At Newman, we do things differently: we are a learning community!
There is an often-discussed idea among some educationalists. It’s the idea that the teacher isn’t the only expert in the classroom and that students have valuable contributions to make to everyone’s learning; but only if the teacher allows it.
Back in the early 1990s, I was working in a school for children with learning disabilities and one particular day still stands out to me. I was running an activity with a small group of seven and eight year olds. I’d never heard of ‘scaffolding’, ‘critical pedagogy’ or ‘co-constructing knowledge’, but when one of the children took the lead on the activity, I drifted into the background with a smile on my face, just knowing in my bones that this was one of the most spectacular things I’d ever witnessed in a classroom.
Fast forward to teaching at Birmingham Newman University and this happens a lot. Like the time when I was teaching a class about the discrimination experienced by children from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. I’ve been in professional practice for over thirty years and have read a lot about this particular subject, but when a student shared their own lived experiences as someone from one of those communities and captured the entire class for half an hour, I was happy to drift back into the background with that same smile on my face.
I had a very similar experience during freshers’ week this year. We’d watched a film in class about a boy and his older sister entering foster care. As a foster dad myself, it’s a subject that is very personal to me. It’s a subject that I write about a lot and indeed, it’s the focus of an entire module that I teach to our third-year students. But when the film finished, one of our new students spoke to the class decisively about their own lived experiences of growing up in care. When this happened, I joined the rest of the class and listened… and learned.
When educationalists discuss these ideas, they are usually framed as being of benefit to the student who is doing the leading. This is true but EVERYONE benefits by a deeper and richer learning experience – myself included.
My job title has the word ‘lecturer’ in it and it’s a word that often conjures up images of me talking whilst students passively listen. That’s not how we do things on the Working With Children, Young People and Families degree. Of course there are times when we tell students what we’ve learnt in the past, but we also encourage dialogue among all of us, as equal partners in our learning journey.
One of the core values at Birmingham Newman University is that we ‘respect and value all contributions, recognising that we are a single community, inspired and united by our shared vision and mission.’ On the ‘Working With Children, Young People and Families’ programme, that’s exactly who we are.
Keith Bishop is a Senior Lecturer in Social Policy and Programme Leader for the ‘Working With Children, Young People and Families’ degree at Birmingham Newman University.