Ma recommends that children are taught skills such as independent thinking, values and team work. The challenge remains how such approaches can be deployed across the educational system without increasing the burden on teachers. Many teachers already feel underpaid and under-appreciated, so the addition of currently extra curricula approaches may seem onerous.
Perhaps what we need to see is a new approach to teaching today, less focused on drilling in the right answers and more on understanding the importance of questioning, flexibility of thought and collaboration. This moves the focus onto adapting and improving thinking and learning which is not just an important skill for pupils, but teachers as well.
One of the things that Professor Alex Moore points out in his book The Good Teacher, is that it’s difficult to be specific about what makes a good teacher because that oversimplifies what are an incredibly complex mixture of issues and skills. And it’s this recognition of complexity as a good thing that we need to bring back to the forefront of education.
The issue of social media and digital literacy has dominated many recent discussions, with a focus on teaching children to manage their involvement in such environments. Isn’t it more important to teach children the more fundamental skill of assessing this information? Giving pupils the ability to be comfortable with complexity, understand how to think about difficult questions and contextualise them, helps them deal better with the ‘real world’.
Such an approach also provides the framework on which children can build the ability to, if not control the environment around them, gain agency, resilience and social skills. This can build up children’s ability to work creatively and collaboratively, developing the intellectual humility to understand that no one needs to “be right”. Given the nature of the modern world, these are essential life skills.
Deborah Brentzman talks about teaching being a process of becoming and we need to see education as a sector where teachers and students are always in the process of becoming. And part of this is the recognition, for both teachers and students, that they are not working alone. Recognition of the negative impact of feeling isolated is growing for pupils but teachers need to build their networks as well.
Teachers are increasingly nervous about sharing concerns, with potential career opportunities and the possibly negative impact of sharing a problem with colleagues. Given the ‘messy complexity of the classroom’ perhaps it’s time that we looked at the ‘messy complexity’ of teaching and find ways to bring teachers together to explore and grow, away from the prescriptive nature of achieving standardised attainment tests for children.
Today’s educational culture is focused on outcomes rather than instilling a sense of wonder and opportunity, which can have a negative effect on pupils and teachers. We encourage teachers and pupils not to succumb to the apparent strictures of the current curriculum but to suffuse every lesson with discussion, teamwork, creativity and choice.
It’s famously been said that if you get used to conformity, your ability to think autonomously and relate to others will be seriously limited. Perhaps if we can find a way to use what’s messy, we can put collaboration, critical thinking and creativity back at the heart of education.