“How did a Sandwich cause World War 1?” proclaimed the poster in the History classroom I occasionally teach Maths in. “How did I get involved in eTwinning” is the question I have been asked quite a lot of late. My answer to both questions is the same... “I don’t know”.
But what I do know is that eTwinning has been a fantastic journey for all of us lucky enough to have been involved. eTwinning is the community for schools in Europe and it helped me to work with teachers from different countries through ICT. From the very outset of this adventure it was clear that something really special was happening. So although the birth of the project may have been lost in time, that’s ok! It is today the present that matters and it may be a cliché, but it has been our journey that’s been the important story.
So let’s tell our story in flashback: Close your eyes for a moment and picture the scene... on second thoughts, don’t do that, you won’t be able to read the blog, so I’m going to have to paint the picture for you.
For what had seemed forever, the participants in the project called “Spirit of Hope” (dubbed the “Hopeless Spirits”) had been busy preparing costumes, rehearsing lines, developing art work, rehearsing dance arrangements in our schools. The spirits had been eTwinning, laughing, crying, e-mailing, What’sApping, Facebooking and Twittering for months to plan the event.
But the moment had finally arrived, the “Hopeless Spirits” from 11 countries finally met up together. Now look! Let’s be honest, there are places on this planet where the tumbleweed tumbles, where the drizzle drizzles and where the most exciting thing is the rickety, smoky bus out of town. But then again there are beautiful medieval Italian towns in the shadow of Vesuvius where the sun shines, the people shine and the hospitality is as warm as the weather and this town near Naples was one such town.
We had set up the “Spirit of Hope” project to challenge the misconception that closer European integration diminishes our sense of local, regional or national identity. We used literature from each of the partners’ countries to examine our common traditions and celebrate diversity. Based on the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales, we created spirits of Europe from different regions and eras. Our spirits then met to relate their contribution to Europe, and to express hopes for the future.
So here we were in Santa Agata di Goti, ready to present the finale of two years’ worth of study, interpretations, tangential adventures and strange adventures into themes relating to our books. I had to pinch myself to make sure it was real... We were actually going to perform our books in front of a huge audience in the very centre of the town (how cool is that?). Adela and Angelina our Italian hosts could have given Judi Dench and the finest directors on Broadway lessons in stage management.
The performances were all excellent, but what came across was the sheer joy, enthusiasm and talent on display from all our students. Their performances managed to capture the true spirit of the project, not just the spirit of hope but spirits of joy, friendship, collaboration and humanity.
Earlier in this blog, I said we would tell the story in “Flashback,” well it’s probably easier to look at our TwinSpace. This free online space is provided by the eTwinning programme for school projects, and there you can see what we did.
The entire partnership, students, teachers, support colleagues and of course the families and friends have, over the course of the project, conjured up some magic. We somehow managed to conjure up some “Spirit of Hope”...But how can a project do that, when it’s made up of stories and tales from all over Europe, involving partners whose usual means of communication was via the internet?
Hope, friendship and stories are fragile things, made up of nothing stronger or more lasting than twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks, pixels on a screen or a sequence of ones and zeros in cyberspace.
Hope, friendship and stories are little more than words and dreams in the air, nothing more than sounds and ideas-abstract, invisible, gone once they've been spoken, or typed or drawn-
and what could be frailer than that?
But some stories, from the small, simple ones about one small person’s fears and hopes, to bold heroic stories about setting out on adventures or seeing wonders, tales of miracles and monsters, stories of love, stories which capture the spirit of friendship... as Neil Gaiman said, these outlive the authors, they even outlive the lands in which they were created or the volcanoes that overshadow them.
These stories ARE the spirits of hope.
Friendship? As far as I know it’s not in the curriculum, I don’t recall seeing it in the national curriculum so we don’t learn it in school. But if we haven't learned the meaning of friendship, we really haven't learned anything. The freedom to make friends across the continent with people irrespective of colour, creed, gender or nationality, this was the “Spirit of Hope”.
After two years of participating in the project, it was clear that our partners had demonstrated themselves to be braver than we ever imagined, stronger than we ever dreamed, smarter than we knew , more resourceful than we hoped and more beautiful than the mirror could tell.
You can cut all the flowers that grew from the project but we cannot keep spring from coming, and because we sowed the seeds of hope, we will see the bloom year on year.
Let’s leave the final words to Jan Hormann the Dutch coordinator, who after the final performance on the steps of the Cathedral in Santa Agata, turned to me and said:
“You know when we started this two years ago......this is exactly how I dreamed it.”
You know what Jan....you are absolutely spot on with that!