Essential skills and messages of hope
4 December, 2017
In some of my previous blogs, I have written about the skills that I believe are essential to survival. My views are based on research that I’ve studied, the experiences that I’ve had in my teaching and also my personal experiences of adversity and learning. Broadly speaking, I believe that the most important characteristics in success are grit, creativity and intelligence.
The order I write these is no accident. In order to solve problems with intelligence, we first need to be able to create ideas about how best to solve them. In order to be able to create ideas, we need to have faith that our ideas are worth something. Thus, grit facilitates creativity and creativity in turn, creates intelligence.
It’s easy to see, therefore, how a problem with one of these skills has an inevitable impact upon the others. Individuals who grow in an environment that nurtures shame, for example, are five times as likely to struggle to work creatively and as a result, have a limited opportunity to develop their intelligence. In order to improve things for them, the question becomes how we undo that damage.
Over the coming months, Bounce will be using many of its projects to research just this. We will also be offering resources for artists and general practitioners to try out and offer feedback. We will also be carrying out projects and measuring their impact so we can find something that works for all of us. In the meantime, however, this is what we know.
An interesting outcome from research in education is that time spent 1:1 between pupils and their teacher creates impact on learning, wellbeing and creativity. This was born out for me when I taught a class including a student who struggled with anxiety. We used to sit during assemblies and paint pictures together – no real “learning” involved. During the time we worked together, we used to talk idly about how her weeks had been, changing attitudes and gaining knowledge as each session passed. What was remarkable was that her achievement that year doubled that of the year before.
it is speculated that the close relationship that a teacher has with their classes is the element that makes the difference and this is something that we can monopolise as parents, practitioners and educators.
Ever heard the expression that there’s no teacher like experience?
Experience is something that has the most profound impact on all of our learning. As Maya Angelou said, “You can forget what someone said, you can forgot what someone did, but you never forget how they make you feel.” This is particularly essential for younger students because once an attitude towards the self, towards creativity, or towards learning is settled, it can take years to change. This is why projects like “Urban Stories” that take students out into the world, that remind them there is a world outside of exams, is essential. One of Bounce’s collaborators described the impact of their work on the students: “they are more open to new ideas. They want to learn more. They laugh.” This is the miracle.
An open-minded environment
It is perhaps unsurprising that an environment where expectations are very set, where there is a right answer (and a concomitantly narrow vision of success) that learning is often limited. Research shows that creativity dies in such an environment and, of course, that shame tends to be rife within it. Given that 80% of learners give up on their subjects because of a shaming experience, it is essential that the learning environment for students is an open dialogue. For me, this has been born out by my experience. I remember feeling anxious during an inspection because my class had engaged in a conversation about their work that I had not anticipated. For all of my anxiety, I stood back and facilitated the talk and I fully expected to be reprimanded for their lack of focus. Yet, the outcome was the opposite – the students worked on problems together, each building upon the ideas of the other and creating their own perspective on the topic studied in ways I hadn’t anticipated. This is where Bounce is ideally placed to help students. It is a safe space for those who need love and nurture, where the quiet voice of each person gets a chance to gain strength.
Our initial findings support a picture that, piece by piece, is telling a tale to me. It is a tale with heroes and villains, and for each individual, the outcome is up to us. The main villain of this story is shame and judgement. Where learners feel disempowered to make mistakes, it is the killer of both their creativity and their self-esteem. The other villain (more the muscle bound henchmen of shame and judgement) is silence. Silence of one’s authenticity for fear of inadequacy and silence of groups that do not fit a narrow idea of success. The heroes of this story are those who reach out, those who listen and those who empower and where we stand in that, is up to us.