Empathy, creativity, self-expression and fun are all key to successful learning, says Tom Rogerson, headmaster of Cottesmore School.
The reality is that school is unfair. Some people find it easy and derive pleasure from the learning process, taking it all in their stride. And some do not.
Cottesmore is an academic school, and we have both types – scholars who have already found their academic flow and those who would prefer to be outside climbing trees – but we are endeavouring constantly to convert the latter group.
Yet, school should be a joy for all pupils. And if it is not, great efforts should be made to make it so. But how do we try to convert those who have not found the deep joy of constant, relentless learning?
The great thing is that fun, happiness and flow benefits both groups. Joy is indiscriminate. Both sides enjoy it – that’s a pan-pupil, universal, cross-curricular fact.
Lessons in the day should be filled with pizzazz and sparkle. Evenings should be punctuated with dancing to pop music and paddle boarding. School should be a child-centred oasis, packed with bespoke,
Of course, not everyone likes constant action, some children might prefer to search for insects or read a book under a tree as this is where they experience joy and, of course, this must be catered for at the same time.
Some like to geek out on a computer or play FIFA on the Xbox. Let them.
No matter how entertaining or brilliant each individual lesson or how empathetic each adult a child comes across every day, school can be a relatively painful process. Some unfortunate children lurch haplessly from one classroom to another wondering what fresh hell is up next. You can pretend that this is not the case if you want, but you’d be kidding yourself.
So for these young people, every time something explosively fun happens at school, slowly but surely they start to associate that joy, that laughter and that flow with learning. This is what we are trying to achieve at Cottesmore.
Too much discourse in education is about the set up of chairs and tables in classrooms. Frankly, who cares? The thing that counts is the connection of the teacher to the student, the empathy, the quality of the listening, the warmth and support of the relationship. If the children feel cared for, they will learn. And part of that caring is planning fun into each lesson and being aware of what the children in each class consider to be fun.
Another key element that maximises joy, fun, fulfilment, and self-actualisation is learning to express oneself.
Creative and expressive flow are also a source of enlightenment: being in a state of flow where nothing else matters and being at one with the moment is an essential lesson to learn.
How do we find those moments at Cottesmore? By providing an astounding number and variety of experiences, academic subjects, clubs, activities, sports and events. Not forgetting to provide space in between for rest and recuperation.
We are constantly trying to concoct new ways to make the Cottesmore children feel happy and at home. There are 20 dogs at Cottesmore, along with nine pigs, six quails, 14 chickens and six ducks.
Plus, two golf courses, a ten-pin bowling alley and a fishing lake, countless games pitches, grass tennis courts and a swimming pool.
But it all comes down to the warmth of the social connections. We have a superb set of teachers and support staff and they are, of course, the ones who make it joyful. They are the ones who make it fair.
Tom Rogerson is headmaster of Cottesmore School.
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