It truly is an inspiring place.
On entry, a curving path leads to 3-fingered building, the central one holding a huge video screen showing students at their learning. Outside, allotments, nature area, pond and even a farm are all underway – impressive for a site that was only inhabited by its students this academic year.
But what’s even more impressive are the students themselves. As a primary school teacher, secondary schools often feel ‘out of my comfort zone’. The students are much bigger than I’m used to is, I suppose, the simple truth. But not so, the RSA Academy. Students move around the site in a purposeful way. A quiet assuredness fills the air – I hear no loud voices or hasty steps. They are happy too, talking with each other and their teachers in confident, positive tones. The opening minds rooms are purposeful too (they’re not called classrooms at the RSA). One room seems dark and silent as I enter, but that’s only because the darkened windows hide the dim light from the laptop screens and dulls the learning buzz that is only too evident once through the door.
The school has no staffroom. No food or drink (aside from water) is allowed anywhere other than the canteen (pictured) which is a friendly open-space for both staff and students alike. The whole site is also a chewing-gum free zone – a minor consideration perhaps.
Technology is everywhere. News 24 plays from large TVs on walls in Reception and in the canteen, most students in classrooms have access to a laptop or a tablet. There are rooms with Macs in, laptops, standalone PCs, PCs with midi-keyboards attached – it’s mind-boggling really. Envy-making for some, perhaps. Me, I see the RSA as leading the way – at my primary school we’re not ready yet to manage all that technology, let alone use it effectively – I’m happy that early adopters such as the RSA can find out how to do it best and pass down the good stuff to us at primary schools. Indeed, they have a whole room for testing, where they’ve discovered the best machine for student use – machines that haver reliable wifi, long-lasting batteries and are robust enough for classroom use. I’d have valued hearing some of that stuff three years ago when I began purchasing mobile technology for my school. While some of what I’ve purchased lasts still, some products have already become museum pieces through poor batteries or build-quality.
There’s more for me to learn about the RSA I’m sure. I’d love to find out more about the Opening Minds approach. But at the moment, inspired, I can take some of that motivation into my own teaching for the last few weeks of term. And it means I’m really look forward to Teachmeet Tipton that we will be holding there on the 19th July. Not only inspiring presentations from innovative practitioners, but also to be held in an inspiring place…