In discussing a PGCE student’s application for her first job, we explored the specifics of her motivation to become a teacher. She narrated a very vivid story of supporting disabled children, some wheelchair based, to attempt climbing.
That made me consider Maslow’s hierarchy of need as a learning mountain. It got me thinking about the relationship between learning and mountain climbing and a search of climbing and adventure quotes provided a frame upon which to base a commentary.
Climb every mountain, Ford every stream, Follow every rainbow, ‘Till you find your dream.
There is much talk in education circles of “Learning Journeys”, with associated metaphorical language proposing adventure, striving, scaling, voyage of discovery, quest and wrestling. This suggests great activity, with children being given challenge and adventure within their daily school lives. Learning journeys for children are very often prescribed, by their teachers who may be working within an externally determined curriculum. Any adventure or challenge will be created by the teacher’s interpretation of the frameworks. However, the ability to dream, to imagine and to create ideas for oneself would seem to be prerequisites of a challenging education.
If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable. Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Pursuing the adventure analogy, this would propose that the teacher is the expedition leader, upon whom the safe arrival depends, requiring careful preparation, resource and supplies managed, maps consulted and transport arranged. The leader’s job is to reflect on every aspect of the upcoming expedition, to order and organise with care to minimise the dangers inherent in the inevitable risks. Expedition and adventure embody risks and it is arguable that as a society we have become risk averse. How often do you allow yourself to walk in a city without a map, just to see what is there? Are you a risk taker or risk averse? How does this affect teaching approaches?
“Discoveries are often made by not following instructions, by going off the main road, by trying the untried.” — Frank Tyger
If you’ve never seen the Monty Python Mountain Climbing Expedition, to see how not to organise an expedition, it’s worth a look.
It is often the case that learners are offered activities which do not significantly challenge, sometimes because the class is treated as an entity and there is one activity for all. This undifferentiated approach can leave some learners untested, therefore not learning and making progress. Learning is often an isolated activity so the team aspects of learning are unchallenged. This could be because teachers are risk averse, fearing that someone will offer criticism, either of working methods or challenge outcomes. Teachers do not learn the craft by repetition. That way lies one year of experience lived forty times, not forty years of experience.
It is not the ship so much as the skilful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage. George William Curtis
It is for teachers to determine the course and steer carefully, without becoming becalmed, based on the thought that:-
“Learning (Climbing) is not a spectator sport.” — Mark Wellman
Everyone is involved in the development of a child as a learner, so in essence, learning is also a team sport, but with concentric teams around the child, controlling risk, but allowing the child to develop an awareness of risk in life. Here the analogy of being roped together to ensure a safe climb is useful, with the guide at the front giving step by step instructions, guidance and encouragement so that the learner discovers safely what can be achieved and what might then be attempted unaided. Trust is embedded within any team activity, the trust of the leadership by the team, but equally the trust from the leader that allows team members to offer ideas and suggestions, so that all may benefit from collective insights.
At the same time as learning about “stuff”, we are learning about ourselves. Learning involves active engagement with the “stuff” of learning, making sense of each component, comparing and reclassifying against earlier learning, so that the new can supersede or supplement the old, ensuring growth in learning. Some learners will have the skills to become free climbers at certain points in their learning journeys, at least within certain defined limits. How often are learners challenged to be independent? If every piece of learning is based on walking in the teacher’s prescribes footsteps, how can children learn to think for themselves?
“Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery of why we climb.” – Greg Child
None of us knows ultimately where life’s climb will take us. We need to develop a set of generic “life” skills aside from a basic bank of knowledge. Life offers problems which we need to be able to address, with resilience, fortitude and problem solving skills that have been formed within less risky, school and home-based activity.
The last words to an intrepid traveller:-“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” ― Ernest Hemingway