Five Mindsets: Growing minds with educator - Georgie Curtis
After a chat with primary school teacher Georgie Curtis I realised how much our growing minds need access to the things that make us uncomfortable.
Georgie suggests that Growing minds are often shielded from life experiences that adults try to avoid but, that for children, build resilience. If we don’t have more exposure to the dirt and mess of life in our younger years, how can our brains learn to start crafting solutions to the problems of getting too cold, too wet, too dirty? As we get older the problems become more complex, but we need to enable children to experience a bit of hardship when their minds are more open to discovering ways to cope, shift the problem or find a solution. We need to give them the tools to adapt – and many of these tools are found in nature.
I threw five questions at Georgie and her responses are below.
We are exploring the idea of five minds – the minds Australia needs to support the transformation from our currently separated education systems to the idea of learning through life. In your view, what do growing minds need that are not currently being met by our education system as a whole?
My view is that our growing minds need to experience failure, they need to experience difficulties and uncomfortable situations and when they do, they develop the desire to come out the other end stronger and more self-aware, with new knowledge and experience.
Babies are born with an innate desire to learn new skills through inquiring, playing, experimenting, trial and error and making connections to past experiences. When they fall over when trying to walk, they get up again, and again and again. Yes they get frustrated, but this frustration fuels their desire to want to keep on trying.
Giving children opportunities to be outside of their comfort zones without adults shielding them from any kind of disappointment or difficulty doesn’t happen often enough.
By trying to make life more comfortable and enjoyable for our children, we are robbing them of ever feeling discomfort and therefore knowing the joy and sense of achievement when this is overcome. I believe offering a wide range of challenging real-world experiences to all age groups is vital in developing resilient young people with a desire to build the skills and knowledge to thrive in an ever-changing world.
If we applied a growing mindset to the re-design of how, where, when and what we learn, what would change or stay the same?
To me, the answer is simple: nature.
Our young people are experiencing an epidemic of a “Nature Deficit Disorder”, where they are disconnected from the most significant and beautiful resource we have.
When parents and educators teach children to be scared of getting caught in the rain, of getting muddy feet, or of climbing trees, we are stamping out a connectedness to nature that I believe we are born with.
Too often adults project their own fears and worries onto children about what is considered acceptable behaviour and as a result they become too scared to take risks. The lessons we learn about ourselves, others and the world around us when we are in nature are incomparable to those we learn within the comfort of four walls.
Teaching explicitly the concepts of mindfulness, gratitude and resilience in the classroom wouldn’t be necessary if we were spending more time playing, exploring and learning through and about our natural world.
At primary school, how is it possible to enable children to bring their life experiences into the classroom and how can that shape their self-awareness, confidence or future interests? Is there enough scope to facilitate this as a teacher?
As an educator of children I live by the mantra of keeping the student’s wellbeing at the front of mind and the curriculum at the back. If my students are lacking in self-worth and confidence I see it as my role to address that first before anything else.
I am always striving to create a culture within the learning community that prioritises wellbeing. Conversations about neuroscience with six year olds may seem far-fetched for some people but the reality is it is as much a part of our daily ritual as doing the morning roll.
Understanding how parts of our brain work and how they impact our emotions and behaviours is so powerful in self-awareness and allows them to build strategies to put in place when they sense they are beginning to lose control. Building a strong sense of self and an awareness of their own strengths is empowering to them and allows them to have a deeper understanding of their relationships and the shared human experience.
I also love to think of the analogy that if a flower isn’t thriving, we don’t try to fix the flower, but make adjustments to the environment it is in. When students are not thriving we too often have the perspective that something must be wrong with the child, rather than making adjustments to the learning environment.
There are so many things that we do in schools without critically reflecting why we do them or having evidence to support decisions. We do them because we have always done them so they are invisible to us.
An example of this is the trophy cabinets and display boards often sprawled all over the walls in shared spaces of schools. They are so common that I hardly noticed them until someone pointed out to me the symbolic messages these cabinets and boards sent about what is valued at this school. That winners are important and that other students in the community less so. I realised then that we have to rethink everything we do and sometimes an awareness of what these things are is the challenging part!
As we emerge from COVID-19, what are some of the things that we have learned from jumping into the virtual learning sphere? Who has it worked for and who has it let down and what does that tell you?
The sudden shift to online learning has worked for students who are already self-motivated, they have been able to develop a sense of self efficacy and make core decisions about their own learning - moving from the passenger seat into the driver’s seat.
It has worked for those who have a calm and happy home life and have enjoyed extra time with family members and having extra time to have free, unstructured play. Parents who are at home are more in tune with their child’s learning and overall more appreciative and respectful of the role of teachers. The biggest thing we are all missing is the human interaction and the connectedness to a group that can’t be replicated on a screen.
This tells me that the relationships between the people in our community and the sense of connectedness to a group of people outside of your family is so significant in having a meaningful purpose in life and throughout the educational journey.
If Australia were to embrace a joined-up narrative about learning through life, starting with the day we are born and ending in older age, what would the learning pathways look like from your point of view?
The learning process is fluid, yet our educational institutions are so disjointed between each age and stage. There is a real disconnect between primary and secondary education in so many schools and often the love of learning that is so evident in the early years is lost somewhere along the way, stamped out by rigid and outdated systems that are not working.
What we all have in common is our human experiences, our sense of curiosity and wonder that is innate, our desire to belong to a group. I’d love to see older students taking the role of mentors and leaders for our younger students rather than separating them out.
Parents as partners in the learning process and playing a more active role throughout the journey. Less emphasis on an end goal and more on measuring growth and personal achievements. More student voice, choice and ownership over the process and collaboration with teachers in designing the learning that is going to make the biggest impact on their lives.
Kate Scott is Director of Streamer Strategy.