The Joy of the Struggle – by our Head Teacher, Clare Eddison

/ January 15, 2016

Happy New Year to all and welcome to the new term! The staff team started the year with an Inset from Guy Claxton, during which he introduced us to key concepts and ideas in his Building Learning Power (BLP) programme and discussed how these may translate to the Dharma Primary School. With the enthusiastic agreement of the staff team, our school is now beginning to orient itself towards a BLP approach and this week I wanted to outline why this fits in so comprehensively with our ethos and why it is so beneficial to teach our children in this way.

It is worth mentioning that Guy has spent many years thinking about what sort of education would prime children to be able to thrive as adults in an increasingly complex world. He was part of a seminal group of Buddhist practitioners and interested educationalists that came up with The Elephant’s Footprint 25 years ago, which discussed what a Buddhist school might look and led directly to the establishment of the Dharma Primary School.

During the Inset day, Guy talked about the different layers of learning that have always occurred when children go to school. Of course, in the top layers, children learn facts, knowledge and skills. In a ‘good’ school, according to inspectorates such as ISI and Ofsted, ultimately a good clutch of GCSEs or SATs results is a key indicator of success.

However, the evidence suggesting that young people are not coping well in the 21st century is overwhelming. The demands of 21st century life are exceeding the resources of young people to deal with them, leading to a great deal of stress which is reflected in how they cope at school. As Guy has said about children’s experience of fact learning, “If there is a logic that links understanding acids and bases to the development of real life learning capacity, the lack of which they feel so keenly, it is not obvious to them”. There are also the deeper, slower levels of learning where what is taught is less obvious – and this applies to parental influence too. As children are such great imitators, they are constantly picking up habits of mind, dispositions and values, and they are building an identity. It follows that positive habits of mind and learning dispositions can be taught too.

At the Dharma Primary School, we have always been good at equipping children in emotional literacy and personal development through teaching an empathetic understanding of themselves and others, and also through teaching techniques such as mindfulness meditation and yoga. I have now turned my focus towards overtly building techniques of learning that will serve our children in the long term, which are transferable and lifelong. We want to expand our children’s capacity to learn. These skills or habits of mind are sometimes known as the 4Rs: resilience, resourcefulness, reflectiveness and reciprocity:

* Resilience – knowing how to stick at it

* Resourcefulness – the ability to learn in different ways

* Reflectiveness – the ability to take stock of your learning

* Reciprocity – being able to learn on your own, or with others.

For example – in terms of resilience – being able to stay calm, focused and engaged when you don’t know what to do is not merely a matter of technical training. It requires a self-concept that has not been tainted by the pernicious idea that ‘being confused and making mistakes means you are stupid’. Letting go of such attitudes and beliefs requires guidance, time, consistency and skill.

Guy has been guiding us to reorient our teaching and assisting to enable these learning muscles to grow because research has shown that being interested in the process of learning, the joy of the struggle, also leads to improved test results. We already have so much in place as a school and our children generally leave with above average attainment and skill sets. What we need to be thinking about is the whole of their learning – from nursery, through primary, secondary and tertiary and then out into the world. We want our children to have the confidence to try things that appear difficult, different, or not initially attractive so they can be open to life’s opportunities and excel.

I will leave you with an article that illustrates some of these ideas: How Not to Talk To Your Kids, The Inverse Power of Praise – by Po Bronson


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