A burning passion for learning

3rd February 2012 at 00:00
A real love of education can make all the difference to your teaching, writes Paul Jackson

As Valentine's Day draws closer, anyone in a relationship has a thought about what they should do. Send a card? Buy a gift? Book a table in a restaurant? Those not in a relationship, however, can face a similar dilemma. Should they send a card? Make an invitation? Reveal their interest in a special person?

But why do we have just one day to celebrate love? And should love have such narrow parameters? What if there was just one day each year to learn or just one day each year to have fun? Or, to turn it on its head, what if there were 195 days each year to love - as there are to attend school - and you could do the loving over only 1,265 hours within those days? How wonderful it would be if we could combine the two, ensuring that everyone develops a true and lifelong love of learning.

In Ancient Rome, 14 February was a holiday to honour Juno, queen of the gods and goddesses (the Romans also knew her as the goddess of women and marriage). The following day marked the beginning of the feast of Lupercalia. On the eve of this festival, the names of Roman girls were written on slips of paper and placed into jars. Each young man would draw a name from the jar and the young couple would then be partners for the duration of the festival. Sometimes the pairing of the children lasted an entire year and often, according to reports, they would fall in love and later marry.

This fascinates me. But history does not reveal which were the most successful pairings: those that were love at first sight or those where fondness developed over a longer time. The parallels between love and learning are compelling. And when it comes to learning, I would always argue for love at first sight.

If a child's first experience of learning is right, they will be hooked. Some experts claim that learning begins the moment the child leaves the womb, with Hungarian music educationalist and children's composer Zoltan Kodaly alleging that "music education begins nine months before the birth of the mother". By this, he means that a child's first experience is influenced by the learning of their grandmother.

If we take learning to mean "schooling", then think of the schools you have visited, whether as a child, parent, teacher or in any other capacity. How many of them got you hooked straight away? How many of them made you want to delve deeper, to explore? And how many of them made you furtively look at your watch, wondering how long it would be before you could leave?

Get the first impressions right, create the right atmosphere, encourage a child to find out more and they will enter the building in the right frame of mind every day. The best schools do it so well that the child is in the right frame of mind from the minute they wake up. After seven or eight years at a primary, that feeling is ingrained. If the atmosphere is positive, think of the lifelong effect. If it is negative, think of the lifelong devastation.

But after the first impressions fade, how do we keep the fires of passion burning? Where beliefs are shared, the relationship grows stronger.

This can also apply to teaching. Think of the times when you have learned most effectively. I bet there was a passionate teacher close by - passionate about their subject and learning, and about passing that energy to the children they taught.

In a relationship, there often comes a proposal, followed by a joint commitment to plan the perfect wedding day. In learning there is a different type of engagement, where the challenge is to engage children every single day, offering stimulating, creative and exciting experiences at every moment.

Sometimes that engaging experience can be so simple it takes scarcely any energy: reading the end-of-the-day story outside under a tree; serving the actual food described in The Very Hungry Caterpillar while reading it. So simple, but incredibly engaging.

But how do you make the children you teach feel loved all the time? As teachers, parents and adults, we have an unfortunate habit of using the wrong type of body language or saying things we think children either will not hear or will not understand. But children usually know exactly what we are implying. If they are shown love by those around them, they will pay this back many times over.

So no more turned-up noses at nits, no more sarcastic comments about what we might consider strangely packed or odd lunch combinations. Just get those protective gloves on and deal with whatever comes your way. Providing an environment that is about more than just education will have a huge impact on the child's learning and their love of it.

Real love is supposed to last for ever. Real learning experiences last for ever, too. Think of the things you remember from your own school experience. They will be the fun times, the times when someone was passionate about their subject and about what they did.

As teachers, we have a great opportunity to change lives, to influence. It is an incredibly powerful position. It is part of our job to give every child we work with not just a love of learning, but also a love of learning that lasts a lifetime.

When speaking of love, William Shakespeare said: "The more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite." This can surely also be applied to learning; the more you teach, the more you learn yourself.

Paul Jackson is headteacher of Gallions Primary School in Newham, an inner-London primary that aims to deliver creative learning through the arts. Visit www.gallions.newham.sch.uk


Prepare for Valentine's Day with the TES collection.

Key stage 1: Valentine's Day assembly

Songs, stories and visual stimuli that explore how we show love from nickygal.

Key stage 2: Valentine's Day card

browne describes how to decorate and create a card for someone special.

Key stage 3: the language of love

Practise French vocabulary with a Valentine's Day theme using dazzel's resource.

Key stage 4: love-in-idleness

Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream caused chaos with the love-in-idleness potion. Get pupils to create an advertisement for it using this resource from newbie55.

Key stage 5: the roots of love

What are the origins of Valentine's Day? anniemd helps you to explore its history with pupils.


Share ideas for a Valentine's Day assembly and help one teacher end her sleepless nights.

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources020.


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today