This post has been inspired by a discussion that took place on 18/1/2015 on #Aussieed. The chat looked at the concept of the #notperfecthat Club with @jenanamorane @martysnowpaw and that each student is perfectly imperfect and that is okay.
As I was reflecting on my own education and experience as a student I realized that it wasn't until I reached university that I experienced a culture of learning and success in formal education.
Even though teaching has been something that I had wanted to do from some of my earliest years, schooling was not something that I enjoyed. I recently had coffee with one of my teachers and her comment was “… school didn’t serve you well as a learner, did it Brian! In those days we taught everyone the same and expected everyone to meet the standard within a given timeframe. Time for support was a luxury we didn't have.” As a student, I didn’t perform well. I was a learner who learnt outside of the norm and if I wasn't able to get things as quickly as others I would get down on myself. I know this is posture that I have also seen in some of my students in the past.
Going through high-school things began to improve, as I was able to start choosing the areas in which I studied. After graduating from high school and a bit disgruntled with education I moved into the fields of Outdoor Education, Youth Work and high level Gymnastics Coaching. I found within these fields Masters of Experiential Learning. They taught me people learn by doing, feeling, touching and failing. They also taught me that for people to fully grow they need to feel safe in a place where it is okay not to be perfect but as they practice they become better at mastering a skill.
This gave me the confidence to once again work towards “formal education”. During this university time I was privileged to study within a knowledge building community (KBC 2007) led by Dr. Julie Kiggins @jkiggins. She personally mentored a small group of students, teaching us that education can happen anywhere. Teacher-centered learning was only just one-way of delivery and often was the least beneficial. Much of the content was delivered as Problem Based Learning and action research working in collaboration in teams with experts in the field that we had access to. The four ‘pillars’ of the KBC were; taking responsibility for own learning, learning through collaboration, identifying and resolving problems, and becoming reflective.
As I think back on my university days I relies much of the principles that were imparted to me I endeavor to impart to my students. Learning can happen anywhere as long as they feel safe to try and fail. Students are interested in solving real world problems. They want to know how and why things do what they do if they have a need to know. They love working in collaboration and as they become more reflective as a learner they take greater responsibility for their learning.
The question still remains how do you create this culture of learning and success?
As classroom teacher I set the tone where emotion intelligence and literacy can flourish. I let the students know that I am a teacher and teachers make mistakes all the time, as we are not perfect, we are humans! I then encourage a have a go mentality using analogies like riding a bike and learning how to walk. After this I create a safe activity to fail e.g. a group collaboration task like mute line-up. These tasks are often just outside of the student or groups zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978) and this all happens in Week 1!
Throughout the year I use PBL tasks, which have an entry event that stimulates students, need to know then followed up by a series of activities or takes that cause students produce a deeper understanding. These tasks are based on problems in their world e.g. creating a sustainable transport system for an island that has none using minecraft or creating a narrative to be published as an electronic book using book creator. Students instantly become engaged, as they want to create something that makes a difference in the real world and be shows their success as a learner. Posting or publishing student work is essential in this process as they see that pride can be taken in overcoming problems and learning new skills. It all comes down to the language used and the support I give, once my students know they are safe to try they begin to achieve. My student’s know that "failure is not fatal but is the First Attempt In Learning".
Rebecca Alber has written a magnificent list of twenty ways to create a safe learning environment for Edutopia. Her advice includes building community, setting clear boundaries, smiling and laughing a lot, and getting to know each individual student, as well as allowing them to get to know something personal about you.
I agree with Alber’s top twenty. I find it pleasing that she has a balance between creating a space that is fun and welcoming and full of laughter, but also one where expectations are set and failures become learning opportunities.
In the end, the responsibility for implementing this kind of environment that eliminates hurtles that spoil learning falls on us as educators. Creating that safe learning environment when done well, allows students to flourish and teaches them that “being Not Perfect is perfectly fine! In fact, the world is full of talented and wonderful people who are ALL http://notperfecthatclub.com).Not Perfect” (
Kiggins, J. & Cambourne, B. L. (2007). The knowledge building community program: a partnership for progress. In T. Townsend & R. Bates (Eds.), Handbook of Teacher Education: Globalization, Standards and Professionalism in Times of Change (pp. 365-380). The Netherlands: Springer.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.