Tony Gurr

LEARNing Parents…

In Learning & Parenting, The Paradigm Debate on 03/03/2012 at 8:23 am

A friend of mine is getting ready to deliver a presentation to a group of parents on how they can best help their kids with school and homework. We’ve been brainstorming ideas on the types of things she can do and I’ve been suggesting that she get them activeinvolved and questioning – you know with activitiesgames and reflective discussions (rather than the typical “edumercial lectures” parents get at things like this – when they do actually happen).

Makes sense, yes? – Getting them to “live” LEARNing – rather than telling them about it.


This morning I stumbled on a post that almost made me re-think the advice I had been giving my friend. The post was written by Phil Cullen (a guiding light on the Australian “Treehorn Express initiative) and in it he relates a conversation that he had with a parent:

I asked a parent how learners learn at school. He thought about it quite seriously and then remarked. “The teacher teaches them something, maybe from the black-board.  She then questions them and might set a test or the kids write something down.”

I wondered how many other parents (and remember that a parent is, essentially, a child’s fırst and most influential TEACHer) would agree with this kind of conceptualisation…we haven’t got a bloody chance, have we?

Unless we help parents LEARN more first!


The central challenge here is that it is not really this parent’s understanding of “what LEARNing is” that is the real problem – it is what he (or she) does with this understanding that needs to really concern us. If children are “taught” that this what LEARNing is all about (before we even get our hands on them), they are being put on the road to LEARNing illiteracy before getting to the really “good stuff”…

For years I have been working with teachers and lecturers (especially those who have not had much formal training in LEARNing and TEACHing) to help them gain the type of LEARNing perspectives that make a real difference to the lives of their students – maybe I have been barking up the wrong tree

A few years back Chris Watkins did a brilliant paper for those lovely chaps at ATL and in it he outlined what he considered to be the three main “ways” of thinking about LEARNing:

Clearly, the parent Phil chatted with is operating with the first of these – LEARNing is all about the TEACHing! In a way, this view is wholly understandable – we’ve all had great teachers who LEARNed us really well.

But, we all know there is a great deal of TEACHing that takes place in classrooms all over the world – with very little LEARNing!

And, this is exactly because:

The critical issue is, however, what happens if some primary teachers also work with this conceptualisation? Hang on, what happens if our kids then get to meet high school teachers who think the same way? And, what the hell do we do if the higher LEARNing of little Durmuş and little Kezban is also topped off by lecturers who think in the same vein?

As I said before…our kids haven’t got a bloody chance, have they?


Time to GET REAL…life is not orderly, neat and easy! The world is a complex place….getting “complexer” with every keystroke and blog post.

Little Durmuş and Little Kezban need to develop “habits of mind” that mirror this complexity. They ain’t gonna get these if our starting point is a view of LEARNing that is grounded on what a teacher “presents” and the quality of “tests” that teacher uses.

This is why so many of our education systems have become little more that “bureaucratic examocracies” that do more to switch our kids off LEARNing – and ensure they are poorly-equipped for the brave new world they will have to enter…………

TRUE…the notion of LEARNing as “individual sense-making” is a huge improvement…but this too is also not sufficient (unless, of course you fancy yourself as a 21st Century Robinson Crusoe).

For example, if we take a closer look at the so-called habits of mind we say kids need to develop (or rather the “ability set” or “talents” they need to LEARN) – we see a whole new “emerging curriculum”:

Kids are not going to LEARN these by being “told” about them – they are not going to LEARN how to do something with what they LEARN “about” these things from a blackboard (even a technologically-enabled version). They have to LEARN by “doing” them….and have these things reinforced by seeing grown-ups “walking-their-talk”!

This starts with parents…

Or, does it?


In one of my very first posts…I talked about the idea of the “LEARNing parent” and challenged mummy and daddy to reflect on whether they were, in fact, being good role-models for their kids. The problem was, and a couple of people reminded me of thisparents have been LEARNed by TEACHersand by their own experiences of education and the schools they went to.


When I work with teachers and lecturers on their understandings of LEARNingI often begin by asking them:

This freaks a lot of people out (teachers do not like “drafting in ideas” from the world of allthingsbusiness) – but I find this approach to be far superior to starting the conversation with a question like “What’s school all about?“…especially, when we ask a few more questions:

  • Are we in the MONEY-MAKING business?
  • Are we in the TESTING business?
  • Are we in the TEACHing business?
  • Are we in the LEARNing business?

Educators “hate” the first one – after all most of us wear those famous t-shirts (Will TEACH for FOOD) at the weekend!  They just “know” the second is “wrong” (even though we are increasingly being asked to buy into the “examocracy mentality”). They also get that we cannot justify placing the “means” before the “ends” when answering the last two questions

What freqently bakes their noodle is when we move onto a fifth question:

I do not care what “subject” a TEACHer teaches…what “discipline” they owe their loyalty to…all teachers and educators recognise the moral imperative of putting put the cart before the horseINTELLECTUALLY.


The problem is that many of us do not walk-our-talk…we, too, have been “socialised” in the same school systems that have created the parents that operate the “foundation feeder programmes” of our schools…and frequently feel powerless and unable to “fight the machine“.

Many of us have also been brought up in the “cultures of blame” that hold us back from being the teachers we all know we can bewe often choose the wrong questions to ask:

What Phil Cullen’s conversation with his parent has got me thunking is whether I need to be doing more work with parents…whether all of us in education need to be doing more with parents – and not just marketing our schools by telling half-truths about the number of exam passes we can manage in an academic year!

So, here’s an idea – why don’t we seriously set up real partnerships with our parentsLEARN them what we know is rightand take back our schools, colleges and universities...together!

Politicians might be able to resist “teachers” calls for changebut can they really resist the same calls from LEARNing parents?

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