10.Teachers as Learners

As teachers, we know that whatever behaviours and attitudes we model as a teacher, our students will pick up on.

This is why the language of learning is so important in developing a learning powered class. This is why it is also so powerful to model the process of learning as an adult (teachers and parents). Modelling learning habits and adult learning can really have an impact on children’s attitude to learning and their progress.

I try to find opportunities to talk to my class about the struggles and successes I face when learning a new skill. It is hard to find the time to do this during a busy school day. However, when I have made the time to do it, I have found the discussion with the children really useful and they pay particularly good attention (I think it’s something to do with the idea of teachers having a life outside of school and also you relating to having the same struggles as them). Just by talking about what you are learning about, you are modelling to the children that learning is a lifelong habit and that learning dispositions and skills will be useful to them outside of school and throughout their lives.

Teachers as learners: modelling learning habits.

The examples I have focused on with my children are learning to snowboard, learning to speak Spanish and learning to sew. The process of learning each skill has different lessons for learning in them for the children. I will pick apart how I share each one with the children and what I try to pick out about the process of learning:

1) Learning to snowboard.

I remember this being hugely frustrating (and painful!). I wasn’t a natural snowboarder. Some people around me seemed to pick it up instinctively which I found extra frustrating! I remember falling over a lot, sometimes in less-than-savoury positions (like face down in the slush at the bottom of a drag lift!).

After a few weeks of wondering why I was doing this, there was a lightbulb moment! I mastered how to turn! I got from the top to the bottom of a green slope without falling over! All that perseverance had paid off. Now I can get from the top to the bottom of the mountain in one piece and I like to ride quickly! However, there’s still plenty to learn. I can’t jump (yet!) or ride switch – those are things I will have to learn and practise.

Pushing myself in my snowboarding to trek and snowboard offpiste.
Pushing myself in my snowboarding to trek and snowboard offpiste.

2) Learning Spanish.

I moved to Argentina about 8 years ago, looking for adventure and aiming to learn Spanish. I (foolishly!) thought learning Spanish would come quite quickly. Once I started, I realised how big a mountain I had to climb. I was suddenly in a world where no-one spoke my language. If I wanted to make friends, I was going to have to learn Spanish quickly. I found learning in this environment really difficult and I got easily frustrated when I couldn’t communicate with others in the way I wanted. Interestingly, what made a huge difference to me was people’s kindness – for example, when I was in a conversation and someone just touched my arm to include me, or if someone made eye contact and smiled.

It took me a year to get to a stage where I could hold a conversation with a group of Argentinians (they like to talk quickly!). Again, there’s still plenty to learn. For example, when I go to Spain, I don’t always understand people straight away because of their accents.

3) Sewing.

This is my favourite one because it is the most current and I sometimes make my own clothing which I can then wear to school and talk to the children about how I made it. For example, I wore the first top I made to school. I talked to the children about where I belonged on the Learning Ladder (“high” because I was learning something new). To model linking back to previous learning, I referred to the skills and knowledge I used from having sewn before (for example, sewing hems). I shared the mistakes I had made, such as cutting the pattern on the wrong side of the material. Then I told them I had a tantrum because I was so frustrated, but my husband helped me to try again (modelling collaboration and being a supportive learner). You could see on the top where the mistake was and how I’d turned it into a “happy mistake”.

Here, I am sewing the wings on to a puppet to turn it into a baby dragon.

Be brave: share your learning as a teacher

I have also shared with the children when I am pushing myself in my teaching and trying out a new lesson idea (such as a new way of mixing up the children). I refer to the Learning Ladder and put my photo on “high” for challenging myself. By doing this it models to the children that I am a risk-taker and I’m always trying to get better at my job. It takes the onus off them if the lesson doesn’t go to plan and I’ve also found that the children strive to make the lesson work because they are invested in your learning process! I love modelling this risk-taking and teaching such supportive learners!

To summarise …

Talking about all of these examples modelled the process of learning to the children. They all model frustrations and the value in persevering (although it can sometimes be hard!). Some show how collaboration can be useful, some show how kindness is always important, some show not to compare yourself to others. Some model “live” the process of risk-taking. All are valuable in their different ways and, once shared, they can be referred back to in order to help the children when they are faced with challenges in their learning (“remember what happened to me when I fell face first in the slush snowboarding … “).

I have always thought this could be built upon beyond the classroom.

  • Could parents come in and share their learning stories?
  • Could assemblies be built around these kinds of examples?
  • Could an open-evening highlight the idea of adults as learners in some way?
  • Could …?
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