Time to learn

I accompanied my wife to the doctor’s today. On the noticeboard there was a statement that made me think. This Thursday morning there is no surgery because they are doing staff training. On the notice it said one small statement “TIME TO LEARN”.

I have recently retired from my position as a local authority mathematics consultant. As I sat and waited for my wife to return from her appointment, it occurred to me that I now had plenty of time to learn. In my day-to-day existence as a consultant I lived, like so many others do, by the clock. Appointments in schools, meeting after meeting and the need to be somewhere five minutes ago.

In schools we expect children to learn in a set period of time. We are dominated by the clock.The dreaded bells ring and everything ends. It is so frustrating to think tat you are just beginning to make progress on some aspect of mathematics (for example) and then the teacher says that the bell is about to ring and you must put all of your things away and then, like a wandering nomad in the desert, go off to the next piece of  “learning”.

In the relaxed environment of a retirement, I am no longer dominated by a clock. If I get onto the net I have the time to explore something,to research it and to let myself reflect on the implications of what I have learnt. I have started my very first online course on neuroscience in education. I am developing slowly in the mastery of some very technical terms. I have time to watch a video over if I want to and then to do some further research by following the links provided.

Recently I  missed out on a few days of learning in the course because I had a number of other things to do. I returned and had the time to go over what I had last learned and this was so useful. My learning in neuroscience is a journey into the unknown for me and I need to retrace my steps when I have ventured off the beaten track for a while.

The things I have described above fit me as a learner. I feel that they would fit any human learning. When we learn an instrument we do not learn in one set period of time. We need to practice, get it wrong, retrace our steps and then learn from watching the skills of others. We get it wrong so many times and yet we make progress (some at a greater rate then others!) this is not the way it is in a school.

The last few years, as a consultant, I have been peddling the new mantra of “learning” as against “teaching” as the main priority. But the practice I see in schools is still about teachers instructing in strict parcels of time. The students do not have the real “time to learn” that I do. They are expected to learn because the opportunity is given to them at a particular time.

The “timetable” is a creation of the time-driven industrial model of education. Schools that have experimented with flexibility in terms of learning time have provided a more relaxed and natural way for children to learn. This runs completely contrary to the ideas of people like Michael Gove  who want more instruction in tighter time limits to specific ends that are tests and exams.

I do not have an exam at the end of my e-course, I do not have limits on the time when I can learn and the pace which I must learn at. I am enjoying the experience of learning new things and because I am learning in a more natural way, I am probably picking things up faster and in greater depth than I would have if I were to have enrolled for a course in neuroscience at a local college and had to try and fit into the time constraints that they work under.

When will we learn? When will we provide our children with real “time to learn”?


A teacher is not..

A teacher is not..

A miracle worker

A social worker

A full-time actor

The one with all the answers

The one who never goes wrong

A person with no feelings

A person with no past

A sage on a stage

A test passing superstar

A doormat to be walked over

A punchbag to be hit!

A teacher is..

A fellow learner

A mentor

A guide

One who hopes for you

Shares your dream

Believes in you

And smiles with you

An important part of your life

But not Superman!

The importance of learning outside

I am, as the followers of this blog will know, a fan of the brilliant spoken poetry of Sarah Kay. The video above is her poem “Montauk” and has the wonderful line in it….. “there are some things you can’t learn in New York City”.

Indeed there are some things that you can’t learn in a school and in this poem Sarah shows how we are always learning in the world outside of the school gates. We pick up life skills, about dreaming, wandering, climbing and how we relate to others, particularly those closest to us, our family and those who we choose to call our friends.

Yesterday, at my work, I got into a discussion about the way that so many youngsters seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on their computers, or their games machines or watching the T.V. They are learning a lot in all of these activities but it is a closed almost virtual existence.

Sarah is right… you learn by going swimming and looking at people’s faces, you learn swear words that maybe you shouldn’t keep using but at least you know. We learn about the good in people and the bad. We learn how to trust or mistrust and we sometimes learn how to relate to people. We experience physical pain in every fall and that is a learning process. We learn to enjoy the beauty of a wonderful sunset and to understand the beggar on the streets.

As a child I had parks and common land near where I lived in urban London. I learnt so much about the things that I mentioned above whilst I cut my knee open by crashing my bike into a tree. I realised that I was never going to be the great footballer that I wanted to be and I understood the joys and pain of getting completely drenched when a sudden downpour of rain just happened.

My learning was enhanced by these experiences and I feel it is really important that every child has the chance to wander, to feel, to hurt, to experience their own growing self and the changes that are happening in their life and to their body.

“There are some things you can’t learn in London” but to me there was so much that you can.

The right to joy

As a new school year starts in North America it is time to consider the hopes and wishes for the year ahead. My wish is for children to have fun and enjoy their learning.

Today, as I sat in a doctor’s surgery waiting to have my regular blood pressure check, I saw a young mother with two small children. From the moment that they walked in the children were lively, inquisitive and smiling. Their actions made everyone in the surgery waiting room smile.

Looking at these children I wondered what they might be like in a few years time. Would they still be smiling and happy? Would their inquisitiveness still be there? Hopefully, yes… but more than likely they will have but a dim memory of the days where they felt free to explore anything and everything, to ask questions about everything in the seemingly never-ending need to know.

Unfortunately it seems that schools, rather than taking this youthful enthusiasm and natural desire to learn, manage to squash it and turn “learning” into drudgery. That is certainly the way that it has played out for so many children for so many years.

There will though, be some children returning to schools which have understood their natural inclinations to learn, to explore, to move, to discuss and to do all of this in a great spirit of joy. These are the fortunate few whose schools do not just exist to test and teach a narrow body of mostly useless information but realise that school is a learning community and that the students within them are not empty vessels to be filled but human beings who need to develop into the person that they have the potential to be

It is sad that this may be only a minority of the children returning to school.

To slightly change a very famous quotation:

All children are created equal and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit  of happiness. I would especially like to lay emphasis on that last phrase and change it just a bit to……. an entitlement to happiness.

I wish my colleagues well in the new year and hope that they and their charges have a great learning experience which is full of joy and happiness.