The Lion, The Tinman and The Scarecrow…

March 9, 2019

|@iTeachPri

No, I haven’t gone mad. And no, I’m not blogging about The Wizard of Oz, either. Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of listening to Hywel Roberts (@HYWEL_ROBERTS) talk at a twilight session on his reverie of adventures in teaching.

I’ve not blogged in a while and thought that this was the perfect topic to get me back into the swing of things.

Hywel Roberts, a travelling teacher as he identifies himself, spent two hours guiding us through some of his escapades and endeavours in education, at the same time as indirectly offering advice on how to teach some of the “drier” subject areas and topics.

His opening line, “pedagogy is holding a child’s hand and guided them through a challenging curriculum” immediately grabbed my attention, as, at its most basic, that’s exactly what it is. But how do you do that? How do you engage 30-something children and bring them with you on the journey…?

One of his ways… WITH A GOOD BOOK! By now, I’m putty in his hands. 

He went on to talk about teaching a bottom-set Year 10 English class in a “challenging” area of the North West of England and the book he revealed to us was one that would never have come to mind… To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Madness I hear some of you say. A recipe for disaster, maybe?

“It was the best choice I ever made…” he said, confidently. “And do you know why? Because the children (did I mentioned they were all boys?) could identify with the themes and the characters. I had some tough boys offering Atticus Finch advice on how to move forward after his defeat in a racism case.”

He went on to say that he didn’t just expose the children to the book without ‘protecting them into it’. Dipping their toes in the water of the time, the themes and the culture.

He summarised it by saying “don’t be afraid to take rich knowledge and navigate it, articulate it.”

All too often, teachers are slaves to the curriculum, when really, it should be the other way around – the curriculum should serve our needs as educators. 

This often makes children feel like “education is something that is done to you and then it eventually stops.”

Education should be about giving children the chance to be critical. 

How do we make it relevant to their lives today?

It should give children the capacity to make good choices and to negotiate.

Children spend 13% of their lives in schools so how do we make it relevant to their lives today? Hywel’s ideas are simple and clear:

Imagineering: 

Having a professional imagination

Botheredness: 

Making children engaged with their learning. For us, the professional capacity to care.

Phronesis:

Professional practical wisdom or, in other words, wise teacher values. 

Engagement is great, but will only takes you so far. Engagement at an emotional level gets investment from the children. An example of this came from a story he told:

There was once a man named James (Jimmy on a Sunday) who refused to leave his house – no matter how many letters they sent. His home was everything to him, even though the wallpaper was peeling from the walls. All his memories were there and, now she’d gone, it’s all he had to remind him of his late wife.

He then asked us (as though we were the children) what else provided memories in the home? We enthusiastically said “photographs, letters, diaries…” which paled into insignificance when he told us a 9-year-old boy once said “his wife’s half finished knitting.” WOW!

The story continued and we were now 100% emotionally invested and wanted to find out what the whole situation with Jimmy (James on a Sunday) was. 

Hywel then showed us this image:

The intake of breathe was audible. We had never imagined that this image would flash up on the screen.

The topic: coastal erosion investigated through a story that places humanity at its core.

So where could you go from here? One example was to look at where his “garden” was and where it is now. How long has it taken to erode? How long can James (Jimmy on a Sunday) realistically stay in his home?

Regardless of where we went with it, Hywel had us hooked; we were emotionally invested and would’ve gone anywhere on the learning journey with him. 

He went on to say any learning that is put in context and poses question or scenarios for children, gets a better investment and leads to better authentic outcomes. 

Listening to Hywel was mesmerising: what he said was all common sense and simple, but it was delivered with such passion and enthusiasm that it made it feel all more real. 

I highly recommend getting him to speak to your staff. Particularly in the current climate of curriculum reform. 

To finish where I started…

…your curriculum should be one of brains (knowledge), courage (risks) and heart. 

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