Zero to 12: Personal skills and other learning goals
Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great tells a story of a hedgehog being chased by a fox. The hedgehog rolls itself into a ball and the fox is defeated.
After returning once again to its regular shape the hedgehog walks on and the fox tries again. Again the hedgehog rolls itself into a ball and the fox is defeated. This happens time and time again and this simple strategy wins every time.
Collins uses this analogy to develop what he calls the ‘hedgehog concept’. He argues that all successful businesses (and schools) have a hedgehog concept that they relentlessly stick to.
I believe that the hedgehog concept for a school and therefore a teacher is to assist children to learn. Everything that a school does must be geared, either directly or indirectly, towards learning.
Learning does not mean merely memorising information, although this is one kind of learning and is the easiest to teach, acquire and assess. Learning also means acquiring and developing skills that are useful to us in our daily lives.
What skills do most kids think will be important for them to develop during their time at school? What qualities would most parents want their child to acquire and develop? What about teachers – what is important to them?
I asked these questions of the school community recently and they came up with nine specific qualities or skills.
These are to be able to:
• Adapt to new situations
• Communicate effectively with
others, often in more than one
• Cooperate with others to solve
problems and achieve targets
• Enquire about certain situations
and carry out investigations to
• Develop their own principles and
have the confidence to act on
• Respect the needs of other people,
living things and the environment
• Think flexibly and be able to use a
range of thinking skills to solve
problems and create new things
• Think globally: the importance of
being internationally minded is
increasing at a rapid rate
• See a task through to the end; be
In the right type of school setting, with understanding and supportive teachers, children are encouraged to develop these skills (amongst others).
I’ve been very lucky to work in great schools where children are highly motivated to learn, but this doesn’t just happen. I believe that in order to help a child learn, a teacher must first motivate his or her learners.
In a learning-focused classroom, children are intrinsically rewarded when they learn something, often without the need for extrinsic, token rewards or bribes. Teaching children how and why they learn should be a key aspect of the curriculum so that children are aware of their own abilities to progress through hard work and resilience.
Schools and teachers should recognise this effort as this will lead to learners having the self-belief that they can all make progress if they strive to succeed. Teachers in schools must avoid ultimately demotivating tactics such as humiliation, embarrassment and punishments for not learning.
In schools I want to see every learner being highly motivated to be there. I want to know that learners know how they learn best and I want to know that they are learning for most of the time that they are at school.
I want teachers to act as facilitators of this learning, providing useful feedback and advice and guiding children to become independent, motivated learners.
So, in our schools when we look for learning we need to look for the learning focused classroom. A classroom where children are busy collaborating and noisily communicating and enquiring in order to create something is just as likely, if not more so, to be one where learning is happening, as a quiet classroom where children are silently ‘in the flow’ of learning whilst individually attempting to solve a problem.
What we need to determine is whether learning is happening and the best way to do this is to ask the learners themselves. This now forms the basis of teacher reflection and improvement in our schools and should be what parents look for in a school.
How many parents when choosing a school for their children actually talk to the existing learners about how and what they learn? If there aren’t many then I suggest there should be. A busy or indeed a quiet classroom does not tell us anything unless we know whether good learning is happening and the only way to know that is to ask the learners themselves.
David Griffiths is the Head of Primary at Nexus International School and is an avid supporter of Manchester City football club and enjoys playing the game himself. Aside from football, he enjoys reading on educational issues and loves spending time with his two daughters.