Friday, April 27, 2007

Learning is about having a passion.

For my 500th blog I return to one of my favourite writers activist Ernesto Sirolli for inspiration. Visit his site for his ideas . I heard him speak at a reading conference - he is an impressive speaker.
Passion , he believes, is the starting point for any learning; once passion is involved skills will be learned, doors unlocked and dreams become reality.
But you won't see the word passion used in any Ministry documents!
For passions to be realized learners need emotional safety to take learning risks and respect given to their work . This underpins the beliefs of creative teachers in any field. And yet, Sirolli says, this is not enough. I f we are not doing what we know in our hearts we ought to be doing being loved is not enough.
Sirolli believes there is no limit to personal growth, quoting Abraham Maslow who said, 'A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself'.
Isn't helping students discover their passion(s) the true role of education? How would we design person centred schools to ensure all students innate talents were able to recognised and developed?
We need, he says, to have a positive vision of human beings and believe in the intrinsic goodness of all individuals and then to do everything possible to fulfill all students personal talents. This, Sirolli believes, would lead to the development of healthy society. If people can be assisted to do well what they love they will not only make a living and be happier but will contribute to making a better society.
Perhaps this is is behind the current vogue for 'personalised learning', a 21st C version of what we use to call student centred learning? If it is it will need a dramatic change of mindsets in those currently 'delivering' current curriculums - and it will need new flexible school structures to allow this 'new' kind of person centred learning. Nothing short of a cultural change will do.
If talent and creativity is the new 'capital' of an age some call the 'Second Renaissance' we will have no choice.
To have dreams, Sirolli writes, is easy - to transform them into reality requires passion , skill and perseverance. 'Nothing of any significance', he continues,' can be made without the blending of individual commitment and the physical ability to make the dream real.'
For teachers, as facilitators, what is required needs to be based on the understanding that creativity, motivation, even genius , lies within all students. The teachers role is to help each student discover their dreams and transform them into good work.
It is passion that propels such learning and enables learners to continue when things aren't working it - and the learning of skills in the process enables success. True teachers remove obstacles and help their students acquire the skills to transform learners' dreams into meaningful and rewarding work.
Sirolli writes: 'Creative teachers have no expectations, no plans of action, no targets, and no performance criteria to fulfil. They tread gently, they force nothing....Things happen as if by magic - but it isn't magic. Things happen because they have faith in people, because they are positive about their work and serene in the manner they carry it out....Facilitators are successful people who love to see others succeed.
This is in contradiction to current technocratic approaches to teaching and learning - approaches that have resulted in efficient but hardly creative learning.
The earlier creativity of the 60s, Sirolli believes, failed not because of a lack of ideas but lack of skills. It was, a generation without masters. To be genius in your own mind is meaningless; you have the skills to dance it, build it, grow it, communicate it and to share it with the world.
What makes a society prosper or not, Sirolli believes, is the collective quality of its citizens, he writes, our greatest assets must be our students' energy, imagination and skill. Our commitment, as teachers, is ensure they do good work by ensuring they develop appropriate skills, able to work in depth by doing fewer things well so as to realize excellence, and most of all, to develop the courage to fulfil their ambitions.'
This begs the question of what is the vision for our country in the 21stC? What is the role of government to create the conditions to realize our collective and individual dreams? What attitudes will need to be challenged and changed for us all to thrive in what will be an exiting but unpredictable future?
Planners need to plan for freedom , to plan to make things possible, to plan for flexibility, for reorganizing, restructuring and reconsidering. Planning , including strategy planning, Sirolli believes is over-rated. Many innovations come about through spontaneity, idiosyncratic inspiration and even mistakes. Planning is about providing infrastructure. All too often imposed plans result in unintended harmful consequences!
Nobody can predict what will happen in the future - the challenge will be to thrive midst complexity and to do this will require an open mindset of all citizens
Our collective future will depend on the creativity of passionate people. Passionate people, Sirolli says, are innovators and entrepreneurs. To bring about positive changes we need tap into the source of innovation and energy - the individual talents of all citizens.
Such a revolution has its genesis in how we 'see' education - we need an education system that values all students as unique beings. We need a system that encourages all students to take responsibility to make a positive use of whatever talents and passions they possess. Every student has inherent possibilities to be discovered . Too many student resent what is imposed on them and many, so called successful students, fail to discover what it is that truly interests them.
Schools need to find out what each child loves doing. For many students education is dream gone wrong. We need to help all students believe in and trust themselves - this must be preferable, Sirolli writes, rather than trying to comply to the impossible dreams of the planners and bureaucrats. Schools should make it easy for all students to learn.
Teachers need to challenge current assumptions, compliance requirements and structures that limit their ability to realize their students self fulfilment.
The tide is turning against authoritarianism in every field towards choice, respect and empowerment. Good people create a good society. Schools ought to be leading the change.
Teachers have an exciting creative role to transform the system from the grassroots - to tap , as Sirolli writes, the creative spirit in the young.
I am with Ernesto!


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed Sirolli's thoughts( and yours!). Keep up the blogging.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bruce,
I spent a lovely day yesterday at a school on the way to Wellington and noticed on their staff whiteboard you are visiting on Wednesday.
There was a lovely working atmosphere in the classrooms we visited. It was nice to meet others who read your blog!

Bruce said...

Thanks Jody

We had a great day at the school.The principal and the senior team spent the day with me developing ideas for refreshing their school vision. We ended up developing a vision, values and beliefs around a journey metaphor.

When it is tidied up and approved by all it will be a dynamic change document. I was really excited with what was achieved.

On the day before I worked with another school with a new principal We had great time talking about the importance of developing a shared vision and teaching beliefs to give them both the security and the courage to feel in charge of ther own destiny.Early days yet but the intentions are there.

Anonymous said...

Passion and Ministry - just don't go together.

Personalised learning and archaic industrial age secondary schools - impossible.

Anonymous said...

I love the journey metaphor - hence my class being called 'Voyagers'(you can check them out on our class blog...

Bruce said...

Will do.