The fruits of learning

22nd April 2016 at 00:00

At the beginning of every year, I make a set of optimistic resolutions and I always review them about now. The list doesn’t include lifestyle promises (in which I have a long tradition of failure), it contains aims which are achievable: learning ambitions. This year, they include finding a new technique to teach spelling, taking a course on the basics of British Sign Language, gaining a more in-depth understanding of language processing and completing my level 5 qualification in teaching learners with disabilities.

The more I formalise the learning of stuff that I know I don’t know, the more I am able to access the vast plains of knowledge that I didn’t know I didn’t know.

Taking control of my own learning has proven to be hugely empowering. There’s an important conceptual shift between contractually obliged attendance at CPD of varying quality and the conferences, courses and professional communities that we choose to invest in emotionally, financially and on our own time.

Colleges that fund staff’s self-directed learning are rare jewels, but that sort of support is not an entitlement. Those who believe this is their right institutionalise their own learning. They have misplaced the ideal lying at the core of education – that it offers freedom.

I’ve sat through CPD sessions that I swear have made me stupider. I’ve also experienced training sessions that blew my mind. I count a day with teacher educators Kay Sidebottom and Lou Mycroft at Northern College as a learning landmark. Their thoughts on social and cultural bias in curricula made me ask myself big questions about accepted norms.

Many others with the ability to communicate their fresh, uncluttered thinking have altered my own: Geoff Petty’s wealth of pedagogical knowledge; the king of linguistics David Crystal’s disruptive enthusiasm for his subject; and a session with Paul Dix, which marked a career turning point for me. The skills I learned transformed my working life and ignited my interest in the complexities of behaviour.

But being an expert isn’t just about slapping knowledge on the table – it’s about how the ideas surrounding your specialism are communicated. I have a pretty strong grasp of issues pertaining to equality and diversity, but how they were articulated at Northern College opened my eyes. It was a guided exchange of ideas that made everyone feel like they were not delivered to but involved in. This is the secret of amazing CPD.

Beware the pedagogical voices that confuse their informed opinion with absolute knowledge; the ones who choose their stance on an educational issue and cling to it regardless of challenges. Recognising that there’s a lot you don’t know is a powerful thing. You aren’t respected less if you admit that you have more to learn. There is always more to learn.

Sarah Simons works in FE colleges in the East Midlands @MrsSarahSimons

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