A reciprocal approach to learning for a new generation

Let’s start with the basics. Our children are our most loved and precious resource. This is not just because without them we’d be joining the long list of extinct species, but because a disproportionately large amount of joy, purpose, laughter and meaning comes from our dealings with them – our own and other people’s. Sometimes they make us frustrated and occasionally even desperate but usually, eventually, they make us better people.

It is worth remembering that pupils are each other’s teachers too, and many lessons about life, friendship, loyalty, values and courage in small things occur well out of sight of parents and teachers. So it matters, collectively, what the mental, emotional and spiritual health of our pupils really is, because they will influence each other’s levels of misery or confidence, just as much as whatever is coming from the school itself.

At CLC, we are unashamedly placing the girls’ wellbeing on an equal footing with their academic achievement in all our planning for future provision. Self-determination, resilience and fulfilment, arising from a life in which we are at peace with the choices we are making, are central to our vision for the education of women, especially as working lives become longer.

As teachers, we are continually reflecting on our teaching and learning strategies, and the issue of prep/homework is an integral part. But it is just one dimension of the multi-faceted learning experience along with classroom contact time, opportunities to do fieldwork, practical experimentation, hearing from expert speakers and visiting external locations. Many of us will recognise the concept of a ‘Victorian’ approach to homework as something to be done in a regimented fashion, often in conditions of silence, and with a focus on rote learning. However, with the evolution of educational pedagogy and modern technological opportunities, the purpose and nature of traditional ‘homework’ needs attention and review if we are to harness its full power for the good of the 21st century learner.

Homework tasks should be interesting, challenging, and designed to foster a positive attitude to independent learning. The proportion of time spent on these tasks needs to be weighed in balance with other opportunities and ways of advancing pupils’ interest and understanding, should some of that time be released or re-directed. Independent research and personal projects (including building, making, writing and planning) are already avenues that appeal to many of our students.

So what do the girls think? Well, we have been asking them. Fortunately, our girls generally like talking so there has been a lot to think about and great value has come from our discussions.

We are in agreement that far from being a distraction which might jeopardise grades, finding what works for you and developing the self-awareness and tools to make the changes if and when you need to, can only improve both overall resilience and academic performance. These are skills and qualities that employers need and value too. This means understanding the positive connection between wellbeing and outcomes, and does not need to assume a dilution of ambition along the way.

We will not be finding ways to hide from stress, live in denial or create an artificial bubble of simplicity. Young people need to be as ready as they possibly can be not just to survive in adulthood but to really flourish. However, the boundaries between school life and the roar of an accelerating and complex adult world are increasingly permeable due to the connectivity provided by technology. The social spaces inhabited by so many young people online are free from behavioural regulation and accepted codification; in the physical world these generally ensure a modicum of restraint.

We are looking at the horizon of an approaching new paradigm shift. We want to refine an educational approach that has fully grasped this reality and is not reversing into the future whilst gazing at the collective laurels of a successful past. Change is necessary to draw the best out of ourselves and our children. Collaboration, challenge, negotiation, empowerment, agility, versatility and independent thought will be the hallmarks of the leading edge of the next generation who will shape the world in which we all grow old. Despite being the best informed generation that has ever lived, exposed to the systemic flaws and failings of the world around them, they are idealistic and brave.

Many of them say that what they really want to do is make a difference. I believe they will.

Eve Jardine-Young, Principal, Cheltenham Ladies’ College

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