Why dedicate yourself to introducing and promoting a way of thinking about, and going about, teaching and learning?
I was asked this question and have been asking myself the same thing as I struggle to make a significant impact on teaching and learning through the promotion and adoption of my concept of “learning Intelligence”. After a career teaching and seven years of reflection, research and developing a vocabulary and narrative for what works in teaching and learning I need to answer this question in order to continue to justify my efforts and to remain motivated. Motivation often comes from recognising the goal or benefits; here is my attempt at that challenge, of having a reason to continue.
- The “one way” of learning does not work for everyone. Putting aside SEND challenges not all learners thrive in the school environment.
- There are a lot of people who go through education and form the wrong impression about their abilities and about their ability to learn. As a result, there is a significant amount of talent that may never be discovered.
- Learners who are unable to engage in the learning present challenges for teachers and often dealing with these challenges impact the learning of others and the classroom dynamics, or teacher/learner relationships.
- The school has a lifelong impact on us and influences our careers and opportunities. To “fail” at school leaves a deep and lasting scar.
- There is a need for a narrative that brings together what we know or think about learning in a meaningful and coherent way and gives us the flexibility to challenge the “one way”.
- The benefits of the LQ approach are significant and build self-esteem in learners.
- There are a significant number of teachers who could benefit from adopting the LQ approach to teaching and learning.
- LQ promotes seeing learning as a problem-solving activity and develops life-long learners able to face new learning challenges with minimal support.
- I want to make a positive difference to teaching and learning.
Through the Teach Meets at which I have presented and my workshops with teachers it is clear not all teachers see the issue of underachievement as a significant one to address. Perhaps many are happy to believe the mantel learners wear based on past performances and work within it. I would argue that to do so we accept labels as definitive and unchangeable. Underachievement is not solely based within the group those who fail to “perform” it is also within the group who adopt compliance as a strategy to cope with the learning environment in which they find themselves. This group I find often do not possess the skills, attitudes, attributes or behaviours to manage their environment to meet their needs. They respond poorly to target setting without these needs being addressed, needs that are often overlooked as we race to achieve those targets.
Finally, I am reminded of a sobering truth.
It is no good having an answer if nobody is asking the question!
Let me know what you think. Should I continue to promote the concept of LQ and learners needs and if so how?
If you would like to get in touch to find out more about my work or perhaps engage me to challenge you and your staff about teaching and learning then click the link below.
The two aspects of Learning Intelligence, “LQ”
It is fair to say not all learners thrive in the educational environment of the school.
Do we though, instead of investigating and remedying this situation, allow ourselves to believe another cause for this shortcoming?
Reflecting on my time as a teacher there has always been those students who do well in school and those who don’t but then go on to have great success in learning once they leave. We may say, and many have, that they eventually wake up to the necessity of a good education and knuckle down to it. Whilst this may be true along with other reasons such as those below it does not change the outcome, some students don’t do well in the school environment.
Some of the reasons given by teachers for students not doing well at school include:-
- they were lazy at school
- they mixed with the wrong crowd
- too easily distracted
- had too much time off
Sometimes a change of school brings a change in the learner so we could ask is it really the school environment since all we have done is swap one for the other, it is still a school environment. There are more than likely many reasons why students suddenly start doing well after a period of languishing in the bottom percentages so to try to find a single one is questionable. I would agree unless that is you believe in the effect of the teacher-learner relationship.
Ask any student if they had a favourite teacher and the answer is more than likely “Yes”, even if overall they did not do well at school. Without doubt, a teacher makes a significant difference to the learning experience. I was once ‘tracked down’ by an ex-student who told me it was their experience with me as their teacher some 15 years earlier that was now their motivation to become a teacher. Wow!
Any student who leaves school without realising their potential is a wasted opportunity. I have come across too many adults who express this very sentiment for it not to be so, regrets abound. We can go on saying it’s the students fault or even blaming each other or the system or we can do something about it.
As teachers we do far more than teach subjects, we build relationships with learners. Where learners find the school environment ‘toxic’ we have the opportunity to build relationships that help them overcome such effects, or we could say they were lazy, mixed with the wrong crowd or were not very bright!
The key to helping students not only survive in school but thrive is in meeting their needs. I am not talking about learning styles or developing grit or even the psychology of a growth mindset. I am talking about the needs that are at the core of developing relationships. We all have them, we as teachers and as partners or as a member of a family all have them. Meet these needs and we have engagement and co-operation, don’t and we have excluded and disaffected individuals.
In teaching, it can be difficult not to focus on delivering the curriculum and assessing progress but this can overshadow meeting learner’s needs. Is this the real reason some students dot do well in the school environment I wonder. Luckily it is a simple matter to remember these needs and to include them in our interaction with others. I have developed a mnemonic to do just that and even the acronym that represents them is easy to remember too.
So “Please Be Child Friendly” in your teaching and “Please Be Colleague Friendly” in your working relationships.
Here is a quick overview of PBCF and a useful graphic
Power – having a voice, being acknowledged
Belonging – being recognised and remembered
Choice – offered choice and understanding the resulting consequences
Fun – enjoying what you do and celebrating success
Using PBCF in your own work.
If you would like a workshop on how to develop PBCF in your teaching or in leadership or management then please get in touch. Look out for the book “Understanding and Managing Learning Needs” too, its about to be published and it is a comprehensive guide to all the factors associated with developing PBCF in teaching.
Part 4. The impact of the no one learning environment cont.
A blame culture, the ultimate outcome of the “one way”.
Earlier I explored the impact of the one way not working. I described how in my experience it leads to the tightening of monitoring and checking systems, inflexible frameworks and the limiting of creativity (or in some cases finding “creative” ways around inflexibility). Now we turn to whose fault is it the one way is not working.
If the one way to learn, the prescribed approach, is not working then it is the fault of someone. Who is that “someone”? At the start there are always a lot of things to point the finger at, after time though the number dwindles. That someone was the Local Education Authority, trendy (lazy) teachers, progressive teaching methods, low aspirations, parents, disruptive students etc. Now it is either the leadership of the school or the teacher or a lack of effort on the part of the learner (also the fault of the teacher). In such cases it is easy to get into a cycle of finger pointing or a blame culture.
We in the UK are definitely into a blame culture and as we move further and further into it the language used by government gives this away. We hear things like “we are introducing a new check”, “pupils at risk of falling behind” , “target those areas” and “children aren’t being given a fair shot to succeed”. More the language of war you would think (the outcome of desperation?) than education perhaps. Then there is the “takeover” manoeuvre (there is that war analogy again!), the one where those who were “in charge” or responsible are no longer trusted and a new regime is installed. In the UK it is academy trusts who take over “failing schools” but these are also failing (as we would expect if the one way does not work!). It’s certainly a dilemma for any government that persists on the one way path. I suppose with so much invested in the one way, both personally, as well as politically, it is hard if not impossible to even consider another way let alone more than one way.
What we do know is the learning environment created by the pursuit at all costs of the one way is very toxic for those involved in leadership, teaching, and learning. Finding a way to deal with this environment is the key to improving teaching and learning. We know that through regulation and inspection leadership and teachers have their hands tied so this leaves the learner. A simple analogy that describes how we may proceed in dealing with a toxic environment that is not going to change is living somewhere really cold and wanting to be warm. You can ask for sunnier days, less snow and ice each year or longer summers and shorter winters until you are blue in the face (ignoring climate change). You are asking for the unlikely if not impossible. The more successful way is to acclimatise yourself to the environment and seek ways of managing it in order to get what you want – to be warm. So you learn what clothes to wear and how to wear them, you practice ways of getting and keeping warm and after a while you are warm, despite the environment.
If we take the same approach in teaching and learning then it’s not about changing the learning environment to meet the needs of the learner it’s about equipping the learner to manage the learning environment to meet their learning needs. This is important not only because of the one way problem but because we do not learn just in schools or managed environments. We have the opportunity to learn in a number of different environments. For example at home, in work, during leisure and in a social setting are all potential learning environments. My experience is that some learners do not do well in one school environment but thrive in another, some do not do well in any formal education environment but thrive when on work placements, and some excel in leisure pursuits but do less well in school. They are the same person but achieve differently in different environments. If we wanted evidence that we need to equip learners with the skills, attitudes, attributes, and behaviours (SAAB) to manage their learning environment then we need look no further than these examples. Where their SAAB matches the environment they flourish, where it does not they struggle.
My claim is that in these situations the learner possesses the appropriate SAAB profile for the environment in which they thrive but not the profile for those where they struggle. It occurs to me that we need to broaden or develop the SAAB profile of the learner such that they can thrive in any learning environment. We need to work with the learner to explore their learning needs and how this impacts on their learning beliefs. To build in the learner the ability to see a difficulty to learn not as a personal weakness but as a result of the environment they are in and not having the SAAB to mange it effectively.
Links to earlier parts are:
As a result of our desire in education to find the magic bullet, the one way to teach and ideal way to learn that will make our education systems the best I would argue we are neglecting the learner. We are requiring compliance rather than seeking engagement. I would go as far as saying we are disabling the learner. For part 1 of this article the link is: http://wp.me/p2LphS-qA
Surely every new idea, theory, or approach is aimed at making it easier or better for the learner. So how can this be? The answer lies in the impact on the learner and their involvement in the learning.
Building our self-perception as a learner
Experience should suggest to anyone in teaching or wanting to learn that we each have learning preferences, those things that we believe help us to learn. Some feel more alert in the morning or like to discuss ideas with others rather than read about them. It may be the environment we are in, who we are with or any number of other factors that influence our moods and energy levels. Our learning preferences often change too, they are after all preferences. Like all preferences they are influenced by context, our own emotional, mental and physical development as well as our environment. We present our learning preferences as learning needs (tangibly some times as motivators represented by desired rewards) to be fulfilled in order to learn. Understanding about the impact of and of the changes in our learning needs is part of LQ.
In situations where we do not have our learning needs met we feel uncomfortable, see ourselves as “unable” or struggle to engage and require significantly more encouragement or motivation to participate in the learning. We are after all fighting off a driving need, trying to put it to the back of our mind. This subduing of need, of not having a preference met, requires energy and concentration. Both of these would normally be allocated to the learning task at hand. We are therefore left without a focus on learning with our efforts being divided between two tasks. We are in effect being distracted from learning. Just ask yourself what your concentration is like when you are hungry or cold or the chair you are sitting in is uncomfortable and I think you will understand my point.
The split in our efforts to learn and in our efforts to meet our learning needs does not have to be an equal one. In truth very little effort may be available for learning depending on how significant our needs are, to what degree they are not being met and how much effort is needed to achieve or repress them. This may go some way to explain why some learners learn easier and are more relaxed in some learning environments than in others.
Repressing a need can also lead to a build-up of stress. How we respond when stressed depends on a number of factors, the range, and type of behaviours that we have learnt as well as our environment and our perceived options (self-efficacy). Chronic stress often occurs when we feel we have no choices and no voice. An excessive stress level also limits learning as it robs us of our objective thinking and disturbs our emotional balance. We often make irrational choices when chronically stressed too.
I find that “inexperienced learners” often perceive this struggle between meeting learning needs and learning as an indication that they are unable to learn. It influences our perception of ourselves as a learners. This perception can be, and often is, wrong. It is the result of this conflict in application of energy and effort to have our learning needs met and to engage in the learning process. The long term damage occurs when this turns from a perception into a belief. The power of LQ is that it gives the learner both the tools and insight to challenge these false beliefs. It allows them to redefine their perception of themselves as learners. LQ broadens the strategies a learner can use to overcome learning barriers caused by not having their learning needs met.
Our self-beliefs as learners is critical to our success as learners. What we cannot rely on as learners is there being one way to learn and that this way will always be created for us. It is a false hope that I suggest can have a catastrophic impact on teaching and learning. It is up to the learner to develop the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours that will allow them to master any learning environment. Learners need to focus on developing their Learning Intelligence in order to manage their learning environment.
In following parts I will explain why I believe that as there is no single ideal learner profile there is no one learning environment and no one environment that meets all learning needs.
It’s the Holy Grail in teaching, to ensure all learners reach their potential, and we have tried all manner of ways to find it.
What if the answer was staring us in the face all along? Would we recognise it and would we grasp the opportunity with both hands? My experience as a teacher and consultant suggests not. Along with my solution, that of developing Learning Intelligence, here is why we have not taken the opportunity so far.
Politicians consider it too risky to leave education to what they perceive as chance and imagine they can dictate and control it through inspection and the setting of targets. The trouble with this is we only see the things we are looking for and only hit the things we aim for. This limits creativity, innovation, and risk taking. It also sets a limit on what can be achieved, if you are required to hit a target at 100m why try to hit it at 1000m? There is no point in making the extra effort. The target has got to be constantly revised otherwise there is no challenge and “moving the goal posts” hardly appears fair when you were so close to achieving it. Targets may do more to de-motivate than to motivate.
Leadership misunderstand their responsibilities. It is often interpreted as the imposing of policies sent down by politicians, even if it does not foster a learning relationship between the teacher and learner. This behaviour can inhibit them from reacting to local needs and conditions. The true role of leadership is to ensure only those initiatives and ideas that actually promote the learning relationship are supported.
I find that teachers are inclined to teach the way they learn and were taught. Perhaps it is difficult to even imagine another way when the way you learnt was so successful for you. The drive to be a teacher is often to help give the opportunities that became available to you as a result of your education to others, so why do it any differently. Teachers are the instruments by which policy is applied and targets achieved so they have little freedom to explore alternatives or little inclination to take risks.
Parents have bought into the passive learning model. Their children go to school to be taught and that model is one they themselves experienced. In this model the responsibility for a lack of achievement is easily directed at the teacher and certainly away from them as parents or their children as learners. They insist the school tries harder, sets more homework, and makes their children learn so long as it does not take up too much of their time.
Employers are not sure what they want an education system to do to prepare young people for the world of work. We hear that many of the jobs our students will be doing when they leave school don’t exist yet so I suppose this makes it difficult. In the absence of a clear picture of what is required we hear the common call for “the basics”, but often that is left vaguely defined and what is the basics for one employer may not be for another. Many call for “soft skills”*, skills that complement the job related or “hard skills”. Schools are not measured or given targets for these skills so they do not form part of the directed curriculum and therefore are not given a high priority.
The solution, the one that is staring us in the face. There is a simple way of enabling learners and we can find fragments of it scattered through current and past research, writings, and practices. Some call for better feedback in the learning cycle, building learning power, some for a more mindful approach to learning and others of requiring grit from the learner.
Each has a piece of the jigsaw but no one person or concept has it all. No one, until now that is, has brought what we know about teaching and learning together under one unifying approach or concept. So we move from one initiative or idea to another. Each time hoping that each will help find the Holy Grail. What we should be doing is unifying our efforts into working with learners to develop their ability to manage their learning environment to meet their learning needs. Just take a moment to reflect on this statement before I go on to explain what this means.
I claim that successful learners are those who are able to interact with their learning environment and that their environment meets their learning needs. This explains why some learners do well at school but not as well as adults and why some learners who struggled in school do well in the real world. Where there is a match between the school environment and the needs of a particular learner they will do well, where there is not any learner will struggle to reach their true potential in that environment. Other factors must come into play for an individual who is mismatched with their learning environment to achieve their potential.
An analysis of this reality suggests that there are a set of skills, attributes, attitudes, and behaviours that learners who are successful in any environment have or display. They are able to adapt their environment to meet their needs and overcome environmental limiting factors. I call this “Learning Intelligence” or LQ for short and it represents the way we can help all learners to reach their true potential.
The evidence that supports the concept of LQ is there for us to see if we adopt an open mind to the issues of learning. Perhaps the first glimpses we have seen of LQ in action has been as a result of the changing of the learning environment through technology. For example the Khan Academy and YouTube have shown that learners can respond successfully to a different learning environment to that of the school. What these new learning environments provide is a better match to the learner’s needs. We hear also of the “gamification” of learning as we see the effort people are willing to put into these type of environments. It seems obvious then that if we develop the learner’s ability to manage different learning environments to meet their learning needs by developing their LQ that they will be in better position to reach their potential.
There are numerous benefits to the LQ approach to learning too.
- We do not have to worry about what new initiatives or ideas that may come along for the learner will be equipped to deal with them.
- The concept of life-long learning becomes a reality because the learner will be able to cope with any change in learning environment.
- Teachers are not asked to plan and deliver lessons to accommodate numerous learning styles and can focus on what matters – building relationships and turning knowledge into understanding.
- Parents can be helped to understand how the environment they create at home also impacts learning.
- Politicians can relax a little knowing that they have a society of learners that can adapt to changes in the skills, knowledge or understanding required of them during their working life.
- Employers will get the employees they are looking for.
So we have a simpler and better way to approach learning if we want it.
For an introduction to LQ go to: https://magic.piktochart.com/output/2297869-learning-intelligence
For workshops, keynote speeches or for more about how developing LQ can release the potential of learners you can contact me at email@example.com
Graphic from: http://erdmute.deviantart.com/art/holy-grail-png-100234405
The original post below was written THREE years ago now.
It’s not exactly easy re-reading an article you wrote some time ago and finding that it’s still so relevant to education in the UK. Hope appears to takes a bit of a bashing when this is the case. So here is my hope once again and what I see as the responsibility of school leadership to make it happen.
“If whatever change comes along supports or enhances the relationship you have with your students and will improve your teaching and their learning then make it your own. If on the other hand it will erode or fracture your relationships with the students you teach and thereby make teaching and learning harder than it is then find ways to either deflect the change or modify it in a way that causes no harm.”
The original article “All Change – or is it?”
Here in the UK a new term is about to begin and we have new direction from Ofsted in the form of revised guidance and a new Secretary of State for Education. Some teachers will be joining new schools and many will be facing the challenges of getting to know and teach new classes. Some teachers may even be taking on new challenges in the way of responsibilities or even the subjects and syllabi they will be teaching. The school may be facing new challenges or targets and there may even be new leadership intent on bringing about improvements. A new timetable always brings with it a certain level of stress too as teachers and students try to remember where they should be and when and with what. A timetable can have a significant impact on the quality of teaching and learning and when the “tail wags the dog” instead of enabling as the timetable can sometimes do many pay the price during the year. You would be forgiven for being overwhelmed even before you sit and listen to the Head setting out the challenges and goals for the year ahead.
The principles on which teaching is based
Luckily there are the routines and traditions that can form the refuge for the bewildered and confused and these can be found in the classrooms, corridors, and playgrounds of the many schools facing the new term. There will be a desk and seat, a teacher, a focal point, a register to call, rules to follow, expectations and things to learn. These are the everyday realities of teaching and even with interactive whiteboards, improved planning rubrics, simpler assessment systems, computers and tablets, 3-D spaces and the odd new pencil case little if anything really changes when it comes to the actual job of teaching.
It’s not all about resources
I have seen some of the best teaching with the most basic of resources and simplest of systems and some of the poorest teaching with the most sophisticated of resources and most intricate of systems. I have also seen some of the best teaching with the least motivated of learners and some of the poorest teaching with those learners so eager to conform and please.
If you are now expecting me to call for a back to basics approach or to ignore change because we have all seen it before and no doubt it will come around again then I must disappoint you. Neither am I advocating that you jump in with both feet and take on board whatever change you face with as much enthusiasm you can muster. What I am reminding you of is the importance of building the firm foundations that will allow you to teach and then I am asking you to consider everything else in light of this one responsibility and this is it: If whatever change comes along supports or enhances the relationship you have with your students and will improve your teaching and their learning then make it your own. If on the other hand it will erode or fracture your relationships with the students you teach and thereby make teaching and learning harder than it is then find ways to either deflect the change or modify it in a way that causes no harm.
In my view it is the role of the leadership team to ensure that the learning environment and the relationships between teacher and learner are protected at all times and from all directions.
Leadership responsibilities and change, reform and new ideas
Below is a diagrammatic representation of what I see as the principle role of leadership in this respect. There is a lot to take in in one go but focus on the learning responsibility ratio (the rectangle shaded blue at the bottom) which, if protected, should naturally over time move from an emphasis on the teacher to prepare, plan, motivate, engage and encourage to the learner taking more responsibility for managing the learning environment to meet their own needs. This transition has a great deal to do with “Learning Intelligence” and “Learning Needs”* (not learning styles). Although I have not shown what happens when the leadership fails to protect this relationship in effect the responsibility reverts to the teacher and we end up with a “saw tooth” rather than a straight line transfer. In extreme cases the learner may abdicate all responsibility for learning since any immediate consequences fall on the teacher and not the student.
If you would like to explore the Teacher Learner Relationship then please see this article.
If we accept that it is the teacher’s responsibility to manage the learning environment then here are my four foundation stones for teaching.
There are “Learning Needs” and we all have them. When planning lessons make sure you include these four headings. The 4 learning needs are based on 35 years of teaching experience but the headings come from William Glasser [i] Its an easy set to remember – just Please Be Child Friendly in your approach and planning!
1) Power – how will I give my students a voice and show them that I am listening to their concerns and needs?
2) Fun – how will I build the link between fun and achievement and how will I ensure we celebrate success to make learning fun?
3) Choice – what choices will I allow and how will I link these to consequences? How can I show them that they can have some control over their learning environment and that in doing so they can make learning easier?
4) Belonging – what can I do to build a sense of belonging as I develop my relationships with my students in a way that builds trust and loyalty?
* Want to know how you can develop this model in your organisation or find out more about how LQ can improve the performance of your students?
* For more on the school learning environment see an earlier article “The First LQ Topic Review – LQ and the School Environment”
I can be contacted by phone at 01604 891229 or 07519743941
By e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Through Skype: ace-d.co.uk
* For an alternative way to explore planning through what I call “Learning Intelligence” then see the article “Learning Intelligence (LQ) and Lesson Planning” at: http://wp.me/p2LphS-a6
For an introduction to Learning Intelligence then see: http://wp.me/p2LphS-3p and a graphic covering the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours at: https://magic.piktochart.com/output/2297869-learning-intelligence
For a detailed exploration of learning needs I have published an e-book “Understanding Learning Needs” available for download at: http://www.ace-d.co.uk/id10.html Priced at £4.95. This book has been recognised by experienced professionals as an excellent reminder of the important things in teaching and learning and by those mentoring and guiding new teachers as sound advice and guidance for a successful career.
[i] William Glasser (2001) Choice Theory in the Classroom, Harper
What has an ability to manage your learning environment and a world record sprinter got in common?
When Usain made his way onto the world stage, first as a junior and then professionally, he was not the “traditional” shape of a sprinter. When we look back pre Bolt sprinters were short, well built, muscular, powerful athletes not like the tall, lean Usain. There were mechanical problems to overcome in his running style to get his tall 6 feet 5 inch frame off the line and down the track making use of his long legs which cut the number of strides down from 45 to 40 for 100 metres. Even so, size is not enough and Usain needs to maintain a level of fitness in order for his body to work at maximum efficiency. Usain has been able to adapt to his environment overcoming what may have initially been seen as limitations rather than advantages.
What if we changed the environment?
Usain Bolt is the fastest man on earth at the moment but that is just one environment and one that is particularly engineered having a flat surface and designed for running fast on. I wonder if he would be the fastest in space or immersed in water, two totally different environments. Would he be able to adapt to these environments and maintain his position as the fastest man in space or in water?
Usain Bolt defied conventional wisdom when it came to the mechanics of running. Somebody had a vision of how things could change, how doing things differently could lead to doing things better. The next generation of fast men will be modeled on what we have learnt from studying Usain and his way of adapting to the challenges he faced in becoming the fastest man on earth. How does this fit in with learning?
Learners face a similar challenge in adapting to their learning environments. To be the best you can be requires not only effort but also being aware of your needs in a way that allows you to maximise the advantages you have got and adapt in a way that minimises the limitations you face. There are a number of skills and attributes that can be practiced to help develop your LQ and hence your success in learning. Figure 2 shows some of the elements that impact on being able to manage your learning environment to meet your needs.
If you would like to learn more about how LQ can help you or the learners you manage then please get in touch. Developing LQ is one of the workshops now available along with the effective management of learning needs.
Contact: email@example.com for more information.