The Ministry of Fun

 

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‘I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be’

Whitney Houston

Learning is hard, learning should be hard.

Nothing controversial there. I don’t anybody who wouldn’t fundamentally agree with that statement.

Learning is fun, learning should be fun.

Pretty sure there are a few heckles raised with that statement. ‘Fun’ seems to be  a dirty word in education. It gets associated with slacking off, wasted time and teachers spending hours prepping a lesson to make it ‘fun!’

We don’t plan lessons because they are fun. We plan the learning.

I am reclaiming the word. Learning in our school is ‘fun’. I see children bounce into  school in the morning and bounce out again at the end of the day. They have ‘fun’, they also work blummin’ hard. Key to that fun is relationships. Teachers who know their children well. Learning being hard and fun are not mutually exclusive, with the right teacher it can be both. Learning new stuff is fun. We work hard to give ‘purpose’ to learning so that children to see value in the learning. The challenge is how do we create a sense that learning, that acquiring knowledge is of itself something to aspire to.  It comes ultimately down to a question of carrot or stick. How do you get children to want to learn?  (This is a caveat I don’t have any answers)

I was struck by this as I showed a prospective parent around our school yesterday,  it was one of those moments that makes you take stock. There is no other way to describe it, other than school was ‘ON IT!’ Every class was driven and focused. Great teachers getting it right. There was a buzz.! A crackle in the air, there was also laughter and smiles. It’s one of those things that you miss if you don’t look for it…one of those things that you take for granted.

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It also however made me think as a parent. I want my children to bounce. I want them to get that kick from learning. I want them to be the drivers. My wife used to teach A’ level and has seen way to many children pushed by parents, go off the rails. Mostly because of parents ‘helicoptering.’ checking on everything. Motivation by stick whether from school or parent will only ever go so far. Motivating children to be the drivers has to be the aim, doing it because they want to do it not because they’re made to.

I have two boys, my youngest is thirteen for him, currently school has lost its’ sparkle. He has always been a hard-working conscientious learner. He loves learning. He has always soaked stuff up like a sponge. He was the child who walked back in the house and would share his everything he had learnt. He has had his struggles, reading is and it will continue to be hard work but its a barrier he constantly strives to overcome. However for the first time in his school career is just going through the motions. ‘How was school?’ ‘Fine’ ‘What did you learn?’ ‘Stuff’. He is doing enough, but the sparkle is gone. Now I know some will say that’s teenagers and to some degree they’re right. The looming shadow of ‘options’ has not helped. He has got to lose the many of the things that motivate and fire him. Making choices for him feels huge and important. (He’s only year 8)

My eldest is seventeen and is now the polar opposite, he also did enough, got a reasonable set of GCSE’s, but secondary school for him was a trial, that he got through. To see your son trudge through five joyless years is really hard. There were no big issues he negotiated its challenges well, but there no love of learning either. He’s lucky, he’s quite able. He was however never really challenged to push on and achieve either. He was the kid the teachers didn’t worry about, ‘He’ll get his grades,’ sadly there was no ambition for him to drive beyond expectations.  Worst of all they didn’t know him. They never knew his dreams, his passion. They didn’t see him. They saw a target and a grade, no one talked to him about his ambitions. He was constantly being pushed towards engineering, (It’s a Teesside thing) career talk after career talk about ‘joining the Army’ or ‘working on the Rigs.’ At no point did they stop and ask him what he wanted.  Suddenly however we have a young man who has come alive. Following his GCSE’s in Maths and triple Science, he is now doing a BTeC in Musical Theatre. He is a boy that bounces out the house, bounces back in, goes in to college for extra sessions and is working his proverbial socks off. The change is remarkable but is partly about him finding him. We ask now and he tells, enthusing about the learning. This is ultimately about him motivating him.

The key question isn’t really about fun it’s about agency, how can we create that drive so that learning hard stuff is ‘fun.’ How do we create cultures that celebrate Learning? I feel we have that in my school, I’m not entirely sure how we created it though.

Creating a purpose for learning was a vital part of it as is hearing a child’s voice.

‘I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I’ll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me’

Whitney Houston

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One thought on “The Ministry of Fun

  1. Pingback: Getting rid of staff isn’t the answer…TES article archive #3 | Being Brave! a first time headteachers blog.

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