@SirKenRobinson: “We don’t know who we can be until we know what we can do”

@jameswilding “Ask not How Good are We, but How are We Good?”

In the educational journey that we promote at Claires Court, we understand that the most important aspect of our provision must be to ensure that a positive and supporting culture exists, one that permits difference, failure and opportunity in equal measure.  Ken Robinson’s recent book, “Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life”, is both an inspirational check for Educators who want to reach past a system driven by government- imposed metrics and a testament to the success of those ordinary people who chose to change their lives following Ken’s philosophy that there are no limits to what individual humans can achieve.

I am interested to read today that Wellington College, closeby here in Berkshire, has established a research unit in conjunction with the Institute of Education here in London and Harvard Graduate School of Education to support their further curriculum development, in  conjunction with three other schools in their sphere of influence. Their ‘Eight Aptitudes’ approach, follows Professor Howard Gardner’s ground breaking  work to demonstrate that Humans have multiple intelligences, not just the one needed to pass the 11+, Verbal reasoning.  We too are are a researching school, and whilst we don’t have the resources to have a research unit, we do have great links with education groups, from schools of all kinds, great Universities to world corporates. As it happens, our specific focus this year is to look at the learning of Languages, with a specific focus on the earlier years below secondary, and our partner in this work is the University of Reading.

I remember hearing Howard Gardner talk live 12 years ago at the HMC conference in Celtic Manor, and read his work subsequently too, and whilst he is clearly most scholarly and passionate about his lifetimes work, I did not get the feeling he really believed  that  humans have the capacity to reach past the limiting mind-set of fixed intelligences. In my view, we already have some really clear voices in terms of World research into education, from the UK based powerhouses of CEM centre at the University of Durham, NFER and the Sutton Trust/EEF to name but three, and the additional views from world research such as the OECD and Professor John Hattie in Queensland.  In short, teachers the world over can see quite clearly what modern research is surfacing. What schools need are educators within who have kept abreast of such thinking and continue to reflect how best to make use of the recommended processes for the children in their care.  For let us make one thing very clear – those working in education come to work to ensure their pupils get the very best opportunity to raise their skills and develop gifts and talents beyond measure.

Because of the evidence from this research, I diverge from Wellington’s thinking in a number of ways at secondary level. Whilst I appreciate the many benefits the Middle years curriculum for the International Baccalaureate, that programme was invented to bring coherence across multiple countries for an itinerant set of pupils. We are a  day school, serving a local area and families cannot be expected to afford all of what we do at the expense of portability between us and other local schools. More importantly, the best results are gained when children collaborate and teach each other, find resources and share experiences, and despite the bad press, the English curriculum is extraordinarily well supported by teachers, institutions and publishers, surfacing fantastic learning opportunities and new points of focus almost daily. Here’s the British Museum’s latest translation of its 100 Objects project for schools, one example of how an individual teacher can find age and stage appropriate stimuli for enhancing learning in class.  In short, I feel the school’s curriculum should be a strong reflection of the wider world in which the child is brought up, with much that is familiar and nearby at its heart.  Hands-on education is not that easy if visits and practical outdoor activities are not made possible.

At Sixth Form, I have seen the benefit of the IB programme for some students, but it does require a breadth of thinking and approach which holds back the specialist learner willing to dig somewhat deeper into subject-based study.  For Scientists and Medics, A level is a more certain and challenging (and shorter) route to qualification. I have also seen that within our creative subjects at Sixth Form, the very best students have a need to stretch their specialism at the expense of other subject-based literate and cognitive thinking skills. There comes a time when the actor, artist, dancer and sportsman needs to spend so much time on their ‘element’ that the other ‘elements’ don’t need to be assessed in a formal exam structure.

With Speech Day next week, I am working with the headboys and headgirls to speak about our work of the last 12 months. All 4 have extraordinary gifts, Academic, Music, Sport and the Arts, and during their Year 12, their focus in terms of what lies beyond has deepened and opened new possibilities. Perhaps the most surprising thing all speak of is their discovery of both the elasticity of ability and time.  They never have enough of the latter, but in such diverse ways, they never seem to miss a deadline or a quality benchmark!

All though continue to reappraise their next steps, because their ability to focus on their futures is sharpening their act. No longer would any be prepared to listen to a rhetoric that suggested they were not mature enough to know their own minds, yet all will continue to listen to their own and others’ thoughts about their current chosen pathways. In my view, all four are lucky because they can see/hear the sirens/voices attracting their peers onto their next step.
?Should he really switch from Actor to Lawyer? ?Should she sacrifice such incredibly academic talent for a Gap decade playing professional sport? How does a potential 1st in Natural Sciences deny the ‘riff playing skills he has on guitar? ?How does an as yet politically neutral young adult realise they could inspire a nation in politics?

And this is where @Jameswilding wins at his level – ‘Keep working at the skills so each know in what way they are good, nudge them if they need it when self-identification does not work, and highlight to them those multiple pathways that are open for individuals with a mix of skills at hand’. I really like Sir Ken’s notion of ‘Find your element’, but to be frank I thank most need a nudge, a hand, a mighty big shove or even more. Ken’s stories are about how he saw people miss those opportunities, or by exception make them happen, or permit the arrival of adulthood to permit the remaking of choices because ‘one can’. For most, it too late as adults to start with this notion of Learning liberation, and certainly most by adulthood have learned by bitter experience that multiple intelligences need a patient and inclusive culture yet to appear on their horizon that permits different paces/strokes for different faces/folks.

And therein lies the rub for those of us who work in this space of ‘growing up children’. How does 21st Century Billy Elliot happen outside of the state sector, when no school is monetised for this level of nurture outside English and Maths? The national Music and Ballet scheme can barely touch the demand that exists for a skewed education delivering amazing vocational skill development and yet securing the Academic results that provide a traditional safety net into higher education. Whilst I fear for those in public education, because of its growing asymmetry between great highly selective schools and the rest, I don’t fear for our own within Claires Court. We continue to develop a culture in which children of all kinds are able to find their element, because so much is possible.

I will, if I may, leave the last word to Sir Ken: ““Human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them, they’re not just lying around on the surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves.”

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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