Can outdoor learning create thinkers, risk takers and environmental pioneers?

Mrs Sarah Brierley, Miss Tiffany McIntyre and Miss Jade Mayes explore the impacts of learning beyond the classroom on pupils’ social, emotional, physical development and academic progress.

We are the Wild Girls

Outdoor Education is an umbrella term for any educational session which takes place outside the classroom; from Maths lessons in the playground, to visits to the Tower of London. For us, Wild Girls provides our pupils with the opportunity to jump in puddles, build shelters, write poetry in the woods, fly kites and learn to love nature. As we like to say, there is no Wi-Fi in the woods, but you’ll find a better connection! Children are also given permission to play freely, to explore their natural environment and take controlled risks.

Meet the facilitators with a vision

Participants are destined to achieve. The Wild Girls’ facilitators aim to make observations based on each individual girl, in order to scaffold their learning and allow them to take controlled risks.

Sarah Brierley:
I moved to the centre of Wimbledon 4 years ago, from the beauty of The Lake District, which offers a different outdoor classroom for each day of the year. As a mountain leader and RYA dingy sailing instructor, when I shared my vision with my fellow outdoor instructors from the Lakes, they were bewildered at how I could possibly suggest delivering outdoor education in central London- but we’ve done it!

Jade Mayes:
As a Year 1 teacher, I fully understand the importance of hands on, child-led learning. I have a background in Forest School Education, and bring this knowledge to our new initiative. My vision is to foster a community of individuals, who have just as much love for the natural world as I do, and in return will take care of it for future generations.

Tiffany McIntyre:
As a Reception teacher, I aspire to make this project more than just taking learning from indoors into an outside area, but to go further and provide opportunities that cannot be achieved within the confines of a classroom. Once the walls are removed, children have a sense of space and freedom that allows their young minds to investigate, explore and create on a larger scale. They move freely, building confidence through shared enterprise and hands-on experiences. Whether this involves building a pirate ship or investigating the best consistency of sand to build a sand castle, it all supports the children in the acquisition of skills and encourages them to develop independent thought, where the possibilities are endless.

The importance of learning beyond the classroom

We can learn so much from nature. The trees in a forest care for each other, communicating through their roots. They warn each other about dangers and use this network to decide when to seed. We can learn so much from this ‘wood wide web’ (Flannary, 2016.)  The lessons trees provide us about team work are endless. Isolated trees have much shorter lifespans than those living connected together in the woods (Wohlleben, 2016.) Surely, this is a lesson that will support our pupils as they progress through life.

Our KS1 sessions include the use of a range of activities and resources to encourage our pupils to participate. Nature provides a therapeutic environment for pupils to truly be themselves and grow as individuals. This point of view is supported by Carl Roger in his book A Way of Being – ‘I love to create such an environment, in which persons, groups, and even plants can grow…real relationships with persons, hands dirtied in  the soil, observing the budding flower, or viewing a sunset, are necessary to my life’ (Rogers, 1995). This concept is at the heart of our practice and has already been successfully implemented within our Junior School.

Holistic pedagogy

The holistic approach is naturally engrained in the structures of a Wild Girls’ session, as emotions, fears, conflicts and friendships form an intrinsic part of each session. This offers children the opportunity to grapple with challenging processes, as they play freely within the woodland setting.

In an urban environment, it is essential for children to have access to nature. For us to be able to extend these opportunities as part of our Wild Girls programme is invaluable.

In addition to this, children need nature for the healthy development of their senses and consequently their learning and creativity. Asking children to use their senses to interpret the world around them can be challenging for those who have not had the opportunity to develop these faculties.

These classrooms come cheap too. London provides the world’s largest urban forest, ‘8.4 million trees for 8.6 million people’ (Wood, 2019.) In London, most areas of outdoor space are free to access and close to transport networks making it easy and free for schools to use them.

Wild Girls in Action

At Wimbledon High Junior School, we have created different activities for our girls to explore whilst outdoors.

In Year 6, our pupils study navigational skills in a woodland setting, in order to learn how to use compasses and read maps. These are skills that could be potentially get lost in the high-tech world our children are being brought up in. When learning about directions on a compass, one misconception emerged when a pupil suggested that North is always dictated by the direction of the wind! Even if she never uses a compass again in her life, she has been afforded a valuable learning opportunity.

In Reception, these experiences are focused on inviting the pupils to be a part of their environment, to observe and respect what they can see, hear and feel. Using stories as a starting point, we connect with nature and encourage the girls to lead the learning experience. However, the most fun our girls have had was splashing in the puddles on their way into the forest! These opportunities provide the foundation for these young learners to grow and to develop as they move through the Junior School.

Year 1 pupils have used free play to explore the woods, making wind chimes and mud cakes, whilst coming across many mini beasts to identify. In the outdoors, nature is in control. Although you can predict what the weather is going to do, you can’t predict what children will learn the most from in the natural classroom you’ve created. This is the beauty of outdoor education.

Final thoughts

This opportunity to roam unchecked and learn life skills in the outdoors is arguably the most important education any child can have. It is enriching for the soul and brings out character traits that may be hidden whilst learning indoors. In the short space of time that we have been delivering ‘Wild Girls’, we have observed social connections becoming stronger and more universal, and an even more cohesive sense of community emerging. Personality types who may be naturally more reserved, have been given the space to show the qualities of leadership and collaboration. In an ever-changing, evolving world, giving children the space and freedom to be a child, has never been more important.


References

Wohlleben P, The Hidden Life of Trees, London, William Collins, 2017

Wood P, London is a Forest, London, Quadrille, 2019

Is empathy the most important thing we can teach our students?

Mr Daniel Addis, Head of Academic Scholarship and Teacher of Classics at WHS, looks at the purpose of education, and asks whether empathy could be the key skill students should develop in an academic environment.
Whenever one considers what education is for, there are several arguments that immediately sprout up. There is a ‘Scholar Academic’ (SA)[1] perspective that suggests there is a key set of knowledge that students need to know in order to be upstanding members of society. The ‘Social Efficiency’ (SE) model argues that it is skills that are imperative to learning in order to prepare students for life in the workplace, whereas the ‘Learner Centred’ (LC) model suggests that content is immaterial; students should have the opportunity to study whatever they desire to benefit themselves. Finally the ‘Social Reconstruction’ (SR) model suggests that education’s main imperative is to facilitate the creation of a more just society, based on the balance between different groups, whether that is racial, class-based, or other forms of segregation.

The true answer presumably lies in a combination of these different models, but I would argue that empathy is the link upon which all of them rely. Empathy is the key knowledge, the important skill, the centre for the learner, and the methodology through which we can create a more-just society.

Nussbaum, in her excellent work Not for profit: Why democracy needs the humanities[2], discusses how empathy requires three things.

  1. A child who knows how to do things for themselves
  2. Recognition that total control is neither possible nor good, that the world is a place in which we all have weaknesses and we need to find ways to support one another
  3. An awareness of solidarity and the idea that we are not alone

Each of the 4 models of curriculum I mentioned have part of these three aspects in them. In the SA it is a solidarity gained by the shared experience of learning the same key material along with understanding of the past that demonstrates the lack of total control in the world; in the SE it is developing children’s ability to do things for themselves; in the LC it is also the development of the students’ ability to do things, along with supporting them individually; and in the SR it is the concept of solidarity amongst peers, and support of others. The fact that part of if not all of these key facets of developing empathy are in each curriculum model demonstrates how important it is to students’ education.

Though all the models have different aims, aspirations, history, ideology, and conceptual understanding, Empathy runs through them all. This is eminently understandable. In E.D Hirsch’s book Cultural Literacy: what every American needs to know[3], he lists facts, figures and great works of literature that he considers a key part of any western education. The list has a strong historical bias, requiring students to learn the history of culture and society. This develops a cultural empathy, understanding of where we have come from, as well as helping us understand and relate to other cultures our students might come across in future.

Photo by Tatiana Vavrikova from Pexels

According to Nussbaum “seeing how another group of intelligent human beings has cut up the world differently… gives a young person an essential lesson in cultural humility.”[4]  Coming across something different which requires greater study and further analysis helps students to understand their experiences as it is comparatively more different to their own. The fact the traditions and models are more unfamiliar allows students to develop analytical tools they can use in other spheres. Their analytical ability is honed further as it is used by the student dissecting more peculiar practices. When considering the greater intellectual difference, the similarities become more poignant, and the nature of combined human experience can imbue students with an awareness of solidarity between peoples, something required for empathy.[5]

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

From a pastoral perspective, empathy is something that is an obvious focus to develop in young people, but a blending of the academic and pastoral is important in this setting. It is only by intellectually engaging with alternative information and different perspectives through academic learning that empathy is fully developed. It is enhanced through questioning, analytical rigour and searching for deeper meaning rather than, as can be the case in PSHE, something that is assumed. We all consider ourselves to be empathetic but by questioning information from other sources comes a stronger empathy, not a facile, ethereal thing, which can lead to more substantial change.

If we look more closely at some of the material covered in class, we can question the inherent benefit. What is the purpose of learning about life in Chaucer’s England? Would it make much difference in someone’s life to know about life in a Roman household? Perhaps the facts themselves are not important. But by comparing their own experience with others, students can gain a more concrete understanding of the beneficial aspects of their own life. This, in turn, can help them understand other cultures around the world, other people, new information which will prove a vital skill for their later life. With the rate the world is changing, being able to intellectually adapt and understand the needs of others is one of the core skills our students need to possess.

Whilst I do believe that some knowledge is inherently beneficial (I would hardly be a Classicist if I didn’t!), it is important to remember the overall purpose of what we do at school. By putting empathy at the front and centre of the learning experience, we not only develop analytical ability, but we also develop better people who can utilise a different perspective, challenge assumptions and develop their understanding of others. In this way, we give them the tools to change the world, building on our shared past, in order to develop our best future.


References

[1] The four terms I use for curriculum ideologies are found in Schiro, M. S. (2013) Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns 2.e.; Sage Publishers. p. 4. There are other terms used by other authors but these four are the clearest.

[2] Nussbaum (2010) Not for profit: Why democracy needs the humanities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 97

[3] Hirsch, E.D. (1988) Cultural Literacy: what every American needs to know; Incidentally this was the key text upon which the 2015 UK governmental education policy was based.

[4] Nussbaum (2010), 90

[5] Ibid, 97

Is this the end for experts?

Wimbledon Wonderers logo

Ms Mari Nicholas, Head of Academic Scholarship at WHS, looks at how WHS is scholarly and why we should be lifelong learners.

Judith Butler, Science Philosopher
Judith Butler, Science Philosopher

From Thales of Miletus, Zarathustra and Confucius to Nancy Cartwright, Kwame Anthony Appiah and Judith Butler, over the centuries, philosophers have debated and cogitated the big questions. According to the University of Oxford, the study of Philosophy develops analytical rigour and the ability to criticise and reason logically. These skills can be applied to questions ranging from how we acquire knowledge and form moral judgements to central questions in the philosophy of religion. (Ox.ac.uk, 2019)

An expert is a person who is knowledgeable about or skilful in a particular area. Being scholarly means having or showing knowledge, learning, or devotion to academic pursuits. One could argue, therefore, that one does not need to be a philosopher in order to be an expert or indeed scholarly. We can all develop knowledge, become skilful and devote ourselves to academic pursuits without having to give up the day job!

Work hard, pass exams and get a job?

There are myriad benefits of lifelong learning, not least the joy of discovering something new. Every day is a school day, perhaps more for teachers than most, as rarely a day goes by when one does not learn something new from the girls we are fortunate enough to educate.

Major advantages of continued learning include improving our mental and physical health: it fosters a sense of identity, an ability to cope and a sense of purpose. Studies have shown that learning leads to a greater sense of wellbeing and continued education in life contributes to a ‘cognitive footprint’, which may delay the onset of dementia. Physical health is also improved and longitudinal studies have shown a lower risk of coronary heart disease, higher probability of cervical screening and improved nutrition. In fact, learning as a whole has an impact on mortality, although one can attribute this evidence to both early as well as adult education.

Adult learning has a positive effect on your employability, raising aspirations, increasing earnings and improving job satisfaction.  Adult learning fosters a capacity to be assertive and to collaborate with others in the workplace (Billett, 2014). It is beneficial for your employer too, increasing productivity, employee commitment and resulting in a slower turnover of staff.

Community learning and vocational training are associated with improved community engagement, local involvement and volunteering (Bosche and Brady, 2013; Feinstein et al., 2008). In particular, adult literacy and numeracy have a positive impact on communities, leading to greater tolerance of others and increased trust in people of different nationalities and religions. Finally, adults who participate in learning themselves are more likely to engage in their children’s education, improving outcomes. Where levels of inequality are high, this effect is particularly pronounced (OECD, 2016).

What does Scholarship look like at WHS?

Wimbledon Wonderers logo Alongside high-quality provision in lessons, the academic stretch programme challenges our learners throughout the school.

Girls in Years 7 and 8 attend Wonderers sessions where departments take their education beyond the curriculum and enjoy learning for its own sake. This academic year, a diverse range of subjects has been covered, from Classics “The link between myth, poetry and art”; Product Design “Principles behind designing and the utility of products” and Maths “The Maths behind knitting”.

Tea and T’inking is an informal discussion group where older students come together to hash out the big ideas. Topics covered so far this year include: politics “what we might consider as an ideal political system and the deficiencies in our system”; general knowledge “what do we mean by general knowledge, how is it useful and how might it be applied?”; modern linguistic and visual culture “Why are young people attracted to memes, what do they mean and what is their importance?”.

Rosewell Lecture logoOur robust Explore and Rosewell lecture series welcomes external speakers to challenge and provoke those girls in Years 9 to 13 to think more deeply both within and without their subject specialism. Parents, teachers and partner schools are welcome at these lectures. Our external speakers have included: Janet Henry, Chief Global Economist for HSBC, “Diverging fortunes”; “In conversation with” Gillian Clark, poet, playwright, Explore logoeditor, broadcaster; Prof Vicky Neale, Whitehead lecturer at the Mathematical Institute, “Closing the Gap, the quest to understand prime numbers”; Dr Guy Sutton, “Mind and brain in the 21st Century”.

An integral part of being a member of staff at WHS is continual study and the development of expertise in their field. Regular training from Trust or external providers to in-house Twilight sessions cover a range of topics from “How to become a Head of Department” to “Giving feedback on exams, tests and assessments” and allow staff to develop professionally, leading to benefits for themselves, the students and the school.

Brain books

In addition, a group of staff from across the school make up a professional reading group, Brain Books. Every half term they discuss books in education that relate to their role within the school. These discussions inform their teaching, feed into departmental discussions and might eventually change the way we teach and learn at WHS. “Teaching Backwards” by Andy Griffith will be the next book to challenge preconceived notions of how excellent teaching and learning should look.

Lazy Teachers Handbook A discussion of “The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook” by Jim Smith drew the following comments:

  • His ideas cover a variety of pedagogical areas i.e. differentiation, lesson structure, plenaries, assessment, planning and pupil self-esteem.
  • It is good to dip into and provides inspiration for different ways of doing something.
  • One suggestion that I used today with some success is the think-pair-square-share idea for sharing ideas within the class. It doesn’t involve any pre-planning or moving of furniture and develops a range of skills for pupils.
  • I read the book in its entirety and was entertained; I picked up lots of useful strategies. It lacked a rigorous evidence base and that was a sticking point for me as his own particular style dominated. Having said that, in the past couple of weeks I have utilised a number of things and have made note of more. I use continuums or opinion lines in lessons at all levels to help students develop arguments and have experimented with his suggestions of mixing up different points of view in different ways to get individuals differentiating their interpretations in a more nuanced way.

 

Independent Thinking“Independent Thinking” by Ian Gilbert elicited the following:

  • Great for dipping into: the very structure of this book is creative and anti-linear, juxtaposing the author’s observations, ‘thunks’, witticisms, poems, stories, mini-essays, all to spark the reader’s own ‘out of the box’ thought processes.
  • His short observations or perceived wisdoms could work really well to spark interdisciplinary debate and to develop flexible growth mind-sets although ‘profound’ wisdoms slip into cliché and become a bit grating.
  • The book was unscientific, presenting anecdotal evidence as fact; not only that, but at times it seemed to be anti-science, evidenced in the chapter ‘How to know whether you’re a humanist or a scientist’ which lists a series of damning indictments on scientists.
  • The emphasis on building a child’s positive self-image was great – nurturing a feeling of ‘can do’, even if not ‘yet’.
  • It is not immediately relevant to my classroom teaching, but pastorally and more widely the ideas he had about creating opportunities to engage intellectually with the work of charities as well as support them with action were valuable.
  • “30 things exams don’t test” works very well with my ‘being human in an AI age’ agenda. It had a “Good school checklist” – are we walking the walk with our vision and values? Perhaps leave the poetry to other people?
  • It has made me reflect on my teaching and question, ‘How am I preparing today’s children for life in tomorrow’s world?’ Are my actions helping the girls in my class or school to in the future, have a positive effect on the world?
  • I would like to think that a copy of this book was given to all those who work at the Department of Education!

In summary, is it the end for experts? No. Lifelong learning has a huge impact on our health, wealth and happiness. I believe we should be scholarly and become experts despite what others may think.

Bibliography

Billett, S., 2014. Learning in the circumstances of practice. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 33(5), pp. 674-693.

Bosche, B. and Brady, B., 2013. Benefits des community learning: Ergebnisse aus Irland, in Benefits of lifelong learning. DIE Journal for Adult Education, 1, pp. 30-34.

Feinstein, L., Budge, D., Vorhaus, J. and Duckworth, K., 2008. The social and personal benefits of learning: A summary of key research findings, London: Institute of Education, University of London.

OECD, 2016. The productivity-inclusiveness nexus. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/globalforum-productivity/library/The-Productivity-Inclusiveness-Nexus-Preliminary.pdf

Ox.ac.uk. (2019). Philosophy and Theology | University of Oxford. [online] Available at: https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/courses-listing/philosophy-and-theology?wssl=1  [Accessed 13 Mar. 2019].

 

 

 

Bursting the Bollinger Bolshevik Bubble – 21/09/18

Mr Dan Addis, one of our Joint Heads of Academic Scholarship, discusses the benefits of considering the opinions of others, as offered through our weekly Tea and T’inking club here at WHS.

It is very reassuring to read an article, listen to a podcast, or read a blog that asserts your own opinion at you. “Thank goodness! I was right all along!”

That’s the important thing isn’t it? Being right. Now, you have evidence backing your own view. You are not the only person who thinks this way. Other people important enough to be published in some medium think this way. Therefore, they must be right and you must be right. Moreover, all you see is the same information reiterated in your News feed, Instagram account, or amongst your friends. This corroborates your view. The opinion you had which was a small delicate thing is growing and hardening, becoming a wall to keep your psyche safe from thoughts that it assumes might damage it. Your confidence grows. Your surety of opinion flourishes.

In a world where fragile mental health is much more prevalent (or at least people are becoming more aware of it), this confidence in one’s opinion can be a positive thing. The community feel of shared opinion is also very intoxicating. Not only do we feel that we are right and are comforted by the presence of others with the same opinion, we also have a sense of community in a world so open it can be intimidating. The comments section of a blog post or a reddit chain can become a supportive group of like-minded friends. Positive isn’t it?

Well, I would argue no.

I’d like to refer back to the wall analogy I used earlier. Walls are fantastic for protection from outside forces that might harm us. They make us feel safe and secure. If you speak to a person without any walls to protect them, then you might recognise how valuable walls can be. But speak to a person who only has walls and no way of escaping them. Then walls become an enemy, a blight, the cause of pain, suffering and depression. The same can happen in our mind. By constantly reiterating a certain set of values and opinions, we can feel comfortable, but we can also become shut in, closeted away from information and facts that might help us grow and progress. The outside of the mental walls becomes the enemy, the dangerous, the damaging.

We approach these outside opinions in several ways. Mostly we ignore them, maligning them as idiotic or even pitying those who hold these views that cannot possibly be right. Sometimes we attack them, aggressively shouting down those who hold these views either for their stupidity or for their ignorance. We are building these walls higher and higher to differentiate ourselves from those outside.

However, there is another option: opening the metaphorical door.

Include other thoughts and ideas into discussion. Acknowledge other people’s views with openness and desire to learn. No one view is 100% correct. There are many shades of grey in most issues and having an awareness of them not only increases your knowledge, it helps you have discussions with others with opposing views.

Understandably, there are some issues with this approach. If you try to engage with someone who holds an opposing view but is not willing to compromise or discuss evenly, then it can be trying. It is tiresome to review points over and over and not reach a conclusion. In addition, it can be difficult to break this self-perpetuating cycle of distrust between opposing views.

Furthermore, the main issue is usually to do with ignorance not idiocy. The only cure for ignorance is learning, but the negativity that people of certain opinions have towards those who do not automatically agree can be suffocating. It is understandable that one might want to stay in their protective walled opinion fortress. What is needed is a safe space where you can learn information contrary to your held beliefs. A space where any question is acceptable. A space where you can discuss issues from a variety of viewpoints in a positive and constructive way.

Tea and T’inking can be this space for you. Come along challenge your preconceptions. At Wimbledon, our metaphorical walls are the socialist liberal middle class sphere that the vast majority of us inhabit. Burst that Bollinger Bolshevik Bubble, not in an aggressive manner but calmly, with a cup of tea.

Tea and T’inking is a weekly club held at WHS for girls in Year 9-13 who are invited to come along, have a cup of tea, and discuss a variety of topics, opening minds and creating debate. Please see Mr Addis if you’d like to pop along to the next session.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Daniel Addis, Teacher of Classics here at WHS, offers an insight into the need for breadth in students and teachers’ education and how they can acquire it.

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. If we consider the Dunning-Kruger effect (demonstrated on the diagram to the right) we might agree. The principle is that ‘knowledge without sufficient experience can lead to an overestimation of ability’. It is no surprise that Donald Trump has been nicknamed the ‘Dunning-Kruger President’ in articles by the New York Times, Bloomberg, and the Independent. I recall an interview where he tries to explain uranium to his audience:

“You know what uranium is, right? This thing called nuclear weapons like lots of things are done with uranium including some bad things.”

The ignorance is palpable. One cannot help but feel that he has learnt a lot of this information in the very recent past. He has absorbed so little of it that he has become overly confident with his knowledge of the subject. I hope I am not alone in feeling thoroughly worried by this man and his proximity to the proverbial big red button. A little knowledge is truly a dangerous thing.

In the face of this, we should surely adopt a Socratic approach; “the only thing I know is that I know nothing.” By acknowledging our own ignorance, we do not risk the negatives of living beyond our intellectual means; the embarrassing demonstration of knowledge half-baked, the pub quiz question we definitely know the answer to being wrong, or a lack of understanding in the political climate leading to nuclear war. ‘Ignorance is bliss’, or is it?

As teachers, we have progressed to the far end of the Dunning-Kruger graph. We have the experience to move beyond the initial confidence level, through the trough of timidity to the position of expert in our subject. We are authorities on the syllabus and all is known to us. Hurrah!

But is there a danger that we could be elsewhere in the Dunning-Kruger graph? If we consider the graph to concern the sum of human knowledge rather than just the knowledge of our own subject, surely the specialisation in our own area of expertise, to the detriment of other knowledge, means that the level of overall experience is low. We do not have the breadth of knowledge required to move beyond the initial peak of overconfidence. And we have seen the danger of that…

It is important in our role as teachers that we continue to broaden our horizons, to learn more about the wider world beyond our subject and our specialty. By advocating our individual areas, we can damage the overall learning of the student. Naturally, we want to promote our subject, the bastion of our intellectual development. There is a reason we have attached ourselves to these monikers of learning, such as an inspiring teacher or a book that had us gripped from cover to cover. Particularly for the 6th Form or for options lower down the school, we want to sell our subject, to show students how our subject can pique their interest. We have to be incredibly passionate, otherwise our subject may be disregarded and all that knowledge remains unutilised and undiscovered.

We are particularly fervent in the Classics department for this very reason. I can guarantee every Classics teacher has memorised the ‘why learning Classics is still relevant and important’ speech due to how often we have to spout it. This breeds an element of competition in teachers, who feel they must defend their subject against the onslaught of other options. We are in a fight to keep our relevance and our numbers high. This has engendered an ‘Ivory Towers’ model of teaching, where each subject is in opposition to the others rather than collaborating to gain the best results for students.

Whilst the British system of subjects is fantastic for producing a depth of knowledge in those students who study them, we as teachers need to be advocating a far broader array of knowledge. What is an education that only focuses on one area? How can we truly learn Shakespeare without understanding Greek Theatre? How can we truly learn physical Geography without an understanding of the scientific elements that fabricate our world? How can we truly learn French without knowledge of the history of the Europe?

It is our responsibility as teachers to keep learning, expanding our horizons, and putting our subject in context with others. The ‘Ivory Towers’ model is not only defunct, it is damaging and we must try to move beyond it. Students will be learning the same skills in a variety of classes. Understanding of major concepts such as justice and morality can happen in History just as much as R.S. Analysis of literature is not just the preserve of English, but of MFL and Classics as well. Logical processing and methodology occurs in Maths, Sciences, Geography, Languages, History, and more. The similarities are much more prominent than the differences.

I will stop at suggesting a thorough re-examination of our entire curriculum. I think our subject-based system allows students to study what they are interested in with a depth and insight that other models of teaching do not allow them. However, they need to be exposed to a wider array of material in order to develop the cultural capital needed to be high functioning members of our society. Unfortunately, it does not happen naturally. The percentage of students who decide for themselves to delve beyond the syllabus is disappointingly low. We, as teachers, need to be the examples for them to follow. The syllabus is a base point but we must indicate what else is out there for them to discover.

I appreciate this sounds an awful lot like hard work. Not only learning your specification but what others are teaching as well?! The job of a maniac! However, there is an easy solution… Explore and Rosewell lectures. Sit and listen about the wider world. From brain surgery to rainforests; classical myths to Chinese politics; just sit and listen. Enhancing our own learning can only help our students and demonstrate to them the benefits of the holistic education. By developing the breadth of our own learning, we build the level of scholarship throughout the school. We tear down those ‘Ivory Towers’. We create a love of learning beyond the minimum required. Moreover, we can show that it is worth the time. Unfortunately, we are time poor as a profession. However, demonstrating that it is worth that hour to listen to a lecture will increase its value for everyone; students, staff, friends, parents etc. The more people we can have attending these lectures, the more our collective intellectualism will grow and flourish. If we consider the methodology of our recent visitor Guy Claxton, we should be facilitating and encouraging learning by the students and allowing them to do the majority of the research and discovery. What better way to embody this ideology than to show support for extra-curricular and cross-curricular learning by an expert in the field.

There is a famous expression ‘Jack of all trades and Master of none.’ What a negative ideology, I have been tarred many times with this linguistic brush. “Why would you want to try many things when you could be really good at one thing?” “Why would you do something if you are not the best at it?” It creates a culture of fearing the unknown, of deriding those who are not experts but are enthused. No one wants to be a Jack, but people rarely finish the expression. In full:

‘Jack of all trades, Master of none, but better than a Master of one.’ 

Let’s stop being Masters and be Jacks. Let’s broaden our knowledge of the entirety of what the world has to offer. Let’s Explore. You never know what you might learn.

Twitter: @AcademicSch_WHS