The start of the school year presents a valuable opportunity to educators to review the process and practice through which they are growing our students. They also reflect on how effective the collective message of teachers and parents has been in building the skills and capabilities necessary for Generation Z.
My opening address to the students from Years K-6 recognised the innate skills and significant knowledge base that all our educators and students carry with them. However, I highlighted that it is not what you know that makes the difference in each of our lives, it is what you do, or the way you put your thoughts and words into consistent, habitual action. It is what you do that matters. Thoughts cannot remain stagnant or stuck in the head of the child, they need to become visible and progress constantly.
Sadly, the history of education has seen students doing all kinds of ‘work’ to improve their knowledge and relationships: schoolwork, homework, social work…
When we reviewed our practice at our Primary School, we reaffirmed our commitment to avoid creating ‘workers’ – that is, children who do simply what is prescribed. We want to create students who have a sense of their own agency, and who feel confident and secure enough to take risks and use a range of skills and understandings in order to investigate their world as full-time learners.
And it’s important for children to have this concept reinforced at home, too. Parents can join hands with our teachers by enacting the following three key practices:
- Be a filter to the world of our children so they feel calm and ready to learn, not anxious and consigned to get through the work of their day
Teachers and parents have a combined responsibility to make children feel safe and confident as they transition between home, school and other contexts. Children who are free of anxiety don’t feel as if each social or academic event in the day is about them grinding through work. Instead, they are free to learn from every event they encounter. Michael Grose, Founder of Parenting Ideas, provides the following valuable suggestions:
– Home and school routines should be well-planned, unrushed, satisfy basic needs and be routinely and successfully executed in most instances.
– Parents should develop a quick, regular goodbye ritual and hello ritual that is fun, familiar and will reassure the child that you feel confident the space they are going into is a good fit for them.
– Where necessary, or as a gesture of reassurance, a note from a loved one or a home connection momento that the child references in the day, is a powerful assistant to the child in self-regulating a sense of wellbeing during the day.
Parents who constantly take a calm, reassuring approach are more likely to give their child the confidence they need to feel that they will be okay as they navigate their day. Similarly, the link between parent and teacher is critical in that the message and approach is mirrored. The adults in the world are reliable and the children are free to learn. It is important to put distance between adult concerns and challenges and the world of the child; if adults can resolve their own insecurities, conflicts and concerns away from the world of the child it is less likely that they will erode the baseline of security that children need to step confidently into an exploration of their world.
- Honour child or student agency by offering opportunities for learning, not instructions to do work
Our educational team builds lifelong learners who are able to understand or locate independently what they know, and then what they need to find out, in order to achieve their desired learning goal.
Students know that they carry their personal bank of knowledge with them wherever they go, and that they have the opportunity to engage with learning at every turn in order to build on this knowledge bank and fulfil what they are trying to achieve.
I implore parents to follow the pathway of our educators and replace the word “work” with the concept “learning” wherever possible. This shifts the student away from thinking about school as a series of work events to be moved through, and invites them into a world of learning that holds exciting opportunities to open doors into adventures of the mind. The School context uses provocations, rich questions and thinking routines, flexible learning spaces and time to ponder, to cultivate this sense of rigorous wrestling with ideas as students move into and out of challenging moments in their learning.
A practical way parents can help their child to develop a continuous learning mindset is by establishing a Personal Learning Centre at home. Most of our homes have a dedicated children’s play space which is infinitely powerful as a location for shaping attitudes and behaviour. Your children will have learned to associate play and creative opportunity with those designated areas. The same principle applies when you establish a personal learning centre – your child will associate learning with that designated space, which is reinforced every time they spend time there. This is another form of play referred to as interactive learning, or investigation as students mature. A Personal Learning Centre is part library, part research centre, part entertainment area and part creative space. It’s a place that a child chooses to retreat to merge curiosity, learning and comfort as they ponder things they wonder about and find answers to those quirky questions such as “Why are the waves on Bondi bigger on some days and smaller on others?”
Most importantly, a Personal Learning Centre reinforces the message to the child that lifelong learning is a significant mindset that is essential for them to develop. The child carries this idea of sitting in purposeful learning spaces to build his/her learning into the various flexible learning spaces that students move through during their school day and on into their personal lives and future life phases. Wherever they are, they will understand how to establish a setting that meets their needs for the learning magic to happen. Find out more about the Features of a Personal Learning Centre.
- Keep students filled with a sense of awe and wonder about all the learning on offer in their world
In the Primary School, we ask rich, probing questions, and provide time for discussion and reflection so that students embrace their sense of agency and engage with the excitement of each learning opportunity. Students move progressively through a learning menu of routines and dialogues to ensure they know how to ask questions and think about concepts from different perspectives. This ensures they personally engage with learning and delight in the sense of awe and wonder present in every nook and cranny of their world.
Our teachers ensure that they interact with students to make their thinking visible and then prove to students that their thinking is important by using strategies to slow down their thinking and probing what they mean by asking questions like, “What makes you say that?’ and ”How does that connect to the other idea we investigated?”
They also constantly seek more from the child, requesting, “and tell me what else”. Parents can enact the same process by asking questions and giving their children the greatest gift of time to think and talk, ponder and explore.
In the video below, our educators at Moriah enacted the joy of investigation and questioning to set the tone for 2020 and to encourage students to always be curious; to embrace learning, question and deepen their understanding, and to have fun while doing it.
At Moriah, the pathway is firmly set for happy children in flexible learning spaces who are geared purposefully for deep, engaged learning which does not feel like ‘work’. I celebrate our lifelong learners, our educators, our students and our parents. We most certainly are in this together!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lynda Fisher is the Head of Primary School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.