This week’s article comes to us from Nicholas Garrick, Director at Lighting Up Learning, leaders of the Bristol Hub of the Natural Connections Demonstration Project . As an Executive Coach he works with people to explore possibilities and solutions and as facilitator and consultant he looks for potential to create sustainable impact. He leads the School Direct Primary PCGE Programme for the Cabot Learning Federation, and as part-time Assistant Principal, he is dedicated to creating a set of experiences within the curriculum that enable the learners at Wallscourt Farm Academy to be sensitive, independent, confident, competitive global citizens. He also works as part of the British Council School Leadership Team.
Outdoor learning is not the same as learning outdoors. From a teacher’s perspective, outdoor learning implies something different or new. It suggests that learning outdoors is somehow better. Whilst the evidence in taking children outdoors is compelling, we have to be careful that it is not presented in such a way that make teachers feel guilty for not engaging it in the way others think they should.
A lesson taught poorly outdoors is still a poor lesson. Just taking it outside does not make it automatically better. Teachers need to be encouraged to decide where the place for learning is, be that park, shop, field or classroom.
Teachers are under more pressure than ever and from my teacher/project leader/consultant perspective is not that there is a lack of innovation or desire to connect children with the world around the. It is more an issue of low confidence and capacity. To in the current educational landscape is tricky. Not many people outside of teaching realise this, but everything that known about schools five years ago has changed. The way schools hold teachers to account, curriculum, standards, funding, assessment, even the pedagogical principles themselves have changed. It is not bad, just different, and it is this difference, and the adjustment to it, which has taken teacher’s attention away from seeking creative learning opportunities in order to implement policy changes. Academisation of schools is a hot topic, closely followed by assessment, but neither of these really have a day-to-day impact on the way a curriculum could be experienced. Schools need help to navigate through the noise of national agendas and focus on making learning exciting and irresistible.
Of course, a teacher is only as creative as their Head teacher enables them to be. In the age of age-related standards and performance-related pay, it is becoming more and more challenging for Head teachers to be brave, and give permission for innovation. Innovation and risk are symbiotic and as many schools are under pressure to increase results, time away from the board is less popular. Don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming schools, and in fact there are many schools that take learning outside regularly, but what I am saying is that it is hard. Some encouragement is needed. Small steps.
We have been fortunate enough to lead projects regionally that do exactly this: focus on creating great learning experiences in the most relevant place for them. We have done this in part through the, connecting teachers with providers face to face. These opportunities to understand context, challenges and together how to overcome them has been very successful. One such vehicle has been the Natural Connections Demonstration Project, which will share it’s findings on 14th July. Over the last three years the data is clear: teacher confidence to take learning into less familiar settings is low and the permission to innovate is not always clear. This may not be anything new, but we cannot ignore it any longer. Teachers are desperate to have horizons widened; permission to explore needs to be made explicit from school leaders, and, providers need to think of themselves as collaborators not service providers.
To address this, we have created Learning Everywhere – a framework to connect those involved in providing learning experiences for young people to the world. Everyone who comes to events shares and steals ideas. They swap contact details and match people to faceless organisations. People to people, face to face, everyone equal.
In the age of digital platforms, emails and glossy colour brochures, providers need to stop shouting their wares at schools and begin collaborating with them, exposing them to what is possible. Equally teachers need to pull their heads out of the sand, stop saying what isn’t achievable and start thinking about where the best place is to learn. Providers need to stop producing lesson plans arbitrarily linked to the national curriculum (that teachers don’t use), and start thinking about how to entice teachers with irresistible learning opportunities that enhance the national curriculum and empower them.
The future of learning is in investing time to understand, personally connect and collaborate equally: offer as much as you take.
Read about the new Learning Everywhere movement championed by Nic and his colleagues here.