Dispositions necessary for children to learn.
As a result of recent events which recently saw most children learning at home, under the guidance of their parents, and the direction of their teachers, and now having returned to school, three conditions, relevant in any setting, are necessary for a child to LEARN. I am going to suggest that these conditions, or personal dispositions, are universally applicable to children everywhere.
The first of these dispositions is SAFETY.
First and foremost, for a child to be in a position to learn they must feel safe. Their safety would mean they have enough food, clothing and shelter, the basics for living a healthy life, so they can then concentrate on the task of learning. Food, clothing shelter would ordinarily be provided by their parents or carers. However, in some circumstances, it is necessary for the school to take on that responsibility of providing food on occasions that for a child. Breakfast clubs are quite common across schools in Australia, whereby children, who come from family environments that don’t have the capacity to provide breakfast for children, rely on the school to provide food ,so the child has enough sustenance so they can concentrate in class. Clothing is occasionally also provided by the school. Second hand or even brand new uniforms may be provided for children who cannot be provided with adequate uniforms by their families. Uniforms help the child feel like they belong as they ‘look’ the same as their classmates. The family home is the shelter in which most children live. Occasionally children may be living with other caring adults. So long as they “have a roof over their heads” then the third essential basic requirement is provided. Other caring adults may include grandparents, other relatives, foster carers and family friends. Sleeping in a warm bed is important for children. The other element about being safe is that children know and understand their routines in life. They know who will be dropping them at school. They know who will be picking them up at school. They have the confidence to walk out of the school gate at the end of the day knowing that someone who knows and loves them will be there waiting for them. These are all elements of a child feeling safe so that they can attend to the task of learning at school.
The second disposition is that of CONNECTEDNESS.
A child needs to be connected with their family and their social networks beyond their family. These networks can include their school or any cultural activities such as sport or artistic pursuits of the child. Connection begins prior to birth, in the womb, then through their toddler years, through to when they join a school group. Initially the child must be connected with their family, their parents, their grandparents who know and love them. Then when a child moves to school they will ideally find children of similar interests, potentially like-minded children with whom they make a connection and they form part of a group. The connections between a child and their parents and a child and their school groups are critical so that they are part of a social group which knows and cares about them. Being part of a group is key to a child’s well-being because human beings are social beings. We know, live, love, learn and work together. It is very rare that human beings function in isolation and hence to be connected to a social group, their family and their friends, is very important for a child’s well-being and welfare. This is the second disposition which is vital for a child to be able to attend to learning.
The third disposition that is essential for a child to be able to attend to learn is that of CONTENTMENT.
Originally I thought the third disposition may have been happiness but wise colleague Jill Sweatman, the BRAIN WHISPERER TM, reminded me that happiness is an elevated state of joy that not everyone will reach. Everyone can reach contentment. My definition of contentment is that there is a degree of acceptance of someone’s current circumstances or lifestyle. A child needs to accept their place in life; they need to accept the family in which they live; they need to accept the school which they attend; they need to accept the social group of which they are a part; they need to accept the limitations of their personal circumstances; they need to accept (and embrace) the opportunities that life presents them. If a child is accepting they have a degree of contentment, tolerance and understanding of their disposition in life. This then allows them to focus on the task at hand at school which is learning. Children who are content and have an acceptance and an understanding of their circumstances may even find opportunities to embrace beyond their family and beyond school life. They already have a degree of solitude and comfort in themselves and their social network. Knowing that they are safe, knowing that they are connected, allows them to explore other opportunities beyond those to dispositions. (Please note acceptance of limitations of current circumstances does not mean that people should not strive to go beyond current situations for improvement. Striving to improve and excel should be a goal for all life-long learners).
All three dispositions that have just been described are inextricably linked. It is not possible to be connected without being safe. It is not possible to be content without being connected. It is not possible to be safe without being a connected. So as you can see all three dispositions are linked and all three dispositions are essential for a child to be able to attend to learning at school and beyond school.
In recent weeks and months children have been learning at home due to COVID-19. As a result of children learning from home there has been a degree of physical isolation from their social groups. However, technology has allowed the children to still feel connected through the use of various platforms, which have allowed face-to-face connections through the virtual world for children to still make connections. The physical isolation has also been a test of resilience for the children, the families and School staff. Teachers were also missing the presence of seeing the children’s smiling faces in front of them. Thankfully technology has at least allowed some connection through the medium of online platforms. Similarly during the experience of educating during the COVID-19 experience, the families, the children and the staff that have accepted the positions that they were placed in and the limitations in which they had to operate, have probably adjusted more quickly, and hence may have been more successful and less stressed in understanding and accepting the current circumstances in which they were working.
It was critical that teachers and parents were on the same page about the priorities that needed to be addressed when they were operating in educational isolation through COVID-19 experience. It was critical that teachers and parents understood that a child had to be safe first and foremost. The child had to know that they were loved, they had food, clothing and shelter, that their teacher would be providing work for them. They needed to be safe first and foremost. It was important that teachers and parents maintained a degree of social connection for the child. The child should have been able to connect with their classmates and their teachers by the use of technology during the COVID-19 experience. It was also critical that the parents and the teachers and the children accepted the limitations in which they were working. Learning from home during COVID-19 was most unusual. The delivery of curriculum, the ability to provide feedback, the ability give one-on-one instruction, the ability to give group instruction, was different than what it would be if a teacher was standing in front of the class. The teachers did a fantastic job in adapting the delivery and their feedback and their support of the children during this time. They had to have a degree of acceptance and contentment about the circumstances in which they were working.
Now that the majority of children across the country has returned to school, it is only reinforces that those three dispositions are vital so a child has the framework and the capacity to attend to learning. If a child is safe, connected and content then they have the opportunity to switch on and to attend to the task at hand at school. Having returned to school recently it has been evident that the children who weren’t safe, who may not have been connected, and who were struggling with the changing circumstances over the last few months, may have struggled to attend to learning. Now that we have returned to our new circumstances, with the degree of some physical isolation still present, children are back in classrooms, back working with the teachers who know and love their job in providing high quality education for all children in front of them. We can reinforce these dispositions of safety, connection and contentment so that children will learn.
Once a child has these dispositions, they have the capacity to be receptive to learning. If any of these three dispositions are missing, threatened or jeopardized then the child’s capacity to learn is significantly impeded.
Contributor: Andrew Oberthur
Andrew Oberthur is the father of two teenagers and a primary school principal with over 30 years experience teaching and leading primary schools in Brisbane.
In 2018 he published his first book “Are You Ready for Primary School This Year? which is about building a culture of trust, collaboration and enquiry between parents and teachers. His book is available from his website www.creativecollaborativesolutions.net
He has been on ABC Brisbane radio a few times this year, as well as doing podcasts for PakMag.