In the Republic, Socrates invites his guests into a thought experiment – if you could build it from scratch, what would the perfect city-state look like? He called his imaginary city ‘Kallipolis’.
A thought experiment we should all engage in over the next few months and years is what would a school, the Kallipolis Academy, if built from scratch, be like now we have all experienced education during Lockdown?
If we all put forward our utopian visions, and be open to discussion about them, the debate should be vibrant and the lessons valuable and longstanding.
So, join me as I explain six features of my Kallipolis Academy…
The Kallipolis Academy will unapologetically embrace new digital technology.
The importance of technology in supporting education has been highlighted during the pandemic. The schools who were open to technology and had already built it into their ways of working were much more able to adjust during Lockdown.
Whilst the threat of a future Lockdown cannot be ruled out (or a similar situation) it would be wrong to build a system which is less effective but more able to withstand shocks.
However, I do not think, despite many protestations, that using technology results in less effective learning. It is all about how you use the technology to support the aims of the learning. The big benefit for me is that it allows students to own their learning (and pace) and keeps all of the resources, carefully curated by expert teachers, in one location – reducing the wasted searches and exposure to misinformation.
However, we have also learnt (although anyone who works in a school serving a low socio-economic status community already knew) that not all students and families have access to the types of technology and internet access many of us take for granted. There is a growing argument that the internet and basic technology should be treated as a utility, but this is beyond the control of a school.
The Kallipolis Academy will audit our students’ access on a regular basis, so at the very least we know who lacks access to a computer and internet access. The school will then look to divert some funds to helping these students.
To tie all of this together we need an online learning platform which is useful for teachers (to post resources, give grades etc) for students (to track their own progress, to access resources at their own pace etc) and parents (to see what the student is studying and see their progress – without needing to visit the school during school hours).
Meetings, events, parents’ evenings and school reports, will all utilise technology if it helps to reduce staff workload and increase flexibility.
The Kallipolis Academy will have a technological spine to make the school robust at times of crises, provide a base for the other innovations (see below) and push the value of learning and independence on to the students.
The Kallipolis Academy however, will not have a technological heart – far from it.
The school will be based around personal relationships and dialogue with students. Rather than working ‘independently’ the student will have a close personal network – a ‘crew’ composed of a teacher coach, peers and parents/guardians to help guide and support the student with their studies.
In addition, although the students in the academy will be following their own personal learning journey, the value of community will not be lost. A lot of time will be spent in small crews to discuss issues, support each other in achieving their goals and (shock) have fun!
The heart of the Kallipolis Academy will be developed in the daily 1:1 and small group coaching sessions.
The curriculum in most schools currently resembles a 100 metre sprint. The course is laid out, there is little room for tactics (sorry athletes) and there are few winners and many losers. The Kallipolis Academy will resemble more ‘Race Around the World’. A few set criteria and a clear end goal, but with lots of room for students to take an individual route (guided, of course, by their coach and crew).
The Kallipolis Academy will be based around mandatory and elective courses which include a mix of different pedagogical approaches. In addition to this, students will have to take regular (online) quizzes to ensure they have reached the required level in the basics.
The mandatory courses will ensure that all students are exposed to the topics and subjects we think are important. An increasing (with completion of mandatory courses) proportion of a student’s time will be elective – the ability to choose from a range of options – but not the ability not to choose.
For example, a student may opt to study Of Mice and Men while another will opt for the course on Frankenstein. One may decide to choose the course on the French Revolution, while another will opt for the Russian Revolution. All will study the legacy of the British Empire, Shakespeare and Pythagoras.
All of these courses (and their achievements) will be housed on the online platform. Anyone in the school community will be able to see what courses the students have opted into and completed and some will have access to how the student performed.
In the Kallipolis Academy, students will not have generic lessons which are based around one single pedagogical approach. Depending on the course they are studying, there will be a mix of lectures, seminars and independent work. The mix of each will vary with each course and the level of the students taking that course. Teachers will be expected to explain which pedagogical approach they are using for each and why they have chosen that approach. The courses will be tuned by a diverse group (including students and parents) before delivery and have student feedback at the end. The teachers will be trusted to do what is best for them and their students in each particular case. To highlight this, I have picked a couple of courses which Kallipolis Academy is offering:
Political Ideologies – A series of lectures introducing the key ideologies (using the best direct instruction pedagogy approach) with follow-up seminars where students discuss how these ideologies appear in the modern world (focus on dialogue, discussion and consensus building). Independently, students will be working on a reflective essay explaining which ideology speaks to them the most and why.
Design for Change – This course has a few lectures about design thinking and market research but is mostly based around seminars (in this case more like workshops) where students learn to build a structure to help a member of the community. The independent work is the product which will be presented to the person (the audience) at the end of the course.
Many electives offered at the Kallipolis Academy, as demonstrated above, do not fall neatly into traditional subject domains. The elective curriculum will be a space for students to experiment with thinking and applying knowledge across traditional subject domains as well as offering chances for students to deepen traditional subject knowledge through application.
Attendance will be re-thought. In the modern world there has been a move away from presenteeism towards a focus on quality outcomes. We will replicate this in the Kallipolis Academy. Teachers will be judged on how well they have planned (and then reflected on) their courses. Students will be judged on the outcome of their courses. When not required in a face-to-face session or meeting, there is no need to be in the school building (although, a student or teacher may choose to work in the building).
There are no supply teachers in the Kallipolis academy, if a teacher is sick they simply set independent work for students to complete (or students get on with the next steps on their courses) and reschedule any lectures or seminars. If the teacher can’t be in work, but is not ill, they will deliver the content via Google Hangout. Same applies for students. Money saved in this area (a fairly considerable amount) will be redirected to ensure students (and teachers) have access to good technology.
The school building will be structured around large collaborative work spaces where students and teachers can choose to work independently. Teachers who need to be away from the building for a long period of time can choose to run courses and meetings completely virtually.
The academy has a uniform policy, but does not have a set uniform. On a day-to-day basis, students and teachers are encouraged to dress comfortably and students will be guided to dress ‘for the occasion’. An important ceremony, a presentation and a guest speaker requires students to dress more professionally than the days in which they will be spending most of their day getting on with work or in workshops. This, afterall, is an important skill to practice.
To give all teachers time to plan and to allow students to practice working independently (and from home) the school will run a four-day school week. This means that students and teachers will only be scheduled to be in school four of the five working days. Even on these days, when not delivering face-to-face content, the teacher can choose to work from home (or their favourite coffee shop).
The fifth day for teachers is for planning, marking, CPD and meetings (all not in the school building). For students it is the time for completing work independently (they are of course allowed on the school site, but this is not encouraged).
The Kallipolis Academy will not be a vision everyone will share. In true Socratic style, it is presented as a way into a respectful discussion on the future of schools. I look forward to reading more about other Kallipolis Academies which may take a very different approach.
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