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‘Village’ People…

(…or Consciously Creating Community)

ny2 007

I grew up in a city in the 1960s. A network of terraced houses built in the 1800s to accommodate the local docks’ workers. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived a few streets or a short bus ride away. Front doors were frequently left unlocked. There was a butcher’s at the end of the street, a bakery on the corner of the next. My great aunt and uncle owned the local grocery (one of the few family members who were self-employed). We had a Post Office, a pharmacy (‘chemist’s’), a fish’n’chip shop, a cafe, a newsagent’s, a sweet shop and one of those small shops that defies categorisation, selling an odd assortment of bric-a-brac, toys, ironmongery, and textiles. If it had been 19th century USA it would probably have been labelled the ‘General Store’. There was even a small ‘dairy’ – no cows, just a distribution point for the local milkman to collect full milk bottles and deposit the ‘empties’.  All this within five minutes walk of my house. It was a ‘village’ within a city. Half a mile away there was another ‘village’ replicating the variety of shops.

As a toddler, shopping with my mother or grandmother could be interminable. Progress from shop to shop could be slow, as neighbours, acquaintances, and family members randomly met and exchanged news and gossip. Shopping for a neighbour or family member was not unusual. If it rained while you were out shopping, a neighbour would take your washing off the line and put it inside your back door.

Many of my grandparents’ generation lacked formal education, having left school at 14 in order to assist or solely support their families. They valued education and its potential rewards, encouraging their children to aspire to careers beyond the skilled or unskilled manual labour of the docks.

Consequently, family members of my parents’ generation gained a few academic or specialised qualifications. Changing their ‘collar’ colour from blue to white. With greater earning capacity and a wider choice of job opportunities, they left the ‘village’ and began to populate suburbia or more distant population centres. Some emigrated to new continents.

The family homes which had seemed like a busy network of bee-hives, with their constant to-ing and fro-ing between them, became quiet except for ‘celebration’ days or holidays. The telephone became the substitute for face-to-face interaction.

I am a child of the ‘diaspora’. My first cousins are scattered around the globe. The nearest member of my family lives 25 miles away.

The ‘village’ had its negatives as well as its positives. Those that didn’t conform could be shunned, bullied and belittled. They were not necessarily undermining the community, they were often expressing their individuality. You could be gossiped about for wearing clothes that were ‘too loud’ or having ‘ideas above your station’. For some, leaving the ‘village’ was  a liberating experience, essential for their personal growth and well-being. Be assured, I am not idealising. The ‘village’ had its fair share of ‘ne’er-do-wells’, rogues and a criminal element. In addition, maintaining a degree of privacy could be viewed as suspiciously secretive or exclusive.

What’s my point? Where am I going with this?

OK. In the ‘village’, the process of building and maintaining community required a minimum of effort. You could avoid it if you really tried but otherwise it just ‘happened’. The historical/geographical context governed the degree of interaction. Families and neighbours facing similar ‘struggles’ could and would empathise with each other. They would offer support, share resources and seek solutions. If you destroyed trust, the repercussions could last a lifetime (or two)!

In the strive for individualism and independence, have we lost that real sense of interdependence and kinship? How much would you really sacrifice for a suburban neighbour or co-worker who may be there one moment and gone the next? As we have become more ‘mobile’, both work and personal relationships may have a greater sense of ‘impermanence’. Also, if someone destroys trust, they may not have to live with the consequences for too long.

Building classroom communities requires deliberate and sustained effort. The values, attitudes, skills and knowledge to build a healthy community have to be internalised by learners who may not have had the experience of growing up in a ‘village’. The ethos and climate of classrooms cannot be solely dependent on the charisma, mood swings or dictats of the teacher/educator. At the other extreme, empowering learners does not mean allowing ‘jungle law’ to develop.

In a world seemingly driven by mobility and material acquisition, there is an even greater need to acquire ‘values’ which value people and embrace diversity; which value skills needed to develop emotional intelligence and collaboration;  and values which build and maintain community.

While I abhor the abuse of social network media, from a personal point of view, the recent advances in this type of technology has enabled my family ‘diaspora’ to begin a process of reconnection and the rekindling of a sense of kinship. A virtual ‘village’.

We are social animals. We are interdependent. And, while we pursue political or educational policies which promote hierarchy and the selfish individualism of a dog-eat-dog society, we merely serve to widen divisions and ignore our collective responsibility for the well-being of all.

Getting the balance right means that we not only provide opportunity for and tolerance of a diversity of individual aspirations and beliefs but also a sense of responsibility for and contribution to the community, which is dynamic and ever-changing. This is real lifelong learning. And, when individuals feel secure and valued, they develop greater motivation and confidence to take risks and explore their potential.

 

For more thoughts on building and maintaining community see  our previous post ‘All hours, all weathers.’

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All hours, all weathers.

UK roadworks sign. In other European countries...

M4 motorway. 8.30 p.m. Somewhere between Bristol and the Severn Crossing. We have been driving on motorways for three-and-a-half hours. There is another warning sign to reduce speed to 50 mph. Another long stretch of road works. There are average speed cameras looming at intervals. I am moving at exactly 50 mph and have another vehicle ‘tail-gating’ me, despite the fact that the passing lane is empty. 

Lynne commented, ‘They always seem to be working on this motorway. You never seem to be able to just drive it without road-works somewhere or other.’ That got me thinking…

The motorway is built to allow people to reach destinations as swiftly and safely as possible. However, it is subject to constant wear and tear from vehicles and the environment. 

It is alarming how quickly roads can become damaged. One short period of snow and ice can cause a rash of potholes to appear, which, left unchecked, become larger, causing accidents and/or vehicle damage. Underground watercourses can cause subsidence and the seasonal variation in temperature attacks the integrity of the road surface. Even roads built to the highest standards are subject to environmental attack. And the safety of the most well-constructed road is ultimately compromised by the individual or collective behaviour of its users.

The motorway regulations of the Highway Code are there for a purpose – safety. There are those motorists who flagrantly disregard them. You see them travelling at high speed, weaving in and out, ignoring lane priority, tail-gating, intimidating with total disregard for the safety of other road users or their own personal safety. Then there are those of us who, perhaps, just push the boundaries if we think there is a need…and we can get away with it…and then there are middle-lane drivers…don’t get me started!

Yes, road-works can be frustrating, especially when it is unexpected and a delay could have undesirable consequences. Yet without this vigilance and maintenance, the consequences could be fatal. So I had a paradigm shift as I was motoring at a constant 50 mph. ‘Hard hats’ off to the road workers, who are out at all hours in all weather.

A community ethos is a bit like that motorway. It is a ‘living’ thing, constantly changing as it interacts with its environment. You build it for a purpose, to carry your learners safely, swiftly, and as directly as possible, to their destinations. 

Learning communities will never be perfect. The ethos and infrastructure will always be and under attack from all sorts of environmental factors. That is nature’s way. And, no matter how comprehensive our class rules, charters and contracts may be, they are only as effective as the the ‘users’ decide they will be. There are those who will flout, those that will push, those that will comply and those who will be inflexible, unaware or unable to use appropriate judgement (middle-lane drivers…aaargh!).

To maintain a viable ethos in the learning community, we need to be attentive and proactive. Planning for ‘routine maintenance’ ‘seasonal repairs’ and dealing with the potholes as they occur, not waiting until the ‘accident rate’ triggers a response, by which time significant and possibly irreparable damage has been done.  Community building is not something that you do as a ‘one off’ at the beginning of an academic year. It requires constant vigilance and maintenance – reflection and discussion…and…it is the responsibility of all members. Sometimes, you need to be responsive and maintain or repair community when it is not convenient to do so. ‘All hours’ and ‘all weathers’. 

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Better Latte Than Never

So, we left Killin, according to schedule (Honestly..we did!). The A85 is picturesque, single-lane road but also a main artery through the Highlands. Just outside Killin, a set of temporary traffic lights had appeared (which wasn’t there at 8.15 a.m.) and a work crew were resurfacing the road. We joined the queue which is headed by a large articulated lorry. I know, you can already see where this is going…not very far/not very fast!

Unfortunately, we didn’t get over 30 mph for the next 30 miles. At the roundabout on the outskirts of Stirling, the lorry took the exit for the motorway – we cheered. We took the exit for Stirling…and end up behind a JCB digger moving at 15 mph. At this point we both went a bit Victor Meldrew (‘I don’t believe it!). We are obliged to follow the JCB, through Stirling, until we are almost at our destination.

We arrived at Viewforth Offices and found a parking space right outside the main doors (hooray!). We were 10 minutes late for our appointment with Early Years Curriculum Development Officer Mary Pat McConnell. We were acutely aware that Mary Pat had already relinquished a good portion of our planned meeting time so that we could squeeze in another school visit.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.** Reception cannot locate Mary Pat. We had a momentary panic that we were in the wrong meeting venue. Not so (Phew!) Eventually, Mary Pat appeared and we exchanged apologies for lateness. She, like us, had been unavoidably delayed and not in a position to send or receive messages on her mobile phone.

We headed off to the canteen. Where we had a very focused and productive 20 minute meeting (brainstorm – distil – decide – design) fuelled by an extra shot in the Starbucks latte (Thanks Mary Pat!) and we were off to our next port of call!

Better Latte Than Never

The learning journey. We had a plan, we had a schedule, we had means of communication. However, real life happened. Plans had to change, we had to adapt. At times, despite our frustration, there was nothing we could do. Our speed was being dictated by outside forces. There were points on the journey that we could have ‘escaped’ the lorry but this would have still lengthened our journey or we could have become completely lost. There are times when that would be OK, or even fun, but not on this occasion!

Despite a practitioner’s best effort, thorough planning, passion and enthusiasm, there are so many external forces that can impact on learners and learning. This is not about finding excuses, it is about recognising and acknowledging that learning is a messy business. And unless we recognise, acknowledge and deal with ‘real life’ forces, no amount of imposed ‘structure’ and standardised testing is going to affect significant positive change in a learning culture.

And finally, there are often unexpected bonuses when plans go awry. In this case, if all had gone according to plan, we might never have met the lovely Linda Stevenson, whom we had only spoken to on the phone.

**Does this make sense in an age of digital timepieces?

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Killin Time

We had been warned that it would be an ‘interesting’ drive to Killin, especially with the threat of icy roads, however, no-one had told us how beautiful if would be! Dawn broke as we passed through Callander and the magnificent mountains appeared through the morning mist.

On arrival at Killin Nursery, we were welcomed by Head of Nursery Elizabeth Hancock, who is responsible for the Killin and Crianlarich Nurseries. It is also an unexpected treat to see Wendy Garner again, who had been on our training last year. 

©Killin Nursery 2012

After a quick tour, Elizabeth leaves us in the capable hands of her Early Years Educators and the children. Everywhere you look in Killin Nursery there is evidence of learners leading learning and purposeful ‘documentation’ – from the visible wall-planning to the fascinating and captivating ‘photo-books’.

 

Everyone is talking about ‘the wolf’ and it’s whereabouts. A model wolf, which had once stood outside the recently closed Tourist Office, had been removed. This has caused consternation amongst the children, for whom it was an identifiable landmark. Recognising that this was an issue of genuine interest to the children, the educators have made ‘What has happened to the wolf?’ a central focus from which the learning grows. 

There have been letters from the wolf, footprints, and sightings. The children have been investigating by asking local community members (including a bemused policeman) to assist with locating the wolf. 

We overhear a fascinating discussion between some children about how high a wolf can jump. There is higher-order reasoning going on here. One boy knows how high his dog can jump and estimates that the wolf is a similar size, so, should be able to clear a fence. 

On seeing us standing nearby and listening, one boy grabs my hand and leads me over to the wall. He excitedly points out his map amongst many.

‘This is where the wolf is. This is where we went looking!”

He then proceeds to tell me about all the other maps and who they belong to…ending the conversation with,

“But don’t be scared. No need to worry. The wolf only comes alive at night. He sends us letters then.”

There is a real feeling of community with a sense of enthusiasm and excitement about learning…from learners of all ages! Thank you Elizabeth for our invitation. We look forward to a return visit in the not-too-distant-future. 

©Single Steps Learning 2012

By the way, Andrew used to be a werewolf but he’s alright noooooooooow!

 

 

 

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Trick or Treat?

Trick or Treat?

Uh-oh. It’s All Hallows’ Eve and the last blog entry was on the 10th October. Shame on us! We have a bit of catching up to do!

 

First, it’s down to Dorset. Two days with 20 leaders of learning. Thanks to Prince of Wales First School  and headteacher Peter Farrington for hosting the event. We look forward to seeing you all again in February…but we’ll be keeping in touch via the Wikispace. And Gary…keep on tweeting!

 

Next, it was back to Wales and our first twilight session in Henllys CiW Primary. Exploring the power of photo-feedback and designing linked learning experiences. Thanks to Michelle Bellew and her staff for remaining awake and upright after a day of hundreds of individual learning interactions!

 

And it’s back across the bridge and down the M5 to Dorset again. Thanks to Veronique Singer for inviting us and hosting the event at Radipole Primary School, Weymouth. We had a great day with leaders of learning from Radipole, Southill, Portesham and St Nicholas & St Laurence schools. A creative, collaborative learning community in action!

 

Finally, we head north to Stirling, donning thermal underwear and woolly hats (thanks Claire!). Three days of exploring and experiencing learning. It was heartening to see the impact that DfL is having in the local settings. A privilege to work with such dedicated educators.

 

So, three countries and four treats for us…

 

….and a trick….no thanks to the driver who created the additional lane between the tollbooths on the Severn Crossing and created a half-mile tailback during the rush-hour on the Friday before half-term. May your doorbell be rung constantly tonight!!!

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Safely, Fairly, Fully

We would like to thank the staff of Glyncoed Comprehensive School for their professionalism over three intense days of training. They engaged safely, fairly and fully with each other and ourselves, enabling laughter to accompany learning. They showed incredible stamina (fuelled by the occasional ‘sugar rush’!) and commitment considering it was the last three days of the school year! It was impressive and encouraging to see evidence of collaborative learning at both classroom and staff level. And we have to say that the pupils were amongst the most courteous that we have encountered.

Looking forward to returning in September!

 

(Thanks to Cath Hart for allowing her photo to appear on our blog!)

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I’m going to drive 500 miles…

 

…and I’m going to drive 500 more! 

7 miles from home and we hit 1000 miles for the trip!  

Tired, but content! A very successful trip to Stirling. Super people, great teachers, intense learning. 

And somehow we managed to rub shoulders with Timmy Mallet on the spiral steps of the Wallace Monument!

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EY Practitioners – Stirling is lucky to have such a talented bunch!

Just spent 3 days with a great group of Early Years Practitioners in Stirling! Tiring for all – but lots of learning and laughter….and chocolate! Keep doing what you are doing….and keep in touch!

 

Great to catch up with Lynda and Shona again! Lynda – wishing you all the best in your new job…!!

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Antioch University

Antioch University, Keene

Thank you to Peter and Laura for hosting the meeting! Great opportunity to share thoughts on learning and the educational climate in both the UK and USA. Looking forward to future collaboration and many more meetings!

Information about us on the Antioch website.

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Stirling…

The OK Diner is NOT in Stirling! It is in on the outskirts of Leominster. However, it did furnish us with a cup of coffee and a cinnamon and raisin bagel on our way to Scotland.

Thanks to all the ‘DfL’ Step One participants this week who engaged so fully. You are a credit to your profession and to learning. It’s real commitment to give up your Saturday!

Thanks to Lynda for organising our Stirling events. 

Also huge thanks to Claire for keeping us fed and giving us beds; Katie-Morag for guarding and entertaining us; and Masterchef Alison for her Orkney culinary delights. Hmm…this is beginning to sound like an Oscar speech…

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