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Director's Speech - Award Ceremony 2021

Ours is an excessively conscious age. We know so much; we feel so little. Everyone seems a little indifferent this year. Maybe, it is an exhaustion that, possibly, breathes a rancid distrust of society. Often indifference brings with it an unkindness, a lack of integrity, an arrogance, disloyalty, a systemic break down in societal code. Because I work so closely with people, I have witnessed it first-hand. There is a schizophrenic-societal-brutality that has thrown society into a complex human-adjustment-syndrome (my own term). But what is it that needs adjustment? And a syndrome of what? I cannot speak for other industries and corporate entities, but within the educational milieu, it becomes easier to consider what has been lost, and more importantly what has the potential to be found, reconstructed, retheorised on; altered.

You’ll remember that last year, I didn’t give a director’s speech at Prize giving; I was exhausted then; I’m not as much this year, though it has been a busier year. So, let’s talk about what was lost online, during the 2020 Covid lockdowns, and perhaps the past 620 odd days of lockdown – and what it takes to recover and alter the social constructs necessary in education and for learning. I’ll use an old concept of ‘’teaching through relationships’’ that needs to be made new again; that needs to be revisited to understand what will forever be lost in ‘’lockdown teaching and learning’’. Teaching through relationships needs to be rephrased to teaching through partnerships, because relationships (as we all know) are messy!

So, what would teaching through partnerships mean in an educational space? What does a a partnership look like? While teaching through relationships is a fundamental idea that most progressive educators have long embraced, it’s an idea that will be grappled with within the space of ‘’teaching and learning’’ because teaching through learning is more than just having knowledge about students, rather it ultimately, describes the complex social environment in which students and teachers converse, share experiences, and participate in activities that create a partnership. Whereas a relationship simply denotes emotion; a partnership, on the hand, is all about emotional integrity. It requires an ongoing commitment to the relationship.

My problem with teaching through relationships use to be pretty straightforward; in my own education, and in my own early teaching days, teaching was a formal affair, aligned with ideas of conventional professionalism that draw a very clear line between the teacher and the students. It looked a lot like online learning – just in a different form. I did form a very close relationship with my English teacher, but only after school, and it was her who insisted that I teach with her. It was her who reassured me that even though I wasn’t the top English student in my matric year, that I was more than that; that my understanding of people and society and the complexities thereof outweighed my ability to write that the frenzied monotony of the grey-day rained its gloom on the blistered trees, like welts burnt into the skin – I mean, what does that even mean if you don’t understand metaphors? I did notice -- with some degree of awe and envy -- that some of my friends were able to form close alliances with their teachers whilst at school. At that time of my life, I believed that you had to be brilliant or one of the hip, savvy students who had the chutzpah to see teachers as something akin to a mentor and not a remote authority figure. These savvy students even went to parties with their teachers. That wasn't my story. Getting to know my teachers and my teachers getting to know me as a fellow human traveller was not something that I wished for, so this was fine with me – at the time. In retrospect, the relationships and opportunities that I could have had and didn't make me feel a bit regretful