Are You Learning? - Learning at Work Week 2018

As teachers, school leaders, educators, parents, mentors, coaches, designated safeguarding leads, lecturers, musicians, poets, authors, orators, artists, friends (I could go on); learning is our business and we need to practise what we preach.  Learning exercises our mind, which in turn repays us with the delight of playful imagination as we bounce ideas and concepts around to produce new ideas, new possibilities and new futures. So, dear friend, are you still learning?  I mean, really learning, challenging yourself to be in that place that Sir Ken Robinson would call 'your element', where time and context dissipate and you lose yourself in the moment. 

Why I learn

Some time ago, my governors sat me down after what I felt had been a successful year and stated they were concerned about me.  This, as you may imagine, raised my anxiety.  The governors stated that they were very impressed with the innovative ways I had developed time for my staff to research and reflect on their own practice.  All good so far. They stated that the outcomes from the time and emphasis of the importance on learning for all staff was invaluable in both valuing staff and developing strong outcomes for the pupils and the school.  Again, I waited for the left hook.  However... Here it comes. What about you?  

I was devastated. While providing time for my staff to research and develop their own learning I had not led by example and developed my own learning potential.  Things had to change.  

How I learn

I developed time in each term where I spent three days reading and researching, I call these research days.  I spend these days out of school, sometimes in a coffee shop, sometimes at home.  I buy educational books to inspire me, I surf the internet for interesting articles, I use Twitter and follow educationalists, I watch TED talks, I explore business articles to gain a perspective beyond education and I reflect on what I was learn.  Spending time learning gives me a renewed perspective on my own roles and responsibilities in school as headteacher and allows me to think beyond my known universe of ideas as I play with the new ideas and think of creative ways in which I can develop my own practice to improve the outcomes for the pupils and staff in my own setting.

I engage with research organisations such as the Education Endowment Foundation to develop my learning and reflect on research of what has and hasn't worked in other settings.  I joined the Chartered College of Teaching as a founder member and joined colleagues on Saturday conferences (yes, Saturday conferences!). 

How I use what I have learnt

My senior team have become used to me returning from a research day with my mind map notes and announcement that I have written another blog article.  The time spent learning will have presented a range of questions that encourage me and others to reflect on our current practice and will either affirm or challenge why we do what we do.  Learning has led me to think about cognitive bias in my work through the excellent work of Daniel Kahnamann in his book Thinking Fast - Thinking Slow. Learning has led me to reflect on how to use my skills in mentor-coaching to enhance lesson observations, linking to the inspiring by @TeacherToolkit's 5 Minute Lesson Review. The key to learning is that you share what you have learnt, are open to challenge and embrace mistakes.  This allows you to develop your knowledge and apply it in a new and meaningful way.

How learning makes me feel and supports my wellbeing

Learning is infectious.  When you are engaged in learning you release a myriad of chemicals into your body that make you feel great.  Spending time engaged in learning in my work allows me to feel excited and interested in my roles and responsibilities.  It allows me to feel the positive sensations of trying something new.  In writing blogs I receive a range of positive comments from colleagues who find the articles resonate with them.  I also receive comments from colleagues and others who challenge my thinking, and I have learnt to embrace criticism as an opportunity for challenging my thinking also. 

We are human, and relationships form an important part of our wellbeing.  In engaging with learning in my professional role, I have connected with a range of teachers beyond my setting, beyond my phase and beyond my culture.  This has both enhanced my understanding of the diversity of education across the world and challenged my own practice. Connecting with colleagues though learning in our profession is so important; it raises our self-esteem, heightens the status of our profession, enhances our wellbeing and provides a sound base upon which we can build a path into the future.
Original post on Graham's blog.

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