Relic or really important? Challenging the relevance of current school culture, learning and design to today and tomorrow

Is it a relic or really important?

I posed this question to a group of educators, encouraging them to take stock of what they think, see, hear and experience around them everyday. We can become desensitised to our environment and it seems part of human nature to hold onto elements of the past, rather than taking the time to think and ask ourselves the question: Is this practice, routine, belief or object a relic of the past, or really important to our present and our future?


Whenever there is a change of seasons I undertake a wardrobe/closet audit. In Australia, as I write, it is March and we have just entered autumn. I have a rule, if I didn’t wear something over the last season, it has to go.  So I’m undertaking my summer audit. This is difficult, some pieces of clothing or shoes I still quite like, but I just don’t have the wardrobe space for freeloaders. I put these items in a large opaque plastic bag (so I can’t see them and have second thoughts) and then seal it up and let them go. No place for relics.

I think it’s the same with practices, routines and other elements of school life. We seem to hold onto relics that are no longer useful to today. The Oxford Online dictionary defines relic: “an object surviving from an earlier time”. We visit museums to view a relic and appreciate the past. In fact, they usually don’t hold up to the rigour of modern life.

During my talk I encouraged the group to put their day#underthemicroscope. Considering:

What are the routines?

What do students wear?

What is in the environment?

How do we communicate?

How do we teach?

I asked them to tweet me @anneknock and let me know some of their ideas. The questionable relics included:

  • Not wearing the correct hat
  • White socks
  • Grading students’ work
  • Recess and lunchtime for the whole school at the same time
  • Weekly spelling tests

One teacher  chatted to me afterwards At his school, the principal asked teachers about the most pressing problems with regards to the students’ practices and behaviours, one teacher insisted that the number one thing that needed to be fixed regarding the students was “wonky margins”.

Slide1But I stress, this is not a throw-baby-out-with-the-bathwater view of the world. My goal is to encourage people to think. There are many tried and true practices and routines that have been developed, that are research-informed and may be still relevant.

This line of thinking was prompted by an ABC Sydney Radio poll which asked Should students call teachers by their first names? And the ‘Yes’ had 14% and ‘No’ had 86%. I wonder how many respondents actually thought about the answer through the 21st century lens. (Read the post here)

One radio listener in the comment section wrote: “Surely there’s nothing wrong with a bit of formality. You wouldn’t call a judge in court ‘Bob’”. No, I wouldn’t call a judge ‘Bob’, but but students are in a day-to-day learning relationship with a teacher, not a judge, and the hierarchy and formality of the courtroom has an important procedural purpose, the listener didn’t seem to think about the context. But I did appreciate Jane’s response on Twitter, “I’m in two minds about this first name thing”. She is giving this some thought, putting it #underthemicroscope.

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 11.31.12 am

So, when I ask if something is a relic or really important, there is no universal right answer, just the right answer for your school.  Here are some questions to consider as a starting point:

Does X make a positive and meaningful contribution to the present and future?

Do we keep doing X because that’s what schools are meant to do?

Is X directly relatable to the world outside school?

Does X grow the vision and learning values that we uphold?

Will changing X make things better, effective ?

Does X makes sense in today’s world?

Is it too hard to think about X because the process of change seems impossible?

Are there people who will ‘fight to the end’ on changing X?

Are you brave enough to make a stand on X?

The most important thing is to observe, reflect, think, and then act.

I would love to hear from you. What needs to go #underthemicroscope? Undertaking an analysis of routines, practices, and the design of the learning environment is a place to start.

Tweet me @anneknock or let me know here:

3 thoughts on “Relic or really important? Challenging the relevance of current school culture, learning and design to today and tomorrow

  1. Having grown up without a uniform and now working in a uniform school, I struggle to see its relevance sometimes. Mostly, I’d like it to become relegated to the past.


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