Global Learning – Bear and Di do Sri Lanka!

19 Jul 2019   |   Di Greaves, Headteacher, Greenacre School   |   Greenacre School

I came to travel and the exploration of far-flung places relatively late in life, but I have worked hard to make up the shortfall and have become an aged, hippy backpacker!  I never fail to acknowledge how lucky and privileged I am to do what I do and my time at Greenacre reinforces this each and every day.  The majority of our students have limited experiences beyond their immediate surroundings, so as a school we try really hard to plug the gap.  This Easter, our global bear was due an outing, and it was a close-run thing between York, Lanzarote and Sri Lanka.  Being the Headteacher, having the highest aspirations for bear and feeling that my solo Sri Lankan adventure was potentially more exotic than the other options (little did I know!), I made the executive decision to pack the bear in my hand luggage.  Bear and I trotted off for our Easter break full of hope for all the delights that this beautiful country had to offer.  We were determined to bring back memories and experiences that would demonstrate how our school values ‘respect, nurture, together, trust, dignity, pride and aspire’ were important wherever we might be in the world….

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out the way we planned it!

At 1.30pm the day before our flight, Jet Airways went into liquidation – not a great start!  Nevertheless, we put our TRUST in STA travel and by 3.30pm another flight was sorted – there was hope! Yet, arriving at the wrong terminal and with the impression I was travelling with British Airways when in fact I was travelling with Qatar – absolutely not my fault (or bear’s), honestly – things were soon back to not looking good!

TOGETHER, Bear and I ran to the correct terminal and with minutes to spare, we had made it – time to check in.  Bear was truly relieved, and his positivity was infectious.  Until that is, we handed my ticket to the lovely Qatar check in agent…who immediately became not quite so lovely.  Our last-minute tickets had not been issued – bear and I were grounded.  However, all was not lost.  A call to the emergency travel agent hotline, 20 minutes of tense repetition of ‘you are number one in the queue’ and finally the ticket was issued.  Bear and I were on our way!

Unfortunately, the customs chappy at Colombo airport refused to let us continue our journey because for some strange reason bear had failed to ensure our visa had been activated.  We had no option but to respect his authority, but our positive outlook was being sorely tested!

However, our mettle was further tested upon arrival in the less than luxurious Negombo hotel at 2.15am.  There was no room at the inn, but we had coped with worse as bear and I were offered a sun bed alongside the pool surrounded by stray dogs.  We thanked the Sri Lankan night porter for his kind consideration and nurturing outlook but went instead for plan b – the luxury of a beanbag and towel in the reception area was our bed for the night.

There was no dignity as I awakened dishevelled, embarrassed (dribble and scarecrow hair) and with 32 mosquito bites (bear and I counted them a number of times to ensure we had an accurate number).  Could it get any worse we asked ourselves – by this point I was talking to the bear a good deal – a sure sign of how well the holiday was going!  Well actually, when I unpacked our backpack and saw (and indeed smelt) that my 50% deet anti-mosquito spray had leaked its entire contents over the attire I had planned to wear over the coming fortnight (ironic bearing in mind the number of bites I had acquired overnight!) Not to worry, my clothes aren’t the finest, so all was not lost.  I donned my bikini and bear and I went to the pool to take the first photos of our adventure.  I perched on a wonderful cornflower blue painted chair and positioned bear strategically for the first snap.  Wonderful, the holiday had begun…until I attempted to stand up and my deet soaked garment held me fast to the chair.  When I eventually freed myself my beautiful cream dress was striped blue…pride, what pride?

Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse a series of tragic, senseless bombings rocked the stability of Sri Lanka and ruined the lives of the inhabitants of this beautiful country.  Bear and I were on lockdown during curfew hours as a State of Emergency was declared.  All was well though, because in order to travel to the airport for our journey home during the curfew hours, I only needed a ticket and my passport – Easy…except that I didn’t have a ticket because of the mix up with Jet Airways….

I have told you this tale because it’s always good to hear someone else’s woes especially when they are so incredibly bizarre.  You couldn’t write it they said, oh yes I could – and did, was my reply!

But what about bear and Greenacre values I hear you say? I know you will understand why bear was accompanying me on my travels but why did I need to so overtly refer to Greenacre School Values during our trip…

Well, Greenacre values aren’t an add-on – they are everything, they are the glue that holds the school together; the glue that has enabled our stunning culture to develop and blossom; the glue that is the bedrock of the school’s continued growth and development. Put simply, Greenacre values ARE Greenacre School!

From the time I became the Acting Head Teacher in 2016 through to the present day, I and Senior leaders have invested a good deal of whole school time to ensure ALL staff have collectively developed and embraced their values.  With the lives of more than 320 people invested in this very special place a simple, manageable series of life-principles were needed to keep us strong, keep us moving forward, keep us safe.  In essence, our values are threaded through every interaction, every decision, every act we undertake and every thought we think.   School values are displayed in each and every area of the school – including the toilets! – and we have a dedicated ‘values’ area in the main hall where all key messages are shared with the staff team.  This basically bombards staff with a powerful reminder of what is important and why, and the positive impact of our adherence to our collective, collaborative ethos.

Greenacre school values aren’t big, clever, unique or overly exciting.  Yet they keep the school at the top of its game, they provide a tool by which we all manage ourselves and manage each other.  They thread through every staff member’s performance management objectives.  Greenacre school values are celebrated every day.  We spread the joy with the frequent distribution of values postcards where individual demonstration of these tenets of school life are collectively celebrated.

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