08 / 09 / 22
Having now come to the end of yet another academic year, it is a great place to be standing looking back and shining a light on the resilience and sheer determination of schools and their staff.
The desire of teachers and school staff to create opportunities for their students to develop their sense of identity, belonging and understanding of the world and the people around them, and importantly, a better understanding of the value of diversity, difference, and dialogue, is admirable. Below is a little summary of the 2021-2022 school linking journey.
The past academic year has been a real pick n’ mix of challenges, exciting developments, flurry of activities, and innovation! Here at F&BF, we continued to navigate the ongoing challenges that come with supporting schools and children living through a pandemic, whilst still offering children the opportunity to meet peers from outside family circles, schools & community bubbles.
Our School Linking Programme is part of our Education and Learning offer. It aims to match classes of different faiths and beliefs, equipping teachers with the tools to deliver meaningful interfaith encounters between their students. We have been delivering Linking for over ten years, working with schools across London and Birmingham. Our work is delivered as part of the umbrella organisation The Linking Network.
Linking & SMSC:
Last year, at the height of the pandemic, we worked with our partners to develop a Linking programme that was fully virtual to allow for Links to continue to take place under Covid restrictions. Due to the continued and changing circumstances caused by the pandemic, our 21-22 Linking year was further adapted to be more flexible. We offered an approach that continued to enable the exploration of key themes whilst also supporting schools with unknown and often last minute Covid related changes. The Linking programme was adapted to be a flexible (fully in-person, fully virtual, or hybrid programme).
Although the way in which the programme could be delivered had adapted, the aim of School Linking continued to be focused on supporting students to develop the skills of dialogue, skills in communicating across real or perceived boundaries, developing a vocabulary of shared humanity. These areas are explored through Key Questions:
❖ Who am I? - creating opportunities to explore multiple aspects of identity including faith & belief
❖ Who are we? – celebrating diversity, including similarity and difference
❖ Where do we live? - promoting community, understanding locality and developing a sense of belonging for all locally, nationally, globally
❖ How do we live together? - championing equality, challenging prejudice in all its forms and promoting active citizenship
The Autumn term was perhaps the most challenging of the three academic terms. Covid restrictions continued to create a crisis which meant that many schools were not able to deliver the school linking programme. We heard from our schools that the desire to Link was there but that there were barriers of staff capacity, absences, restrictions and uncertainty that prevented activities from taking place. There was also still some hesitancy to run virtual activities due to being unsure about their effectiveness. At F&BF, we decided that our priority was to offer schools support in these challenging times through regular communication and creating revised tools that could be used within classrooms.
The Spring term was a more promising picture with the lifting of all restrictions and the push for ‘living with covid’. Some of our schools took the plunge and made Linking happen… some were even in person encounters!
The schools that had managed to link in the spring term told us that the following conditions helped them to link:
RETURN TO IN-PERSON CPDS
With a more positive Spring term and looking ahead to the Summer term, we took the decision to go back to in-person delivery of an adapted CPD2/3 training day. We delivered these in both Birmingham and London and had 25 teachers attend in total across both regions. We had lots of positive feedback from those that attended the CPDs about how good it was to be back to in person training and the importance of being together in a room to help to develop relationships and networks between schools. It was also a great opportunity for staff to reflect upon some of the challenges and ways forward to ensure that School Linking happened.
We also better understood more about the higher-level priorities for schools. These were adding to the challenges being faced, but were also opportunities for prioritising School Linking:
We also held two virtual mass link days open to all primary schools across London and Birmingham. These were an opportunity for schools that had not managed to Link to come together and Link virtually through sessions facilitated by F&BF staff over zoom. The newfound familiarity that most schools now had with the use of virtual platforms in classrooms has really driven this innovation and is a new offer that we would like to continue to develop. We held one Virtual Link Encounter in the spring term and one in the summer term. We had 21 classes attend across both Encounters (approximately 630 students). The Virtual Link Encounters brought together schools that were not able to link with another school and new schools interested in learning more about the School Linking programme. The sessions were a combination of in class activities and co-creating ‘Jamboards’ and hearing from students in each class.
The theme of identity and the key question ‘Who am I?’ was explored in the first virtual link encounter. Students played the ‘stand-up / sit-down’ icebreaker which got everyone moving; Students created a group identity backpack thinking about the visible and invisible parts of their identities (see screenshot above); and ended with an activity creating their own ‘Incredible me creatures’ that represented the parts of their identities that make them the incredible people that they are. A group of students presented their creations online to each other.
The second virtual link encounter was themed around the key question ‘How do we live together?’ We were introduced to Blob the Alien. Students thought about ways to welcome Blob in their school and what makes a welcoming space and place. They then thought about active citizenship through the starfish story and created their own starfish with small actions that they can take to make a positive difference. Students volunteered to present these to each other on screen. Students ended with an activity thinking about what it meant to be thankful (see above screenshot) and created their own ‘Thankfulness Flowers’.
Having the opportunity to now reflect on the past year, it has been a privilege to be part of something so special, something that really does make a difference for those children and staff involved. We are working hard to get things set-up for this new academic year and are very excited about the 2022-2023 School Linking Journey. If you have not been able to join for the full School Linking programme, there is still time to join the Virtual Linking Journey. Keep an eye out for future dates or email me to find out more – Amy Ark email@example.com
19 / 05 / 19
30 / 06 / 17