Education defined...

 …an analogy for how we view education at Black Firs. We believe in life-long learning; education is a journey we travel for all of our lives. Its quality is in the variety of experiences we engage in and the sustained understanding we gain.

 Learning is a personal activity; it’s a consequence of thinking and reflecting on experience; it’s a creative activity: teaching is something done to you, by someone else. That’s why we have students not pupils at Black Firs.

Education, like life, is an ongoing voyage of discovery through a series of destinations. It is up to each individual, to make their journey, of the highest quality. We acknowledge we have to arrive at certain destinations in our lives at the correct time, SATs, GCSEs etc, but how we choose to travel there is our choice. To leapfrog from destination to destination is to misunderstand what education is about.

How we travel on our journey is also important - by car, in our own bubble? On a bike or walking, allows more reflection and interaction; on public transport – a bus or train, is great for sharing the experience with friends and colleagues.

There are also many routes to make this journey - the quick direct routes on motorways, the slower but less direct A-roads which take in more variety and interesting places or finally the more scenic B-roads, lanes and tracks some of which may be dead-ends but still worth the experience of just “seeing what’s there”

Sometimes you need to stop on your journey, get out of the car, stretch your legs and walk for a time, smell the flowers, swim the lakes. Motorways are okay and sometimes even necessary, but they are sterile ‘tunnels’ which only take you from A-to-B quickly. Fast-food motorway services will fill your tummy and provide you with a toilet, but a simple picnic or the country pub will also inspire reflection and offer much greater quality.

Our curriculum design is all about the journey we create for our learners

Humans learn best by doing and being in the world not by instruction; so, classrooms will never be the best place to learn - as educators, we need to think outside this box. We have to bring 21st Century thinking in to the practice of education at Black Firs. Our recent expansion of our Remote Learning offer via Microsoft Teams is a great example of how children's metacognition has recently needed to shift.

We have to place the emphasis on building up our children’s skills of learning. We have to continue to foster a growing desire to master skills, to be independent, responsible and creative. The ability to think, to communicate, cooperate, persevere, make decisions, develop a growth mind-set - these are the 21st Century empowerment skills.

Our recent work on Relationships has refocussed our life-long-learning. Being able to develop appropriate relationships, to judge a ‘good’ relationship, we believe is essential for a healthy life. Teaching children about building and developing relationships is part of evolving good emotional intelligence – a key feature in our School culture of multiple-intelligences.

We have written a number of action research papers which illustrate and under-pin our shared philosophy; they are available online; school-based-research

We have refocused the School curriculum to be a ‘doing’ curriculum; to teach the generic skills the children require for lifelong learning rather than the out-dated, transmission-based knowledge curriculum defined by UK National Curriculum content. The important ‘stuff’, the skills for life, often happen in the space between the curriculum parts; they are enquiry based. We must maintain curriculum breadth, balanced and relevance. The National Curriculum does address some of this need but definitely not all, demanding that teachers focus on teaching and justifying what has been taught, rather than focussing on how a child learns and children’s learning journey.

Our teaching staff can be guides. They can help make the maps that may direct a journey but alongside the children; we also think it’s important to let learners make their own routes too. To feel the uncertainty of not knowing which way to go. To sometimes even get lost; but have the belief in their Guide that they will be found.

Lifelong learning is about preparing children for these eventualities; educating them to be able to navigate their own way, to use a ‘compass’ to find their own destinations. Gaining that sense of success and achievement about a journey well-made along a less-worn route. The awe and wonder in thinking they’ve discovered some hidden place along the way, to be the first that’s ever travelled this path. The enthusiasm they have in wanting to share what they’ve found, to take you back to share this special place too.

Our curricula provision at Black Firs is to address the important area of how children ‘learn-to-learn’. This places learning at the centre of everything we do, rather than leading with teaching. The taught input is still vital but the decision of which teaching style to use is dictated by the children’s individual learning memes, within the teaching group. Whilst this may seem a subtle adjustment it has led to fundamental changes in the way children and teachers work together in our learning community.

It places greater development on independence and responsibility – children are no longer ‘empty vessels to be filled’ but active seekers of Knowledge, Skills and Understanding. It is these three linked elements that now form the basis for the curriculum we offer.

Key lifelong learning skills include Speaking & Listening, Reading, Writing and being Numerate but also include Research, gaining and sharing individual opinion through Debate; understanding the Bias in information sources; being able to make a Presentation to a range of audiences. These are some of the essentials but we don’t ‘define’ a list of skills as this could limit the ‘journey’ through what we offer. As the world changes we need to keep re-defining, keep questioning, keep justifying what each new cohort of children require.

We use our holistic curriculum to develop Knowledge, Skills and Understanding so that we can provide opportunities for children to then develop their Creative Thinking Skills. It is predominantly this Creative skill that will have the greatest impact on the child’s lifelong learning.

We use the term Creativity to identify the process of learning and thinking that allows children to engage in imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value. This happens within any area of our curriculum; creativity is not just something that happens in the arts. 

As practitioners, we continue to develop our teaching and learning in this area. The teaching staff are excellent at trying out new ideas, evaluating them and sharing best practice. They model, daily, the creative process we want to develop in our children. We continue to evaluate and review our approach as new research becomes available; currently we are investigating Growth-mindsets and developing concepts of ‘Struggle’ and ‘Grit’ - perseverance on a task - through-out School. Previously we have investigated how children’s self-directed learning allows children to instigate and direct their creative thinking skills to more ‘real world’ practical problem solving.

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