A Bigger View of Learning, A Bigger View of Learners

College Blog Friday, 14 Oct 2022

At this weeks annual Norwest Conference, educators from 14 schools joined together and explored the theme Passengers to Pilots, contemplating how we might inspire and equip young people to actively pilot their own learning. What follows is a snapshot of my presentation, which I trust will be an encouragement to you, as you discover more about Norwest's philosophy of Christian Education.

I've recently been reminded that our beliefs proceed our actions. The truth is we live out this principle on a daily basis, often without realising it.

  • Beliefs about our appearance determine the way we dress ourselves.
  • Beliefs about our competency levels determine whether we engage with a task or defer it
  • Beliefs about the value of our perspective determine whether we contribute to a debate or withdraw
  • Beliefs about the value of achieving a particular goal determine whether or not we pursue the achievement of that goal.

Beliefs are so powerful.

Beliefs are very powerful - they inform our decisions and ultimately our actions. And that is why what we believe about learners is so powerful. Our view of learners will shape our view of learning. Our beliefs about learners will be reflected in the actions that we choose as we lead learning in our classrooms. What we believe about learners will shape the learning experiences that we provide. 

Here are 4 key beliefs that Norwest educators hold about learners and learning:

Belief 1 - Learners are made in the image of God

Firstly, use of the word 'made' acknowledges that God doesn’t let things happen randomly. Human beings are not a random collection of physical matter, rather human beings are designed. We are whole and complete as we are, therefore, we can’t think of ourselves or our actions as random. We have been crafted. Who we are and what we do matters, and therefore, we should take responsibility for our actions.

We are active players (pilots) who have agency in the world, not passive accidents (passengers) who just let the world happen to us. Education needs to embody this, in both our pedagogy and learning experiences. It should inspire within learners creativity and awareness of this posture of agency.

Secondly, 'in the image of God' means that students are like God, as emotional, relational, spiritual, creative, problem-solvers and communicators. What does this mean for our view of learning? Briefly, each learning experience should be relational, stir the heart, result in stimulating creativity and engage young people in problem solving. Learning should not just be about content memorisation. Young people are more than just vessels for content.

Belief 2 - Learners are made unique

We see each learner as having a unique genetic makeup and characteristics, unique gifts and skills, unique strengths and weaknesses, unique cultural and environmental factors, and unique experiences and opinions.

There cannot be one pedagogy that fits all. Learning experiences needs to read each student individually and holistically, and prioritise them over the system, not to prioritise the system over them. Learning needs to be responsive to unique sets of characteristics and factors, and learning experiences needed to be crafted accordingly.

Belief 3 - Each learner is made for a purpose

God has a purpose for everyone that enriches both the individual as well as the communities that the individual is placed in, and a plan for how that purpose is to be lived out. If we are indeed pilots (not passengers) that is we have agency, then these plans cannot be like static maps given to us as passive recipients (like a predetermined career to aim for). Instead, it’s up to each individual to craft their direction, by exploring what brings joy and fulfilment, cultivating and testing skills and capacities, to grow in the direction of that purpose as it’s revealed.

Education is an extraordinary privilege to be involved in the lives of students, as they learn, practise, discover, and become what they are created to be. Education equips them to uncover their passions, cultivate and test their skills and capacities, so that they step into their purpose. Learning is in service of helping students step into their purpose; it’s in service of uncovering passions, cultivating and testing skills and capacities, to strengthen and prioritise direction. Here is where choice becomes important in learning experiences. Choice helps learners explore what brings joys and fulfillment so that they can uncover their purpose.

Belief 4 - Learners are made to live in community

Part of being created in God's image is that we have an imprinted belonging to each other. Indeed, much of how we think of ourselves and our individual identities, is in terms of the communities that we are in. Learners are made to live in community.

Firstly, it means that learning needs to happen in and through relationships because relationships are the threads that hold communities together.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, it means that learning finds its true context in the service of others. We were made to live in community. How we develop, grow and change matters not just for the sake of the individual but each individuals growth matters and makes a difference to the wider community.  If we are made to live in community then the goal of learning is not just a higher ATAR mark, but to enable each individual to grow and change in ways that will benefit the communities that they are a part of. If we are made to live in community then the goal of learning is to enable each individual to serve others with greater conviction, skill, and fulfilment. 

Felicity Marlow