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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

The Man Who Mistook His Website For a School: Ten Years On

Almost a decade ago I started playing with the idea that a school website is both a community expression of who we are and who we want to be.

Inspired by René Magritte's surrealist painting of a pipe (Ceci n'est pas une pipe), and the way in which he leaves his audience thinking about the difference between a pipe and a painting of a pipe, I became convinced that those of us who manage school websites somehow live in the middle-distance between "fact" and "hope" - at one and the same time trying to describe and inspire.

A photograph of some pens in a pot on a school desk in a classroom
Magritte taught us that this is not a school.

But I was also struck by the warning that Magritte left us with.

Don’t be fooled by these images, he says, they are not real but illusions, pale shadows, of a reality that is impossible to capture on canvas or, for that matter, in words.

Ten years on, Magritte's words still provide a thoughtful backdrop as we continue to create digital canvases for our schools. Sure, the tools that are available to us have changed beyond recognition. From parallax to portals, our web service providers have gifted us with powerful paint brushes that can generate incredibly immersive experiences for those who click towards our sites.

But I'm still left wondering about the gap.

You see, if I'm honest, even if everything we say on our website is factually correct, visually appealing and the navigation is clear, I still don't feel like we have truly captured our story as a learning organisation. It's like painting by numbers. When you step back and look at the canvas, whilst its form is accurate, ultimately, it lacks both grit and a soul.

And it's the same as everyone else has painted.

Magritte wasn't the first person to paint a pipe. Neither was he the last. I am also pretty sure that it wasn't the most technically accurate depiction. Yet, his canvas remains because it opens up a window onto reality and helps us to see something that wasn't there before.

Our challenge for the next ten years, I suggest, is to find that window and connect our visitors to the story of learning in our schools in ways that we haven't yet started to imagine yet.



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