One brain not good enough?

Three brains in one:  the basis for my education and leadership philosophy.

I was first turned on to the idea that context, circumstance and situation could have a huge impact on the outcomes of learning when, as a relatively inexperienced class teacher, I attended an ‘Optimal Learning’ presentation led by Trevor Hawes.

He was able to introduce the triune brain theory, developed by Dr Paul D. MacLean, and translate it into practical scenarios for use in the classroom.  For some reason (probably related directly to the theory!) this resonated loudly within me and helped form a strong philosophy which has remained throughout my career.

At the start of each school year I am minded to reflect, with staff and pupils, on this foundation and set an agenda focussed on establishing the ‘best’ climate for learning.  Following on from my previous blog, ‘New Beginnings 1 v 0 Closure’, which cited this year as the last in the history of the school – it has been imperative for us to shield the school from the drawdown (closure) going on around us.  After all, a child only gets one chance in their year group, whatever that may be – Y1, Y3, Y6…. and, it has to count.

Of course, the same is true of any year:

Establishing the class name based upon an agreed theme:  Previous themes have included inspirational people, countries, explorers, artists … the list goes on.  This year it was schools, past and present, within the service children’s world (of which our school is one).

The idea behind this is that children, with their teacher, research options and agree on a name which they feel represents them as a group well, or that they find to be interesting for example.  Dare I say it, that the name is not so important, it is the process of researching and agreeing which is.  The widely accepted notion that humans have a ‘tribal’ or ‘social’ instinct is what supports this activity to satisfy the brain.  Children have a sense of belonging to their tribe or class and are happy to exist within it – it hasn’t been imposed and they have an understanding about the ‘class name’ and what it stands for.

Each class produces a welcome display outside their class to identify themselves as a unique group.

Understanding yourself as a learner:  As I have become more and more interested in the debate and conversation with regard to education, research and theory, albeit mostly via Twitter media, I have been interested to discover counter arguments to commonly held viewpoints.  This has served to rationalise my own beliefs and reflect on why and what I was doing.   One such example is the type of learner you are, or the intelligence bias you have.  @teachertoolkit challenges such myths which has again persuaded me to reflect on some of our practices.  My response to this is that over time the way in which I have promoted the ‘setting the scene’ week at school has evolved since I started employing this sort of strategy 14 years ago.  Now it is much more about pupils understanding themselves better as learners – their strengths and weaknesses and how to develop strategies to make ongoing improvements. A considerable step away from identifying VAK activities in planning!

As a result, children create ‘Learning passports’ which communicates their understanding of themselves as a learner which are incorporated into the class display.  Children are able to reflect on their initial ideas throughout the year and recognise how well they have learned and progressed.

Asserting expectations: @teacherhead wonderfully describes the importance of expectations.  Some old advice you often hear is ‘Don’t smile ‘till Christmas’.  I interpret this as setting expectations and establishing clear boundaries.  Taking it literally though, if the expectation you set is an unsmiley environment, can children really be expected to enjoy and thrive? However, if our expectation is high and consistent – and not of just the pupils, but of the staff and more importantly ourselves  – then this too supports our desire to get the climate right for great learning. And, can be achieved with a smile!

Getting to know your children: Paramount – and ditto staff.  One of my fears on coming back to school in September is not remembering everyone’s name after the summer break! In a new class it’s so important for me to get to know the pupils quickly – and this usually starts with a name. @teacherhead clearly explains why .  Equally, it’s about getting children to know their peers – as a young teacher it used to bother me that children could go a whole term without having spoken to every person in the class, so I ensured that this never happened in my class.  I employed simple strategies like having regular learning discussions with different groupings or activities purely focussed on finding out new things about their peers(and discovering more often than not that we had lots in common).  As a head it is equally as important to me that children are able to approach and be supported by any other child in the school – we have to model this as adults.

All of these activities, which dominate the first couple of weeks, are aimed at satisfying the reptilian and limbic brain and readying the neo cortex for higher order learning.  This belief underpins our pedagogy and impresses upon policy, relationships and practice.

So, the first couple of weeks are completed – positive energy flows and delightful laughter is heard; not just in classrooms, but in the staffroom too!! It’s going to be a great year #dontstopbelieving

To what extent do the first couple of weeks impact on the remainder of the year?  How do we sustain it when we know it’s our last?

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1 thought on “One brain not good enough?

  1. I remember my Head at Kingsbury High School always placed a huge emphasis on the start of the academic year, stating that the first lesson with any group should be your best – it’s first impressions which count! I now instill that mantra in my staff and my students – start as we mean to go on. I have seen so many Secondary School ‘first lessons’ consist of baseline tests, covering exercise books, getting to know you activities etc and it switches the children off straight away. If expectations start low, it sets the wrong tone from the outset.

    Liked by 1 person

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