Although I was staying with RJ in Edinburgh, I took a train south back over the English border and down into York, one of the most historically significant cities on the island. The host of numerous raids, battles, conspiracies and rebellions, York is yet another town I will need to revisit to get a much deeper and more real appreciation for the complex history flowing through the streets.
I was told by RJ that I must visit the National Rail Museum when I arrived in York and so rather than moving with the crowd over the platforms of the cavernous station, I took the little back path that leads off to one of the most interesting museums I’ve ever visited.
The National Rail Museum hosts not only the retired bodies of many massive locomotives, but the signs, images, decorations, furniture, plans and other artifacts left behind by many generations of British (and international) transport providers. There was a steady stream of people, young and old, sharing the stories of everything from the Flying Scotsman to the Japanese high speed bullet trains. The museum clearly had families in mind as there were many walkways and areas for kids to play and run around and, naturally, many of the giant metal beasts to climb around in and enjoy.
There was a warehouse full of items used by and left behind on trains of the past. There were avenues of uniforms, travel equipment, ornaments you’d expect in the drawing room of a well-off Victorian English family (demonstrating a very human desire to travel in comfort we still share today). It was touching to see an elderly man explain to his grandson how the uniform in the display was the same one he wore over 40 years ago when he was the head manager of a major train line between London and the north. My mind flicked back to the presentation on museums at the Education Festival and how this moment is exactly what museums are for: a connection between memories, emotions and the past.
After some more exploration of the facilities, including an interesting exhibition on advertising posters from the first half of the 20th century, I made my way out of York station and into the city proper.
It was still difficult for me at that stage to digest the amount of history that remains in the UK. Medieval walls and bridges exist side by side with modern office buildings, pubs balance their sometimes ancient past with a clientele that expects free Wifi and a chardonnay more often than an ambiguously prepared pub meal and heavy beer (don’t worry, I still had my share of fish n chips and locally flavoured pints). If it wasn’t for the very persistent rain, I would have happily walked the streets for hours. My first aim was to locate my B&B, which was a 20 minute walk out of town but generally in the direction of the school at which there would be a TeachMeet that afternoon. So, backpack firmly attached, I marched out of the city centre and up the road to my home for the night.
The hosts were lovely and it was one of those places where it could easily have been a family home with a bit of renovation and knocking a few walls down to open up some space. My room was on the top floor, which meant walking up not one, not two but three flights of stairs that became thinner and thinner to the point where my shoulders almost didn’t fit up the final few feet of the journey up this particular rabbit hole. I had an attic room, which meant I felt like Gandalf in Bag End, though I didn’t cause too many self-concussions and later that night I would have a fantastic sleep – which is the main thing in the end.
Once I’d settled myself in I called a taxi which never came and so began the long walk over to the Fulford School, workplace of one Nick Jackson (@lagerama) and the location of an innovative professional learning opportunity that I had never actually seen before: a TeachMeet run by students!
Nick is the outgoing Head of ICT at the school and an incredibly dedicated teacher, highlighted by his success in helping several senior students become Microsoft Digital Leaders. This role requires students not just to present ideas to teachers at their school, but to train them and develop the ICT skills in a range of areas. Digital Leaders also train other students and play a key role in the development of school policy and curriculum in the area of computer science and ICT more generally.
The confident and courageous students presented on a wide range of ideas and issues, including game development, using Skype in the classroom, the challenge of including students who can’t attend regular school hours, Edmodo and peer coaching. I never felt that this was anything other than a rigorous and valuable PD experience. Technical difficulties were dealt with effectively, presentations were times well and interesting, catering was amazing and there was enough time to chat with people during the break. It wasn’t a typical TeachMeet, but is there really such a thing?
I have to publicly congratulate Nick and the Fulford Digital Leaders for providing an excellent opportunity for learning. It enlightened and challenged me and I am now interested in developing the opportunities for student empowerment in Sydney and Australia.
Of course, one of the best parts of the experience was sharing a laugh and a great conversation over a beer at a local pub. With Nick and a couple of other teachers, not with the kids. Australia is that much more of a lucky country because Nick is on his way down under to bring his enthusiasm, knowledge, skills and experience to whatever school manages to snap him up.
After a wonderful chat, I scammed a lift from one of my new colleagues back to the B&B and – without serious injury – spent my first and only night in the well-lit town of York. I still struggled to believe the way the sun only took a few hours break before jumping up and kicking my eyelids open at about 4am.
It was very lucky that I had such a fantastic experience in York, as the next day I was to have a lot of time on trains to think it all. Along with everyone else who was trying to travel up the western coast of the UK by being rerouted up the east coast.