Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

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  • David Willows

School Communities Will Return Home: But We Will All Be Changed

It was exactly one year ago that I first wrote about the future of school as a place that matters.

Building on the ideas of Jeff Malpas and his notion of philosophical topography - the idea that who we are is integrally tied to where we are - I found myself reflecting on the idea of school as a place to leave, and always come back to.

If we learn anything from Jeff Malpas' philosophical topography, we have to give up the idea that it is any one thing. It's not about winning on the soccer field or performing in the school play. It's not the inspirational teachers or lifelong friends. It's not the sun shining low through the forest trees in late October. Neither is it sitting under the old magnolia tree on the Chateau lawn.

It is all of these things, and a thousand more besides.

Each moment, a reference point and marker that forms a complex human memory and determines that this school, this place, will always be a true homecoming.

One year later, as school buildings around the world sit empty, this idea of returning home resonates more deeply than ever. “The ache for home”, as Mary Angelou once described, “lies in all of us”.


Homecoming is the theme of a film released by the International School of Brussels this week. Produced in collaboration with Affixxius Films.

Speaking of homecoming, however, I am reminded of Cindy Ross, who once famously suggested that “Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.”


Looking back on the past few months, our journey has not only been long, it has taken us across unchartered territory. We have felt scared, wondering if we might fall. We have felt the joy of connection, finding new ways to collaborate with one another. We have felt energised by our accomplishments and drained by the fear of not knowing what might be lying just around the corner.


Ross is right, though. As we turn a corner and begin to look in hope towards our return - our homecoming - we have to prepare ourselves for the fact that all of us may be somehow changed. Our students, our teachers, our parents - we ourselves - may have found along the way new perspectives, new priorities, a new voice.


We will return home, but the pieces of our school communities are unlikely to be configured in exactly the same way. There will be moments when it feels awkward, even uncomfortable.

But it will still be home.

Cover photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

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