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An invitation to your school

by Tim Middleton

Many readers will be familiar with the wonderful poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer entitled The Invitation (, which she says she wrote after coming back from a party somewhat disillusioned with all the typically superficial, artificial questions asked in the name of social etiquette.
The poet carefully balances all the usual, meaningless questions with those questions she would prefer to ask. She states categorically those things that do not interest her which includes what we do for a living; how old we are; “what planets are squaring your moon”; if the story we are telling is true; where we live or how much money we have; who we know or how we came to be here; where or what or with whom we have studied. None of that interests her.

In contrast and balance she does share what she really wants to know from us, including “what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing … if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive… if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain … if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without trying to hide it or fade it or fix it… if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human”. These are what really interest her. Furthermore, she goes on to describe how she wants to know, “if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself … if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can see beauty, even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence … if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon ‘Yes!’”. That and so much more. As a reminder, the poem is well worth our patient and considered reflection.

If we relate to that (as surely we do) then we should adopt a similar approach when it comes to schools and education, as many of the conclusions we make about schools are based on equally superficial, artificial points raised in the name of social etiquette. We should declare loudly that it does not interest us what your school’s results are; how old it is; how many pupils made national teams; if your fancy brochures are true; what facilities you have or what your fees are; what famous former pupils you have or where your school is; who your teachers are or where they trained or what subjects you offer. They should not interest us in the least; they are not important or relevant.

Rather we should want to know how your school enables children to ache for something, and to fulfil their dreams; if your school prepares their pupils to risk looking foolish in what they do; if your school touches the depths of their hearts; if your school helps pupils when they have been exposed to disappointment or have become fearful of future failure; if your school can enable pupils to deal with hurts, theirs and others, without trying to blame others; if your school can prepare pupils to delight in values, theirs or others, and celebrate freely and let the joy fill their whole being without restraint; if your school equips pupils to disappoint someone else in order to be true to themselves; if your school can hear lies spread but not be dragged down by it; if your school can see beauty in the ordinary pupil, and if your school can be proud of its vision; if your school can inspire pupils to get up, after the days of losses and defeat, weary and downcast, and do what needs to be done to encourage the weaker ones; if your school will stand with their pupils in their stresses and not be embarrassed; if your school can lift their pupils, when everything else seems to fail; if your school can train pupils to be confident under pressure and if your school inspires the pupils even in the empty, unsuccessful, moments.

In short, we want to know what makes your pupils, teachers and parents tick and think; we want to know how they all treat other people and look at themselves; we want to know what values are important and how they are incorporated and evidenced in everyday life at the school and thereafter; we want to know what excites pupils, teachers and parents, what they care about, what they delight in, what they endorse and encourage and enshrine. Such answers will be far more revealing, rewarding and relevant. RSVP is far more meaningful than RIP.

This is an open invitation; this is no dream. It is real; it is life; it is education. It must be seen and lived.
l Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.

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