ELE at WSRS) considers our return to school


Away from Normal

In his blog ​“Away from normal”, Will Smith (Senior Teaching Coach and Metacognition ELE at WSRS) considers our return to school

by West Somerset Research School
on the

Away from Normal


There is no doubt that for millions, going back to work, getting businesses back up and running, seeing friends and loved ones simply cannot come soon enough.

And, as nice as watching repeats of Fraser and eating two breakfasts is, like everyone else I am keen to get back to normal.

To an extent.

Our distance from school has offered time to reflect. If the eponymous hero of the (still pretty good) nineties comedy teaches us anything, there is a danger of overthinking things. But it is hard not to. In education, as we currently stand, there is still a great deal of uncertainty and a great many unanswered questions. Quite literally. Think of all those exam papers sat in a room somewhere.

Like many, I feel a strange mix of emotions. I am an examiner and the image of those papers is strangely troubling. I won’t miss marking papers: it is boring. Yes, it is great experience but seeing as I put some of the money towards summer holidays, I really won’t be missing out too much. But still…

Recently, I spent a small amount of time where I was physically in the school buildings. Beforehand I was quite looking forward to it but also anxious. Without wishing to sound blasé, this nervousness was not because of the potential risk to health; it is always on your mind in some way or other. In fact, it is probably a sign of how well organised and risk assessed things are that thinking about health and safety was never far from my mind. Instead, I was worrying about what it would be like to be in there in the capacity as an educator.

Freud describes the uncanny as being the sense of the unfamiliar found in the familiar (obviously, there is far more to his ideas about the uncanny’ but I don’t want to get into it… repression… no honestly, I’m fine). Schools are uncanny places at the moment: a familiar thing that is strangely unsettling. Most likely how quiet it is. So many places are. But those experiences that take place outside of your homes and gardens bring into focus what has changed, and often what you miss or take for granted. At once you realise what a valuable service we offer. So many of the students spoke of how they were happy to be at school. You don’t have to be a psychologist to work out some of the reasons why. Schools offer so much more than lessons. Teaching is a skilled profession. Anyone home-schooling can tell you that.

Usually, research school blogs cover things that are working well in schools and classrooms, research-led practices, innovations and so on. I’m hoping that those who took part in recent metacognition training will no doubt have a whole heap of self-regulating learners absolutely flying through home schooling right now!

We’re playing a waiting game at the moment. This can be frustrating. But I would hope that during all this waiting we have all had a chance to really consider what sort of life we want to return to.

When I say I kind of what things to get back to normal, I mean I miss teaching. But right now it seems to me that if we try rush back to how things were, the same problems will still exist with a damn sight more thrown in for good measure.

Now is the time to try and do things differently. Not simply because of all those door handles in schools but because we should. Let’s not pretend our normal was perfect. We have an opportunity to re-shape education in this country for the better. We have an opportunity to re-shape society. And I know lots of us were already trying and no doubt there will be certain restrictions, obstacles to navigate too. Of course. But we can use research evidence to re-design the school day, classrooms, curriculum, distance learning, damn near everything. Our knowledge of what works should obviously inform those changes (cue the Research Schools!) but our aim should not be to get things back to like they were before or as near as we can. I hope, in the next few years we will have the insight and bravery to do things differently because it is better than what came before.

William Smith, Senior Teaching Coach and Metacognition ELE at WSRS.

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