In the previous post, I discussed the matter of trust in a school community. I hope you considered the approach and found something of interest and value to your community.
To have high levels of trust, members of a community need to communicate effectively and with sensitivity. The opposite is of course true also – to communicate effectively one needs trust.
Schools often place a great importance in helping young people communicate well (would you agree?). Essays, reports, posters, artwork, presentations, etc are all taught in our schools (aren’t they?) Teachers are usually quite good at communicating with their learners about their subjects and about the tasks they set (aren’t they? I mean they always make the subjects come alive - although they were not dead in the first place of course - and never make their subjects dull – true?)
However, how good are your teachers at communicating between themselves (now we are on the real topic for this article). How good are your learners’ parents at communicating with you? How good are your young people at communicating with their parents, each other, their teachers, or with you? How good is the school at communicating with its community?
One aspect of communication is sometimes neglected and that’s ‘listening’. Imagine you are in agreement that most children can, with the right conditions, be taught to write an essay. You can explain the structure of an essay after all. I imagine that readers here agree that most children can be taught to write. Not only that but to be able to write in different ways and use different styles. You hopefully teach your young people how to read in a variety of ways – reading for pleasure, reading for meaning, reading for understanding, skimming, scanning, etc. And speaking, I am sure you teach your young people to speak in different ways so that they are used to presenting to a variety of audiences, explaining an idea to a class, being concise and giving way in group discussions, chatting with friends and a variety of people of different ages and genders in hierarchies all requiring different forms of address and etiquette. This all happens in your school, doesn’t it?
So how about listening? It’s important is it not? I am sure you listen to your teachers, young people’s parents, staff, and to your learners? You do listen to them, don’t you? Do they have opportunity to allow you to listen?
And how do people role play listening in your school? What different forms of listening do you teach? Indeed, is it commonly understood that there are different ways of listening in your school community? Perhaps: listening for pleasure, listening for meaning and understanding, listening for awareness, listening to oneself, listening distractedly (for inspiration and ‘big-picture thinking’), non-judgemental listening, and so on.
Summing up, we need to have communication in school communities, but for a learning community to be successful, we need effective and sensitive communication. That means good communication needs trust but that it will also help develop trust. If I, as a lowly employee or new teacher or as a young learner in your school, feel comfortable in communicating my ideas or concerns to others in the school, without being put down, mocked, or dismissed, then trust builds not only for me but for everyone who sees that. If, on the other hand, I am not listened to, then, not only am I less willing to communicate again, others will feel more reluctant to communicate also in fear of the same result. People fear rejection in whatever form it takes.
How can we develop channels of effective communication within our communities? Are we ready to ask people what they think? Are they enabled to provide us with truthful answers? Are we ready to listen to and act on those answers? Are we ready to explain why we do things in a certain way when our methods are questioned and are we ready to change our ways when their questions cause us to critically reflect and see improvements we could make in the light of their questioning?
If your community communicates well, effectively, freely, and with sensitivity and respect, then you surely have a learning community where high levels of trust exist and where you are getting the most out of your collective intelligence, experience and wisdom.
Along with high levels of trust and communication, we need also to look at collaboration. That may be a good topic for next time.
Does your school have a vision statement? Do all the people in your school community know the school’s vision? Does your school have a mission statement? Do all the members of your school community know their role in realising the vision? Are they aware of how they can contribute to the shared vision? In this article, we will look into the first of the steps towards a shared vision.
A while ago, I was lucky enough to be inspired by Peter Senge’s ideas about learning organisations and I made this diagram adapted from his work.
As you can see, if we start at the top and follow the arrows around, there are three steps before we get to a shared vision:
It’s not that you can’t have a vision without these three steps, but without high levels of trust, good, appropriate communication and effective collaboration, it’s unlikely that your vision will be shared, or your community enabled to realise it.
Basically, when members of a community have high levels of trust between them, they are more likely to be able to communicate well. When they can communicate well, then they are more likely to collaborate effectively.
What attention do you pay to the levels of trust in your school community? Do you take effective communication for granted? Is your school the sort of school where all the help young people receive in learning to collaborate either happens outside the class or consists of just asking them to get into groups and handing them a problem to solve or project to do? If so then there’s a lot more you can do.
So, how are the levels of trust in your school community? Firstly, where are the lines of trust in a school community?
There are a lot of blue arrows – a lot of places for trust to be developed or lost. There is no room for me to go through them all here (but I suggest you do take time to reflect on each yourself, for your own organisation, because missing one can have damaging consequences). So, let’s just take a quick look at some of these blue arrows of trust.
Some will be obvious to you. For example, if within one group in the school (e.g. learners or teachers or non-teaching staff, etc) there aren’t reasonably high levels of trust between individuals, then school is not going to be a very nice place to be - for them or for those they have to deal with.
Or, if levels of trust are low between members of two groups, the same applies. For example, if the levels of trust are low between learners and teachers - then learning in class will be seriously affected as distrust forms a barrier to healthy learning.
of trust are low between learners and teachers - then learning in class will be seriously affected as distrust forms a barrier to healthy learning What is not so obvious perhaps (but, I believe, easily understandable) are trust relationships between parents, or between non-teaching staff and learners or between outsiders. Let’s briefly look at each of these.
Parents: If parents don’t have high levels of trust between each other, then your Parent Association or community activities will surely be problematic – or at least not go as well as one might hope.
Learners: If trust levels between learners and non-teaching staff are low – what might be the outcome? What do you think happens when your non-teaching staff don’t trust the young people in your school? One thing is that a wealth of learning opportunities are lost. Imagine your secretaries, janitors, cleaners, assistants, technicians, not trusting the young people in their community enough with opportunities for responsibility (adults often underestimate the capacity of young people to take responsibility). As responsibility only grows through opportunity to take it, the opportunities are lost through distrust.
Finally, how could those outside the school community being distrustful of each other affect the school community? I think you can imagine the negative impacts of outsiders being distrustful of the school community, but the members of your school community often come from the outside community. That’s where they come from bringing distrust into school and that’s where they are going back to knowing they have to face it.
So, how do you know if your school community is connected through high levels of trust?
Why not ask? In schools with high levels of trust, you will hear people talking of others positively and about learning opportunities with them – ‘I like the cleaners because they are always so friendly and helpful’; ‘it is always good to see the other mothers in my class because they have such fun together’; ‘I don’t like making mistakes but I feel safe because the teachers/leaders in our school never blame, they just help me fix things’, and so on. Is that what you would hear?
In schools with low levels of trust, their answers will sound more like a litany of complaints, blaming each other and criticism. I think I don’t need to give examples here – we all know them.
What does trust look like in your school? Collect a few colleagues together or a few of your staff and discuss. Don’t accept the first few answers and don’t let anyone get away with trying to tell you what they think you want to hear. Dig deep, then have a break. Come back to it the next day – get people to think. And they will. Then they will start to see where the trust is and where it is not, and perhaps they will begin to see how to fix it where it needs fixing.
What can you do to develop higher levels of trust in your school community and beyond? Here are a few ideas, what can your community add?
#BigIdeas2015 One of the most powerful ideas to be utilised in 2015 will be a learner-development-centred approach to education globally. This will allow us to reach many of the goals visionaries have been talking about for a while now – a transformation of education systems, life-long learning, quality education for all, the alleviation of unemployment, the reversal of disengagement of youth, the bridging of a moral vacuum, the chance that future generations might solve the issues that we have left them with and more.
Learner-development-centred (LDC) education focuses on, surprisingly, developing the learner. No matter what people say, this hasn’t been happening very well in the teacher-centred, student-centred or even learner-centred approaches we see in most schools. LDC approaches initially see parents and teachers identify, create and use opportunities to help young people develop learner attributes – these are the skills, habits and dispositions of good learners. As young people recognise this approach, they also become adept at identifying, creating and using opportunities to develop these attributes for themselves and their peers. This develops a side of who they are that is often neglected - a neglect that leads to unfulfilled lives and unrealised potential. LDC education leads to the development of what we are born with already – the attributes of good holistic learners. We are born as little ‘learning machines’ – everyone is – and, it is the contention of the LDC movement that these attributes are often damaged, supressed or left neglected through traditional school practices. We need to help young people understand the naturally occurring learner attributes they possess and help them to develop these so they can cope and flourish in our natural and constructed worlds
There have been lots of suggestions as to what these learner attributes are and wonderful lists have been made by wonderful people (see below for my favourite – some inspired by the International Baccalaureate’s Learner Profile and some by others such as Guy Claxton’s Building Learning Power)
Above: An example of learner attributes – the attributes are culturally interpretable and not fixed in number. Any change must be rigorously thought through though. What do you do to help young people develop their learner attributes and become the best learners they can be?
Educational organisations should be learning organisations. One of the factors that makes a great learning organisation is ‘shared vision’. We need to see that all education systems, all schools and all educators share a vision – or at least share one aspect of their vision for education namely: to see that all young people become the best holistic learners they can be. The use of the word ‘holistic’ implies here that we need to be good learners in every aspect of our lives and in every situation.
It’s very difficult to argue with this as a goal. There are not many situations where it is good to be a poorer learner than you could be. In academics, in relationships, in new jobs, on new projects, in your community, facing professional or personal or local or global issues, it has to better that the world is full of people who are great learners than people who are not.
How do we help young people (and perhaps ourselves in the meantime) become the best learners they can be? We identify what it takes to be a good learner and we make sure there are plenty of opportunities for them to develop this. We don’t have to wait for the creation of special LDC curricula and LDC text books and LDC technology (although these might help), we just need to start now where we are with what we have. We can bring up children in such a way that we give them more opportunities to become better communicators, have better empathy, be more open-minded, be reflective and so on. A parent can start now, as can a teacher, as can a young person themselves. All they have to do is to develop learner attributes wherever and whenever they can.
If we can help young people to develop their learner attributes so that they (as Professor Guy Claxton says) ‘build their learning power’, children will grow to own their learning. If the primary point of school is learning about subjects, young people will, at the least, encounter the issues as to whether they like these subjects or not or whether they are good at them or not. However, if the primary point of school is to develop ourselves as learners, then subjects become the contexts in which we have lots of opportunity to develop our learner attributes and become better learners. Life is where we build our character and where we can develop our ability to learn and develop as learners. We are born as learners, it’s best to be a good learner and so it seems right that we should give young people every opportunity to become the best holistic learners they can be. If life is where we find and use opportunities to develop learner attributes then school is a place where these opportunities are concentrated and allow us multiple contexts in which to develop as we learn.
Young people are more likely to become engaged in developing a cool and immediately useful part of their existing character (whether it be for the good of the individual or the good of the group) than they are in developing some seemingly remotely useful ability in subjects that hold little current relevance. The Immediate relevance of all subjects is their usefulness in developing us as learners.
Being great learners, young people will immediately be able to apply their ability to learn to things they like doing and things they want to do. They will be happier to find that they can use their ‘learning power’ in order to do better not only at school but also at understanding relationships and interacting with their environments. Being holistic learners and understanding the relevance of collaborating and communicating with others, young people will become more able to take part in solving real issues around them. Schools can encourage this and so can industry and NGOs. All this might even lead to a greater happiness and a few solutions.
We might also find that unemployment is eventually reduced as ‘real’ learners are able to collaborate, be proactive, communicate, be open-minded and innovative enough to create their own jobs, organisations and businesses. There’s more chance that young people leaving school or university will be able to avoid unemployment in any number of ways if they are good learners than if they are not – or if they are good holistic learners than if they are merely good academic learners.
Understanding that we learn best together and that communication, collaboration, trust and having principals as learners leads to a better kind of empathy. The drive to become better learners for the individual and for the common good can, I believe, lead to a different kind of morality – a more fundamental morality than the kind we have been exposed to up to now. This new morality will, I believe, come from our commonality as humans – from seeing what is similar between us and then forming relationships which will hold tight as we explore our differences. As the best holistic learners we can be, we stand a better chance of this than where we are now.
There are many more aspects to LDC education and in this short space and time (as the New Year draws close) to go into all the details however, this year, I and my organisation will be making sure 2015 is the year of learner-development-centred education and perhaps the beginning of a new world for our young people. We hope you will join us.
Developing Real Learners - an NGO set on transforming education globally
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