Safety, Connection, Learning and Inquiry
- On 01-06-2010
I just returned from running workshops in Queensland and the group of teachers and I had a fantastic discussion around safety, connection and learning.
Let me tune you in to how we got into it by reproducing a bit of the morning of the Advanced Inquiry Workshop.
Our brain is designed to to ensure the safety and survival of our bodies. So it is always scanning to ensure that the body is safe. Given that survival and safety is paramount for the brain … the learning environment must be safe.
But .. are our learning enviroments safe for the brain?
Fear is the foremost inhibitor to learning and growth. The brain, however, cannot distinguish between fear of failure /getting things wrong / making a mistake in a peer environment vs fear of dying or suffering injury. Research has shown that the physiologically they produce the same body reaction. This is understandable because the environment that we exist in has evolved from the dangers of survival out in the wild to the dangers of survival in the modern world.
What this points to is that we must go beyond looking at physical saefty issues like bullying or many of the overt factors that create an unsafe environment for learning. We need to also look at the systemic structures that the brain will interpret as a danger or survival issues.
One of the unfortunate byproducts of a content focussed traditional school environment is that we have created an environment of wrong / right, good / bad … a breeding ground for fear. Students over time adapt by unconsciously becoming passive learners as a way of mitigating this fear as they haven’t yet learnt the skills to mitigate the fear using their pre-frontal cortex or reasoning part of their brain to reframe their perception. By the time we become adults many of us have not developed the capacity to mitigate the emotions and feelings that fear drive up – notice how public speaking is still feared more than death!
When I shared that with the teachers that I had a face to face example of the passivity that our education system breeds with a large group of first year pre-service teachers only last week … they began to share about their experiences of students from year 8 onwards and how they developed themselves to overcome the fear suppressor with the students.
Social networking research indicates that unless the individual has very strong self-confidence and wherewithal to go against group behaviour (the fear of speaking up and being wrong or humiliated) they will be passive and go along with the beliefs of the groups they are in. A simple example of this is how we can be chameleon like when we are in different groups of people. Fitting into a group is a survival technique that is fundamental to design of the brain in most species.
So a learning environment must be safe and develop the self-confidence of the child to question, to challenge, to develop their own place in the world. Young people must learn how to fail and learn from those experiences without fear of consequences for failing (e.g embarrassment, teasing, bullying, etc).
How do we create this?
Well the very best teachers practice it all the time. They know that they must be connected on a deep level with the students. They actively build a safe environment. They share their lives and create mutual respect. They honour their word. They consistently role model behaviour and relate to the students as their learning partners. They create environments where it is Ok to fail and make mistakes. They sometimes ask the students for feedback so they can improve their ability to deliver lessons that are more inspiring or have the students learn better.
Even more than this … why inquiry learning is becoming a more spoken about learning approach is that it is not about right or wrong, good or bad … but it allows students to discover and voice opinions and try different things out in an environment of discovery.
You might realise my point by this time. Unless we move from a content focussed paradigm which is all about passing the test, getting things right, etc .. we will not be preparing students for a world that is profoundly changing.
If we want our students to be self-confident, risk-taking thought provokers who adapt to an ever changing social and technological environment then we need to shift OUR paradigm of education.
The leap isn’t large … but it is becoming more and more urgent.