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What do you believe about learning?

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

We’ve been pondering as a school our direction with personalising #learning. Recently we had Will Richardson speak at our Symposium and he asked how we as a school defined learning, and it seems to have thrown a spanner in the works for our faculty: how can we move ahead with personalising learning if we haven’t actively committed to a shared vision of what learning is?

This week a version of the question was thrown out to teachers in the Middle School during our faculty collaborative time: What do you believe about learning? Responses were, of course, varied, and I was intrigued that my response in the group-share raised a few questions. My instinct was to say that I believed learning should be nourishing. I have thought about this question often, but have never boiled it down to a single word, and that was what came out. I walked away from the session wondering whether I had chosen the right word, so thought I best wonder out loud.

The Cambridge dictionary defines the verb nourish, as to provide people or living things with food in order to make them grow and keep them healthy; if you nourish a feeling, belief, or plan, you think about it a lot and encourage it. So what does this have to do with learning?

Learning should help us grow. Learning that is nourishing is often bright, fresh, full of the things that make us think, question, and extend; it also fires our taste buds. That said, things that are nourishing may not always fire our taste buds in a way that we like, or that we find easy. Learning isn’t easy, and we all know Vygotsky’s ZPD: the magic happens when it is a little out of our comfort zone. That time you challenged your taste buds, going a little bit spicier, a little bit more exotic. Or learning to love wine: I’m pretty sure there’s a reason why we don’t all reach for it over the sugary spirits when we first hit adulthood. Finishing my dissertation for my Masters recently was a lesson in learning that is nourishing – most of it was great, but some of it was really hard, and I didn’t love it. But I found myself using my new-found knowledge, making sense of the research I was reading as I worked with coachees. This stuff was making a difference, and making me better at my job. I was growing.

Learning should keep us healthy. Learning that is nourishing sees us accessing and exploring information, allowing us to develop the tools we need to be cognisant and confident about our decisions and our contributions to the world. Being healthy isn’t always easy, either. Often it means confronting things about ourselves – our beliefs, our habits – and re-evaluating our actions against our goals. Sometimes it is that class at the gym you promised yourself you’d make, even though it is cold outside and the couch beckons. It is forgoing another session with Netflix to spend time talking with a friend. Learning also keeps us healthy because it connects, giving us the chance to share our ponderings, listening to new perspectives and bonding with others.

Learning that is nourishing requires us to be active and conscious and then reap the benefits, both profound and subtle. I would argue that (if we are fortunate) we very much make a choice as to whether we consume food that is nourishing; learning is no different. And the other definition of nourish speaks to this: we are nourished by others and we nourish ourselves.

I read back on this and realise I can stick with my ‘concise’ response to the question: What do you believe about learning? In thinking about it I know our school needs to feel united in its beliefs about learning before we move ahead into how these beliefs are actualised, though I’m thinking that we need to be broad and we probably need to involve students in these decisions, too. I sat with a group of talented, passionate, effective educators and no two of us came up with the same belief, yet we share a drive to make school a caring, relevant place for children to be: I feel we have a lot of listening to do before we have the answer.

What is your belief about learning? Please feel free to share it here!

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