The keys to life…

I’m currently sitting at home in my PE kit, a bit sweaty, and pretty tired, thinking of Will Smith. Or more specifically, his maxim “the keys to life are running and reading.” Why? Well, I’ve just returned from the first day back from School21, our small East London school based in Stratford, Newham. We’re going into our 7th year this year, which is hugely exciting as it is the first time ever we will be full, with an entire cohort of students from 4-18. Anyway, we ended our day today with an optional session with Run21, our staff/student running club.  This has been going for just one year, since the opening of our sixth form, Six21, and has gone from strength to strength with a core team of year 12 students (our oldest cohort) and staff from across the school running weekly though the year, joining in park runs, competing in running events including a couple of half marathons, and at one point getting a whole load of our wider school community to run 5k.I’m a pretty unenthusiastic runner at the best of times – I do it, with relative regularity, but have failed to get to a point where I actually enjoy it (yet).  I run partly as I’m a fan of Will Smith’s words, and partly as I suspect it may be good for me. But I just don’t enjoy it. I do, however, enjoy Run21. It is a wonderful, supportive, inclusive and challenging community; a collective striving to be better, work harder, run faster.  It is 100% a place of, as Will Smith says “learning to defeat that person […] learning how not to quit when things get hard”.Tonight we set out in the beautiful evening sun on our usual short warm up jog to the Olympic Park.  Chatting along the way, the runners (staff and students alike) caught up on summer exploits, lamented our lack of exercise in recent weeks and generally shared stories. The session tonight was organised and led entirely by five Six21 students, who not only came in on their holiday to do this (they don’t return until next week), but had also taken time to plan a session designed to bring together new and old staff and induct everyone into the ways of our club.On reaching the park, we stretched and then the students introduced the plan for the session – after a quick 400m run to set up balanced running pairs, we would run 4 minute bursts in relay around the course with our partner. Between each 4 minute burst, the students posed questions in our relay pairs about the values they perceived to underpin Run21; inclusivity, resilience, vulnerability, growth…  They talked briefly about their journeys with each and challenged us to consider the implications of these values in our wider lives. It was magic. The authentic (side point: making you have a really deep conversation when you’ve just legged it round a track leads to increased candour: discuss) discussions and probing questioning taking place pushed genuine reflection and realisation.But this was no coincidence.I saw in that session the wider purpose of our school in action.  These students embodied reflectiveness, empathy, grit and a desire to grow others (seriously, read the blogs I linked in above). These are students who have had a diet of deep exploratory learning, rich conversation and challenge both in and out of the classroom, and adult-to-adult relationships with each other and staff. And it got me thinking; what we prioritise in our classrooms is absolutely what we will see lived out in our students, our communities and our society.

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Jess Hughes

English teacher and coach at School21 in Stratford, East London. Interested in authentic learning, CPD, literacy and culture. @jess_k_hughes

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