Prince’s Teaching Institute : The Opening Keynote

Prince's Teaching Institute

The summer school residential was opened and introduced by Bernice McCabe, the course Co-Director and Headmistress of North London Collegiate School. She explained that the aim of the PTI is that of ‘inspiration and empowerment’ – and I imagine quite a few of us in the auditorium inwardly smiled. She also mentioned that the PTI, amongst other official teaching organisations, are pushing government for the creation of an autonomous Royal College of Teaching akin to the other colleges that other professions already have, something to represent the people. If you are interested in sharing your views on this, take part in the consultation here

After outlining the plan for the course we were handed over to Lord Peter Hennessy, an Historian and journalist who also teaches at the University of London. As such, he  described himself as ‘one of us’.  The title of his talk was ‘Never lose a holy curiosity : Or how to get out of bed on a wet Monday in February’. To be honest, he could have said ‘in June’ judging by the weather that morning.

The phrase ‘Never lose a holy curiosity‘ was spoken by Einstein. Hennessy suggested it could be a call to arms for teachers, a banner to unite under. I would have to agree with a lot of what he said, after all, if we lose our initial enthusiasm and love for our subject, for learners and for learning then we lose our ability to enthuse others surely? Isn’t it easier if students can learn by example? Be inspired by osmosis? There is a danger that is we do lose our holy curiosity that those that we seek to inspire will notice, and will be the poorer served by us because of it.

Hennessy set us a question : What does get you out of bed? It’s worth thinking of this often. And if it’s not that you love your job then maybe something needs to change. Some say that we work in order to pay the bills. Now while this is true (we all have to live!) I would suggest that if your only intention is to earn money, possibly teaching isn’t the best way forward! I took a pay cut when I first started, and it was because I love the job that I stayed. Far too much hard work, long hours, and emotional investment otherwise! Anyway, I digress. But I do think it is something to ponder. How to keep your curiosity and how to pass it on.

“In the cycle in which we travel, we can only ever see one fraction of the curve”. The trick for educators, and for the next generation, is how to be able to get ahead of the curve and to be able to cope with whatever unknown is found beyond it. There is a danger otherwise of being overly present-centred. Our curriculum, teaching style and schools need to bring the best of the past, blended with the present, and looking to the future. We often say how we are educating children for jobs that don’t even exist yet, and that in learners’ lifetimes these jobs and environments are likely to change even more – meaning it is essential that we can be flexible; can adapt ourselves, our teaching and our curriculum to suit, that we encourage and seek to engender skills and understanding as well as knowledge, that whole life soft skills are developed. The whole package. After all (to quote a friend), I’m a teacher of children, not just Geography 😉

It was pointed out that university teaching expects that students will be able to not just have knowledge, but be able to think critically, to form opinions and justify, to reason logically and argue a case, to collect and synthesise information – and to be able to do all this independently or work collaboratively. Now I’m not saying every student should go to university, definitely not. But I would challenge you to find an employer who wouldn’t also like their workers to possess this skills, and these skills are also essential for building positive relationships, being a responsible citizen.

Finally, Hennessy made a brief foray into the turbulent discussion on the role and format of assessment. And after airing his views on this ended with a thoughtful comment: that the best way to measure the success of learning is not a formative exam (this perhaps only measuring the success of short-term memory), but the sustained desire to learn. That if in years to come our students still have a desire to devote their time, money and effort to still learning then we will know we have been a success. If they still have their holy curiosity.

“History never repeats itself, but sometimes it rhymes” (Mark Twain)

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