My experience of Canada on exercise with the Combined Cadet Force gave me a summer that I will certainly never forget.
It all began with a hopeful application last November and then a selection weekend in Woolwich in March. When I received the call up a week later I was overjoyed and very much looking forward to a summer like nothing I’d experienced before.
We arrived at the Canadian camp in early July, situated deep in the Rockies and surrounded by dense forest. It became normal to see white-tail deer roaming the camp, small ground squirrels and chipmunks. This contributed to a feeling of being truly removed from our modern comforts and hectic lifestyles.
My first cycle was rock climbing and we spent our week climbing progressively larger mountain faces within the Rockies. I hadn’t done much rock climbing previously but it was the perfect place to start, with unparalleled views. Sadly, we were prevented from progressing onto multi-pitch climbing by the weather, which forced us to finish the cycle inside.
Our next cycle was glacier climbing but before we began that we attended the Calgary Stampede, an internationally famous festival with a Wild West-style rodeo and an awful lot of food including Poutine and deep fried Oreos. I would recommend it to anyone who is in the area at the right time.
Glacier trekking was next and was the standout cycle of my time in Canada; it was probably the greatest physical challenge due to the altitude coupled with the steep terrain that seemed to go on forever. Our instructors were Eric, an extremely experienced Canadian mountaineer, and Cchering, a guide and Sherpa from Nepal who had summited Everest eight times. The sense of achievement and the ridiculous views from the summit were the reason that this activity will stand out in my memory forever.
We followed this with a parade through the streets of Banff, where we later went shopping and enjoyed eating Beaver Tails, a pastry covered in chocolate! The next two cycles were mountain biking and white-water canoeing and each presented very physical challenges.
We ended the run of cycles with Alpine trekking - 47km through the Rocky Mountains along the continental divide. Yet again, the views were spectacular and the side expeditions to summit nearby mountains ensured that morale remained at a high level. I performed well on this cycle and was recognised with a cadet of the week award as a result, which I was very pleased with.
We progressed onto horseback riding, a completely new experience for me, and it was everything I could have hoped for, riding with the most picturesque backdrop imaginable. It was the perfect way to cap off an amazing experience.
The experience of the six weeks in Canada will remain with me forever and I cannot endorse it enough. This is due, in no small part, to the fantastic Canadian cadets, who were welcoming from the very start and made the trip light-hearted, fun and memorable.
As the North Devon light drizzle falls, I duck under the sheltered pathway adjoining the 150 building and peer inside at the extraordinary creations and vibrant colours from within. This is our Art department and one that is making waves in a corner of the UK renowned for its creative arts. I reflect on how popular Art is at this school and with a 94% A*-B pass rate I am not surprised.
Later in the morning and I am on stage in the Memorial Hall looking over a sea of 450 faces wondering what they might be thinking at the start of this new term and what ambitions lie hidden or bubbling under the surface? Some will go on to make a huge difference in the World, others will make new discoveries, all of them have an opportunity here and now to start this journey and discover their strengths.
This, to me, is the real joy of teaching and as the assembly draws to a close and term kicks off, the school reflects on Mother Teresa’s ‘do it anyway’ prayer. I return to consider the strength behind those words and the obligation we face as teachers: that the pinnacle of this education is the enabling of curiosity and creativity in our schools.
For me, creativity is as prevalent in Science and Maths as it is in the ‘arts’. Using Maths to explain and describe the universe we see now seems prosaic but was only possible through the creation of numbers and application of logic. E=mc2, gravity, zero, evolution, the internet are some examples of applied creativity.
In my opinion, creativity is the harnessing and linking together of knowledge to develop a new expression that has meaning, purpose and relevance, and it is very much alive in education today. Sir Ken Robinson’s belief that education stifles creativity is rooted in the concern that in an attempt to achieve better grades and end results we have forgotten to give students the space to knit their learning together.
The best schools encourage their students to explore, to question, and to challenge. This takes considerable courage on the part of the teacher and the student, but we need to view our curriculum as a total education rather than discreet departments with no relevant interconnection. And students need to encourage each other in positive intellectual debate where it is fine to be wrong, not fearful of making mistakes, or in the words of Henri Matisse:
‘You study, you learn, but you guard the original naivety. It has to be within you…creativity takes courage.
It is not enough to place colours, however beautiful, one beside the other; colours must also react on one another. Otherwise, you have cacophony.
Work cures everything.’
The school is delighted to announce the launch of an exciting new blog section on our website, which will be starting from next week. The blog aims to give a more insightful look into school life, our philosophies and what makes the school tick. We will be welcoming contributions from school staff and pupils, as well as, hopefully, some guest contributors who will share their thoughts and knowledge.
To start off, we were delighted to have some time talking to Tom Georgeson, who recently completed a two year placement as our Artist in Residence, and we managed to catch up with him before he left to reflect on his time at West Buckland:
“Students must be able to imagine themselves as artists just as other students imagine themselves as top athletes, scientists or doctors.” This was the advice from Tom Georgeson, Artist is Residence for the past two years, who we bid farewell to in July, as he moves on to more commercial work.
Before he left, we caught up with Tom to reflect on his time at West Buckland and what he feels the Artist in Residence can add, in terms of creativity, to an already thriving art department.
Tom says that, on arrival, he immediately fell in love both with North Devon and with the school’s art facilities. “I felt at home straight away and soon discovered that North Devon is full of artists working at the highest level. The facilities available at this school rival the most prestigious casino list SvenskKasinon residences in the world, I was bowled over by the beautiful studio and also by the attitudes of the staff I met and I have not been disappointed.”
So, have the facilities and environment helped him to achieve his own personal goals during his two-year tenure? “In my time at West Buckland I have gone far beyond my initial expectations. My work with the comparator mirror simply would not have been possible without the students. It was their experiences which have allowed me to build a strong case for its general usefulness in classroom teaching.”
“I have found the students to be warm and engaging and were very forthcoming with questions which were often very incisive. I have learned a great deal from them. “
And the relationship is entirely reciprocal, according to Director of Art, Cameron Main. “The Artist in Residence is pivotal to us. The students have the experience of meeting an actual working artist and are enriched by working so closely with the artist, developing and picking up new skills and critical thinking.”
And Tom's fondest memory? “The Exmoor Run was pretty special!”
We welcome Zoe Roberts, who has taken up the post of Artist in Residence from this term.