When considering their education and development, we often come across analogies that represent pupils as blocks of marble ready to be sculpted or vessels to be filled up with knowledge. These depictions are limited, treating the pupils firstly in isolation from each other and implicitly describing limits on what a pupil can become or achieve. The sculpting will be finished or the cup will be filled, in so many words. These models treat the girls as passive recipients of the education process, rather than giving them the dignity of participation.
W.B.Yeats, the Nobel prize winning poet, offers an alternative model;
“Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.”
The image of a fire brings joy to many of us, particularly in this wintery season. However, starting a fire is not always an easy task. Girls throughout the School will tell you that you need three key components; a source of heat; a source of oxygen; and finally, a source of fuel. Ensuring that these essential components are ready as we approach learning, helps make learning and igniting passion much easier.
A source of heat:
Igniting a passion in pupils is easier when you are, yourself, passionate about a topic and you demonstrate a care for those you are aiming to teach. Just as it is easier to ignite a log that has been kept warm and dry, pupils that feel included and valued will more likely respond to our attempts to spark their interest. A previous mentor of mine used to greet those in his team every day with phrases such as “hello, heroes” or “welcome, superstars”. Consequently, he held the room, exuding an air of authority and confidence. Such a small difference to his speech made us all feel welcomed and ready to engage with him.
A source of oxygen:
If I packed a fireplace from top to bottom with firewood or coal, with no gaps, then a fire would be unlikely to ignite. Leaving space for oxygen to flow around encourages those flames to grow and spread between the coals. Similarly, if every minute of every lesson was packed with activities, then joy and productivity would decrease. Allowing space for creativity and wider discussion is essential if pupils are to grow in their independence. Passion for a topic will increase when there is room for pupils to air their thoughts and explore their understanding of what they have been learning. The best moments for me are when pupils can link what they have been studying to their own contexts such as finding links between Newton’s laws and improving Javelin technique, or connecting chemical changes to the design of sculptures.
A source of fuel:
We carefully light newspapers and allow for kindling until finally, the logs themselves start to ignite. So, too, we plan a succession of activities, from quick and easy quizzes, through to the tougher essays and longer projects. However, the ultimate goal is to ignite the slower and hotter burning elements of a pupil’s interest, not solely because the pupils must pass an examination or it is an essential part of the curriculum. The expertise of an inspirational teacher is to find the right approach to set a pupil’s passion ablaze. Maybe this is why co-curricular activities are where many pupils find their passions. Whilst the pupils themselves bring a rich source of fuel through their own experiences, I am grateful to the fantastic staff with whom I work, bringing their varied passions and skills to their lessons and other activities. Staying fuelled and inspired ourselves helps us to pass the flames onto others.
Mr Alan Rees, Teacher of Physics