Ian Wilkinson, Headteacher (Principal), at George Stephenson High School in Newcastle, England welcomed the Core on a recent visit to the U.K. Ian’s school has been recognized as a leading institution for learning by Ofsted the U.K.’s leading authority on quality education. We set out for GSHS to not only meet Ian and tour his wonderful campus, but to check-in on Sugata Mitra’s first School in the Cloud. Check back with the Core to find interviews from students and teachers involved with this amazing project!
To provide context, I should share with you my journey and experience. Newcastle is approximately 3 hours north of London via train so my day began quite early. I had never been on a formal train in the U.K. outside of the occasional Tube adventure in London. It was quite a pleasure to see the famed British country side at such an early hour. The sheep were grazing and the smoke stacks swirling with activity on a brisk and foggy morning. Upon arrival, I quickly felt the difference in dialect from London to Newcastle through a spirited discussion with my taxi driver named John. I dared to share my initial impressions as I couldn’t help but think he sounded quite Scottish. John was a good sport and began to talk about the differences in area football squads not to mention the plethora of roundabouts in Newcastle. After rounding another said “hurdle” we came upon a sprawling campus and I knew a fantastic day was about to commence.
Ian and his staff could not have been nicer to this Yankee as I was greeted with tea and a wonderful agenda for the day. Before I would venture to the School in the Cloud classroom Ian thought a tour of the campus was in order. I quite enjoyed this part of my day as we meandered through hallways, down stairwells and up to the school radio station. I couldn’t help but think of my experiences thus far, while in England, and compare them to Ian’s school. Earlier in the week, I had witnessed a new campus, in the heart of London, that was pristine and decked out with the latest and greatest technology. The children were engaged and the staff appeared ready for anything. I walked away wondering about the day-to-day and the lengths that we go to enhance our schools. Can we be too sterile? Can we be so perfect that the essence and rawness of school rubs off? I have yet to come to a conclusion, but I found my self pondering these questions while Ian and I dropped in on classes throughout GSHS.
With each classroom visit and with each topic explored I took an immediate liking to Ian and his fresh, but realistic perspective on education. His campus was constructed in 1970 and looked quite a bit like an American school I would have attended growing up in the mid-west. It wasn’t overly fancy. It wasn’t entrenched in technology. Mind you they have a plan for mobile integration and staff development, but the sense I got was that it wasn’t all about technology. It was about human development. It was about training early-career educators and employing a local marketing firm to look at school colors and branding. Ian was working steadfast to establish pride in his building from all involved angles and parties in a thoughtful and methodical manner.
At the close of our tour, we sat down with some GSHS students for lunch. Kids were happy, engaged and acting as they should. Like children. They weren’t face down in their phones or tablets. They were engaged with everything in their environment. I so enjoyed my time with Ian Wilkinson, his staff and precious students. I think you’ll find the interview (above) to reflect the breadth and depth of a school and leader you would want your own children to attend. As they say in the U.K…