There has been a little spate of “what I have learned about learning from riding a pony/playing a piano/attending my private member’s gym” lately. Not one to miss a band-waggon when it rolls by, here is mine. It has made me wince slightly reading middle class people using their hobbies to attempt to draw connections between their experiences and those of children like my Mum, who found herself wildly excited as a child to learn that someone had given her family a piano, only to wake the next morning to find it chopped up for firewood. Fuel trumps pleasure – she never had the chance to learn lessons from practising.
One thing I find curiously missing in these tales of determination, grit and resilience is joy. A joy of music, or exhilaration as endorphins are released by the exercise. It seems that the only lessons we can learn from art or movement are ones of hardship. I don’t think that’s why the piano was invented.
Anyway, maybe I’m missing a trick. I’m not really one to push myself to suffer. I played the piano because music made me happy. That was my motivation. And I like being in water so I swim when I can. But now I’ve really done it. I glibly said I’d swim 100 miles in 50 days. I figured I could already do one mile without too much trouble, why not two?
Well it takes twice as long for a start. And that means getting up before 6am. Which is not me at all. What is it that I am learning then that can help teachers to see that they too can inspire children to suffer just like them? Well, I’m learning that if I had just done it for me, I would have lasted a day. Visualising a smaller bottom would not have done it. But thinking about the children I met in Kakuma and knowing that completing this challenge would improve their lives – that gets me to the 128th length no problem. Emotion matters in learning (and in teaching) – we need to feel that we can and are making a difference – that our efforts benefit more than just us. This is the kind of happiness that Aristotle speaks of as the ‘good life’ – one well spent.
So in the classroom, how can we make our learning meaningful for children? So much so that they’ll go the extra mile? I think there is a great deal of power in making a promise that others depend on and seeing it through. The IB recognises that in in the commitment to CAS in the diploma (Creativity, Action, Service) and in the new community projects of the Middle Years Programme. I also think that it’s worth putting children through challenges so they can learn that there are unexpected pleasures around every corner that are not always about being the best (l love the 80 year old who laps me every morning).
We should and could make far more room in our curriculum to build a better world; to motivate children to help others and to learn from the process. Learning new skills, improving our bodies and minds shouldn’t be about being ‘hard’ or determined. But about being connected and caring. And this state of being can motivate us to all kinds of learning and actions. It has to – I’ve still got 126,800 metres to go…
(And if you’d like to spur me on, you can donate here. Thank you).