'Can you help me?'
In school, we spend a great deal of time focusing on the way children learn. The ‘what’ is of course important – a syllabus needs to be covered and certain skills need to be introduced and practised before the next steps can be taken. However, once a syllabus is written, the work of the teacher becomes much less about the ‘what’ and much more about the ‘how’.
To help our younger children understand the key attributes we want them to apply to all their learning, we refer to characters from Roald Dahl books. Mr Fox teaches us how to be resourceful; Sophie, from the BFG, shows us the benefits of resilience; Matilda is reflective; Charlie Bucket relates to others. We want the children to know how to work with others and also be able to be independent. We want them to be able to work together and solve problems for themselves. As they get older, Mr Fox may not be needed but the ability to be resourceful is as important as ever.
Good teachers answer questions with questions, rather than giving a direct answer. This way, the children are encouraged to keep exploring their own ways to reach an answer, and learning is active not passive. Good teachers ask for opinions and reflection, so that their pupils can take the lead as often as possible. Good teachers give children thinking time. If we’re asked a question that requires thought, we need to give time for thinking. Ten seconds may not seem like much to contemplate a complex question, but when waiting for a response, the silence can stretch. If you are the person who has been asked a question, it’s good to have time to think. If you are the person waiting for the answer, it’s tempting to try to fill the silence. Good teachers don’t give into that temptation.
One observation the teachers noted at the end of the first week back for pupils in those year groups who have returned to the school campus was that some were more hesitant about thinking things through for themselves than they had been earlier in the year - their confidence to have a go, which we always firmly encourage, has diminished somewhat. Whether in one of the Pre-Prep years or much older in Year 6, the same observations have been noted: the children are a little more cautious, a little less brave and a little more concerned to get it right first time.
Of course, having been at home for a number of weeks, learning with their teachers on Teams rather than face-to-face in a classroom environment with their friends by their side and the buzz of school life all around them, was always going to have an unsettling impact. The novelty was bound to wear off after so many weeks out of school no matter how hard everyone, at school and at home, has worked together to make remote learning as vibrant an experience as we can. It’s come as no great surprise therefore that some of the learning attributes need revisiting to get the children's 'independent thinking muscles' toned up.
The children whom we have welcomed back in school this week are quickly remembering that making a brave mistake is more valuable to us than achieving cautious perfection. For those children still learning from home, whatever their age, we ask our parents to keep encouraging them to be curious and independent, and to praise them more for their brave mistakes than for anything else.