21st Century Education

Posted on: 22/04/2022

At the beginning of our summer term I felt that it was an ideal opportunity to remind us of the St. Helen’s College aims:

Love of Learning

We aim to inspire a lifelong thirst for creative, stimulating and rewarding learning, leading to the full development of every child’s academic potential.

Personal Growth

We aim to instil core moral values, inspiring virtue, responsibility, resilience, independence, mindful self-awareness and a desire for continuing self-development.

Involvement and Challenge

We aim to inspire an ongoing desire to develop talents, nurture the widest possible range of interests, and contribute to society as confident, compassionate and responsible citizens and leaders of the future.

These aims also extend to our staff and many of you may be aware that as a staff we are also committed to be lifelong learners and it is by continuing on this path of professional learning that we can continue to inspire and challenge your children.

On Tuesday we welcomed a guest speaker to St. Helen’s College - Professor Guy Claxton. Guy is a world-renowned cognitive scientist and emeritus Professor of the Learning Sciences at the University of Winchester. He has influenced educational theory and practice across the world and I was delighted that he was able to attend our staff training day to share his views on education for the 21st Century. I do not intend to reiterate what Guy shared with us but I highly recommend that you read one of his blogs here.

Here is an extract from his blog:

“A few days ago I had a very thought-provoking and productive lunch with my friends Becky Carlzon and Adrian Bethune. Becky is the guiding spirit behind Learning Pioneers and co-author, with me, of Powering Up Children: The Learning Power Approach to Primary Teaching. Adrian is founder of Teachappy (“Happier Teachers, Happier Children”), and a great ambassador for mindfulness in education.

I came away fired up about how important it is to build education around a clear specification of the kinds of young people we are aiming to develop: what do they really need to know; be able to do; and be like in their attitudes and mindsets? And saddened, yet again, at the astonishing level of intellectual lethargy displayed by society at large. Where are the urgent debates about what an education fit for the 21st century should be like? Almost nowhere. (Even Radio 4 only dips a superficial toe into this shark-infested water every now and again.)

So on the train back to Sussex I bashed out the following. What do you think?

What we need is a shared vision of education as empowering young people with the knowledge, values, capabilities and character strengths to be a force for good in the world, and thus find the continuing fulfilment of a life well lived. This means:

  • Giving young people opportunities to explore many different potential avenues of excellence (both within 'school' and beyond),and discover the interests and occupations that may give their lives purpose, meaning and the kind of quiet happiness with themselves that is so different from complacency.

  • Giving them a diet of escalating challenges that will engage their energy and effort, the exercise of which will naturally lead them to develop a background 'mindset' of generalisable character strengths (aka 'positive learning dispositions' or 'qualities of mind') such as these "12 Pillars of Fulfilment":

  • presence - being alive to all the features and complexities of significant situations

  • discernment - having a reliable moral 'nose' for that which is fulfilling, nurturing and 'wholesome'

  • self-care - creating their own social and physical ecology - habits of rest and recreation, sources of nurturance, support and advice  - so that they can bring their full energy and intelligence to the pursuit of their passions

  • critical thinking and ‘fake news’  detection - discerning and calling out that which is sham, shallow, specious or seductive (a la Greta Thunberg)

  • self-awareness - an honesty and vigilance about the habits, beliefs and insecurities that might be their Achilles Heels or lead them astray

  • craftmanship - being dissatisfied with anything but their best; willing to practise, draft, revise and respond to feedback

  • adaptability - having the awareness and resourcefulness to change tack and adjust as they go along

  • collegiality - having a friendly and open attitude that makes it easy for them to find and join teams and communities that support their core purposes

  • buoyance and resilience – being able to bounce back from frustration and setbacks and recommit to their goals

  • self-discipline - prioritising and devoting energy and perseverance to that which is truly important to them

  • curiosity - a judicious keenness to engage with and investigate novelties, challenges and uncertainties that bear on their values and projects

  • imagination - the ingenuity to create fresh possibilities of thought and action that further their purposes

I see these as constituting the trunk – the ‘common core’ of a viable character - out of which can grow all the varied branches – the interests, passions and idiosyncrasies that make everyone unique and special.

  • Seeing mindfulness-like practices as on-going practical supports for developing all these qualities of mind – as the evidence indeed suggests it is. Organisations like the Mindfulness in Schools Project need to present mindfulness as much more deeply valuable than just helping to reduce stress. It is an all-purpose fertiliser for the growth of a strong and supple mind.

  • Equipping youngsters with the starter kits of knowledge and skill that will enable them to make progress as both actors and learners. This is hard but vital. Why Trigonometry rather than Neuroscience? Why the Tudors rather than the critical analysis of Fake News?

  • Enabling teachers to embrace their role as coaches and guides, and to develop their own resources and sensibilities, in the service of their students' journeys. An army of teachers who were keen to grow and extend their skill and insight day-by-day would transform children’s experience of school.

  • Enabling teachers and school leaders to harness (and if necessary resist or subvert) external pressures and requirements on them and their students that threaten to derail this vision. Innovation will come from brave and ingenious school principals and their staff, not from Whitehall.”

Don’t you think that the pillars of fulfilment sound very similar to what we here at St. Helen’s College aspire to achieve with your children? Much of what Guy discussed with us enabled us to reflect on our pedagogical practices and as a teaching team we will be continuing to review our curricula and practices in order to prepare our children for their futures. 

Last night we held a meeting for parents of our current Year 3 and Year 4 pupils as they begin to think about the next step in their child’s educational journey.  The aim of the evening was to lay out what we do at school to prepare your children for senior school transition and assessments.  Pupil wellbeing is crucial to their ability to learn and flourish and we hope that the information shared has been food for thought for all who attended. 

It is so important that we do not compare children with each other but allow them to develop their interests and talents and recognise that they all make progress at different rates but also may need different input to enable them to unlock understanding and hone their skills. 

I will leave you with a wonderful analogy I heard in the staffroom this morning:
For a plant to flourish to its magnificent best, it needs to be nurtured and grown in the right conditions. All need light, water and nutrients but some need shade and clay soil whilst others need sun and sandy soil. People, too, thrive in different conditions. We need to provide the conditions in which children will flourish. The type of school that best suits one child may be entirely wrong for another. The route to finding a place where a child will grow and excel is not to look for the most prestigious school and expect the child to adapt to that school but to find the school that best fits a child. 

You may wish to watch this video here where Guy discusses the concept of ‘Learning being Learnable’.  I have been inspired by how the St. Helen’s College staff embrace every opportunity to connect with your children and how committed they are to the continuous learning process for not only your children but for themselves too! What an amazing community we have!

Here’s to a wonderful summer term ahead!

Mrs. Drummond