By the time this is posted we will have tried our first ‘live’ staff briefing! Before we went ‘remote’, we would meet at 8.15 am on Tuesdays and Fridays, at close quarters as we squeezed into the staff common room, but enjoying a hubbub of chatter as the compere (usually me) picked their way through colleagues pausing for restorative chat and hot beverage or much-needed breakfast before the public part of the day got underway. With potentially 180 colleagues participating online, it will be very different from remote meetings with a dozen or so (old hat!), but we are all hoping to recapture some of the togetherness we enjoyed twice a week.
We haven’t wanted remote working to be only ‘recorded’ learning, even though there have been some brilliantly inventive filmed materials for staff and pupils alike while Highgate@Home. Being re-connected with pupils in live lessons and tutorials was last week’s uplift in morale: as I strolled past Madame Pettitt greeting her and Mrs Hyam’s Year 8 form, or Felix grinning as he hailed Mr Kenmir across the waves, on my way upstairs to my book-lined den (co-occupied by Felix’s drum kit) to see, yes, actually see, and to hear my Year 9 Germanists, it was as if the April showers which have watered and nourished parched parks and gardens were reviving and replenishing us and our relationships. At risk of becoming a hologram head, I just began to feel as though those I care for and care about were not only there but here, and that I am with them, with you.
I made a journey I count as essential into school at the end of last week. Bureaucratically speaking, I needed to collect stamps (birthdays in the Pre-Prep still need celebrating!), pick up files not yet in digitised format and to sign documents; more essentially still, I needed to record this week’s assembly (we haven’t quite dared go live for a whole school assembly) which I wanted to do from school. I wagered that most would be feeling some pangs of withdrawal from the familiar sights and sites, so decided to film a few words from the library which, as you will know, is named after Highgate’s most significant scholar historian, Sir Martin Gilbert. Walking, talking and recording on a mobile ‘phone introduces new hilarity, it must be said, but our wonderful comms team managed to fix the more risible shots with beautiful stills of the library we know and love.
I was reminded of Sir Martin because I have a small collection of his brilliant ‘history through maps’ series on the shelves of the room adjacent to my temporary study: one of the shorter walks I take to get a bit of variety and movement in the ‘seated-prisoner-to-the-laptop routine’ takes me past the bookshelves either side of a big window overlooking the garden. Usually my eye is drawn to the trees, and it still is, but the temptation to roam through the books is keen at the moment, and I happened on Sir Martin’s Jewish History Atlas. It’s one of a number of books I’ve bought, stored, packed and unpacked, and not yet read.
My father was a great buyer of maps, one of his very few indulgences for a man who didn’t seem to put much store by possessions. But we had, in the pre-Google maps era, road maps, historic maps, bridle and footpath maps, maps you could fold and maps you had to roll. He read them like books, and absorbed their intricate knowledge so that on foot or on wheel, he would decipher from memory the landscape around him, picking out the least well-travelled path or lane, amusing himself as he ignored the bossy injunctions of road signs devised to send the uninformed traveller on the most favourable, most easily navigable route.
Flicking through Sir Martin’s maps of Jewish emigrations and expulsions I wished I made maps of all kinds more central to my life, and resisted better the temptations of quick, take-away knowledge. But I also became conscious of yet another silver lining of this temporary way of living: chancing to find things, one of the great pleasures of browsing a bookshop or a library’s shelves, needs us to have spare minutes and not to be in a hurry: the perfect conditions to feed one’s idle curiosity, even when we’re busy!