We know that learning is relational. Connection is an essential value for all of us, and is possibly one of the reasons educators are drawn to the teaching profession – to work with people.

For most of us, our learning journey in a formal setting begins alongside others. What is your earliest memory of learning? 

For me, I remember my pre-school classroom, standing alongside a friend as I watched her carefully place white chalk lines in the middle of a road in the town we were designing.

Through observing each other, we shared knowledge, challenged each other and made decisions. We also had fun.

As our learning journey progresses, through school, university and professionally, as we specialise, perhaps learning becomes more of an individual pursuit? This space is important, and yet, do we have the right balance? 

As a senior leader, perhaps there is less access to peers and time and therefore, to the level of support, challenge and ‘learning alongside’ that we have benefitted from in the past. 

As we reflect on how we learn together at MSB, a few thoughts have arisen on why learning together is important, and how it evolves in maturity.

1. Transformative learning

Malcolm Knowles is known for his work into principles of effective adult learning, or ‘andragogy’ as a counterpoint to pedagogy which refers to learning in the context of teaching children.

When we consider creating learning experiences for ourselves or colleagues, it’s useful to be aware of what works. 

A theory that developed on the shoulders of Knowles’ work is Jarvis’ theory of non-learning. Non-learning occurs when our experience conforms to our own experience. Transformative learning, on the other hand, is ‘the social process of constructing or appropriating a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of one’s experience as a guide to action.’

Unless we mix with people who have permission and indeed, the invitation to critique and challenge our perspectives, we are stuck in non-learning terrain. 

And the transformative learning is not complete until the adult learner moves into action on the basis of new insight. Here, the group has a role to play in holding the learner accountable and being present to witness and reflect on the consequences of new action.

2. Your wisdom is essential to the group

By the time we reach leadership, we have experience, even wisdom: a rich resource for new learning as we make connections and new meaning. 

When learning together as adults, it’s important and respectful to acknowledge and celebrate each others’ wisdom and invite it into the space. 

Clearly, this is counter to the transference of knowledge from instructor to learner as might be appropriate in pedagogy. Adults learn best when we link our past experience to anything new and validate new concepts based on prior learning. This explains to me why I occasionally got itchy feet in some of my professional training days as a teacher! 

Hence, it is crucial to encourage discussion and sharing, creating a learning community where people can interact on a meaningful level, sharing a diversity of knowledge and experience and enjoying the fulfilment of contributing to breakthroughs for peers.

3. Self-awareness and self-concept

Another principle named by Knowles is that of self concept: ‘as a person matures, their self-concept moves from being a dependent personality towards being a self-directed human being.’

It strikes me that there is some work to do here. Both in finding then sustaining clarity of direction, and having the confidence that we are the right person to create the change we care about. Unfortunately, we are not experts in self-awareness. We need the lenses of others to have a more rounded sense of who we are. 

In a group setting, we see ourselves with new eyes. In the MSB space, we learn the skill of acknowledgement, which is to name the qualities we see in each other. With this awareness comes greater access to our strengths and gifts, creating capacity for courageous action in service or leadership direction and purpose.

4. Learning in real time

Of course, school leaders are invited to learn on the spot more often than to lean back in an armchair with a book. 

By being part of a learning group of trusted peers, we have people to call on when we are stuck or need a new perspective right now. This might be a quick message or text, or it might simply be, what would this person do if they were in my shoes? What would they say to me in this moment? 

To have these perspective, this supportive ‘crew’, available both physically and conceptually, is a resource to lean into.

Having fun

Earlier this year, I spoke to Elliot Gattegno, the learning designer for Be on Deck, a company that incubates the most successful start-ups in the world. He shared that people simply want three things: to learn new stuff, to meet new people, and to have fun. 

We invite you to consider joining a space to learn together with others, and to have fun while you do.

Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.

Helen Keller