Conversations about learning have been a major feature of life this month. Our oldest grandson has just attended taster days for the move up into the world of secondary school in September. Another is in the process of working out with family, teachers and their colleagues how we can best support him to overcome some of the challenges he finds at primary school. The rest are sharing their hopes and fears for the move into a new year group.
I attended two open days with our god-daughter who is just at the start of choosing a secondary school. The move into a bigger campus, with five times the number of children, and a different structure of learning, is like entering another world for most children. It was interesting to see how the schools decided to introduce their particular learning world to prospective families.
Both schools involved pupils in showing us around the campus and it was valuable to ask them about their school experience. They were all positive and when I asked them why they thought their school was good, the things they most commonly mentioned were:
- the teachers are friendly
- they take bullying seriously and they deal with it
- there’s lots of different things you can do – art, sport, music, trips
- it’s like a big family/community
- teachers make things interesting and fun
- there are some good facilities
So in our straw poll being happy and safe were top of the young people’s list. Academic results didn’t get a mention!
The head teachers at one school also talked about being like one big family, despite the size. Then they used evidence from recent “outstanding” Ofsted reports to highlight the good behaviour of pupils and excellent academic results. Both schools mentioned their range of extra-curricular activities and the importance of a holistic curriculum. But it was the other headteacher who really picked up on the pupils’ priorities. He told parents the most important question to ask is “will my child be happy?” And the pupils were saying that warm, caring relationships are what makes them happy.
One of my favourite quotations says “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire” (Often mis-attributed to Yeats, but appears to be derived from Plutarch). So is happiness a pre-requisite to lighting the fires of learning? Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence thought so – he wrote that “happy, calm children learn best”. Now we know that fire needs fuel, heat and air to burn. Perhaps relationships are the oxygen of education?
A colleague in my course team at university went further. He said his goal for our students was that by the end of the course they should know they have been loved. That meant everything from how we cared pastorally for the students to the care and attention we put into our academic tasks. It was about our relationships and also about our pedagogy; being learner-centred not just knowledge-based.
I hope that I contribute to learning worlds that are kind and happy as well as effective teaching environments. What is the most important feature of your learning world?