This isn’t time for a ‘recovery’. It’s time for a renaissance

Recovery implies that the maximum ambition is to return to health. If our ambition is merely to get back to where we were, then we are letting down generations.

Ewan McIntosh
Oct 5, 2020 · 4 min read

It’s UNESCO’s World Teachers’ Day, which has the dual effect of reminding every teacher of plural apostrophes and reminding the rest of the population that their local schools are full of valuable frontline workers who often get no more credit than last year’s box of out-of-date After Eights every December.

Over the past eight months an entire profession has managed to reinvent itself, twice, with almost zero professional learning budget dedicated to the cause. From ‘normal’ classroom teaching that hadn’t changed much at all in the previous twenty years, and precious little for the 200 prior to that, the global profession pulled off virtual schooling of some sort or another within 72 hours. And now, every one of them is pulling their learning muscles to fall into various strands of online, offline and somewhere-in-betweenness.

Meanwhile, Governments get ready for what happens next. In Scotland, as in many other education jurisdictions, politicians and their civil servants talk of ‘recovery’. There’s an Education Recovery Group.

But the idea of managing just to recover is so lacklustre.

One recovers from illness. If you have had a serious illness, there is every chance that you might recover to the fitness you were at before. But the reality for most people after a serious blow is that they’ll be slightly more frail than they were when they were beforehand.

Recovery implies that the maximum ambition is to return to health, the same health you had before, but you might even settle for something less, as long as you can fulfil most of the basic functions required.

Using ‘recovery’ implies that education was healthy before 2020. It most certainly was not. And so the crisis of the past eight months has shown that fragile businesses go bankrupt, it should also show that institutions of education resting on fragile principles should tumble.

If our ambition is merely to get back to where we were in education — Scottish, or anywhere else for that matter — then we are letting down several generations of learners, today and to come.

Education systems weren’t in particularly good health before 2020 — there is little worth convalescing back to. Photo by Allen Beilschmidt sr. from Pexels

This isn’t time for recovery. This is time for renaissance.

It’s time to rebirth education. We have an opportunity and the benefit of a shock to look at all the things that didn’t really work as we’d hoped and ditch them: examination systems, age-stage learning, timetabled minimum hours per subject, subjects instead of disciplinary learning, silos instead of interdisciplinary learning, singular expectations on ‘successful’ pathways through life…

On the other hand, there are plenty of people who’ve created silver linings in a short timescale, and ideas that were before their time in January now fit the ticket perfectly. Extended periods of learning and interdisciplinary projects, student-focussed planning and co-design of learning, sitting alongside parental involvement in understanding how and what their child is learning. Not to mention the efficiency of virtual parents’ evenings.

Rather than seek a recovery, let’s use this once-in-a-lifetime moment to reinvent and create a renaissance that marks generations to come with something better.

“But we’re tired”

Yes, there are some leaders and many teachers themselves who will feel exhausted just keeping afloat today. But that is while we try to recreate what we had before. The tiredness of maintaining a relationship with education’s past must indeed be exhausting. Divorce it. It’s time to see what it should feel like.

When leadership give permission to reimagine, they also give the space, time and forgiveness to teaching teams to learn how to do things differently. And the different way of doing things is far more likely to be sustainable, more sustainable than the current treading of water in an attempt to get back to shore. It is time to swim out to new lands around the corner.

Michael Fullan, who’s been talking about significant change in education since before I started teaching, manages to talk about the potential for reimagining education in a position paper. It goes on to discuss the potential of hybrid learning: both in school and anywhere else but school. For the last 18 years, many of us have shown such hybrid learning is possible already, and to varying degrees it has a positive impact for many students’ progress, and is damaging to others.

At the Council of International Schools, a summit next week will address what we might do after discovering, this year, that examination results are not needed by universities to make ‘good enough’ choices on the students they accept. We’ll also be tackling the idea of a university ‘learning experience’, when it is one largely being had from within a dorm room, alone.

The expertise, experience and understanding of how to make it work are not to be found in the keynote speakers, researchers and paper-writers of big tech, Government or, dare I say, consultancy firms. It is found under our noses, when we give time and space for the profession and our students themselves to co-design something new.

Download NoTosh’s White Paper on Transition Design: Silver Lining Strategy for Schools, to see where you can start the renaissance yourself. We don’t just want to write down brilliant ideas. We make them happen with hundreds of partners every year. Join us.


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Ewan McIntosh

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I help people find their place in a team to achieve something bigger than they are.


We see a world in which people have the creative confidence to find their place in a team and achieve something bigger than they are. You can learn more in our Lab at