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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

A Manifesto For Magicians: Why Ken Robinson Gives Everyone in School a Wand

Before he passed away, Sir Ken Robinson was working on a manifesto that pulled together many of the key ideas about educational reform that he spent his life advocating for. The book was eventually completed and published posthumously by his daughter Kate in March 2022 under the title Imagine If… Creating a Future for Us All.

Reading this book, many of the ideas are familiar. To anyone who ever listened to Robinson speak, you can almost hear his voice as each paragraph skips through complex ideas in ways that effortlessly manage to avoid the trap of educational jargon or futurist cliche.

Like many familiar journeys, however, there is always the reader’s hope of stumbling across something new or previously unseen; something that was perhaps always there but never quite stood out before.

For me, this serendipitous moment of insight came with Robinson’s suggestion that schools are in the miracle business.

All life on earth is miraculous. How we come to be and how we develop - that a person can go from being a tiny creature so utterly dependent on its parents for every aspect of its survival to a fully grown, independent adult with a mind of its own - is miraculous. But to say it is a miracle implies that it is a rare and very occasional thing.

In human communities, as in the natural world, miracles happen every day and are essential for flourishing. As educators, our role is to create the conditions for growth, development, and learning to happen. When we get it right we discover that all along we have been in the miracle business, and it’s honestly the only business to be in.

A photograph of a woman blowing into her hands. There is light and confetti coming from her clasped hands.

Convinced by this idea that schools are in the business of performing miracles, Robinson devotes a section of this book to unpacking the conditions necessary for these miracles to occur. He writes about the importance of culture and the fundamental prerequisite of valuing teachers. He suggests that learning should be interdisciplinary, personalized, and often rooted in play; that assessment should be kept in perspective, and much more besides.

So far so good. There aren’t many educators that would deny that these are indeed some of the most important components of a pedagogical “charm”. But Robinson doesn’t stop there. He throws another element into the mix that adds a whole new dimension to the conversation. ‘Every school’, he says, ‘is a living community of people interacting through their relationships, experiences, and feelings. The many different systems, including admissions, maintenance, business development, governors or PTAs, student welfare representatives, and subject departments, all depend upon each other to be working properly for the whole school to flourish.’

In the context of a conversation about our schools being in the miracle business - a place where individuals can truly grow and flourish - what this starts to acknowledge is the critical role that is played by so many across the entire school community; from the teachers and school leaders to those working in the admissions office, the business office, the IT office, as well as those many people who form a part of a school’s campus support team. In short, everyone has a part to play in creating those conditions that really do transform lives… as if by magic.

Thinking about the many people that I’ve met in schools over the years, from the support staff who sit quietly in tucked away offices to the security guards, cleaners, technicians, and cooks who keep things running each day, I am left wondering: do they know that they too are in the miracle business?

If not, I suggest we start to find ways of letting them know, even if we have to give them a wand. Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash.


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