Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

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  • David Willows

How Was School Today? Six Stories of Success, Momentum and the Reality of School

Six remarkable, talented individuals came together this week to help me continue to reflect on Simon Sinek’s idea that success is more about momentum than reaching a target.


A data analyst, a chef, a first year university student, two students from grade 9 and one from grade 5; I was curious to listen to their insights as they each reflected on their personal learning journey and contrasting experiences of school.


I was particularly keen to understand more about their thoughts and feelings of success at school, when they felt they had momentum and when they felt stuck or blocked.


Future learning might begin by looking back on our own experience of success, momentum and the reality of school.

The methodology was simple: a series of questions presented to each individual, with the simple encouragement to write down whatever first came into their minds. Words, ideas, thoughts, feelings - there were no right answers and I was determined to uncover their unfiltered ideas rather than tidy prose.


The result was a series of powerful, moving, articulate statements about learning in our schools. Each one was different, but it was impossible to ignore the common themes and language that ran through each narrative.


Below is a summary of what I read and learned.


1. Momentum requires an understanding of the learning roadmap. We easily get lost while we are learning. We don’t see the point, the connection, or the relevance of what we are doing. We need the bigger picture and the good teacher is the one that provides us with a roadmap. The good teacher is also someone that helps me to see where we are on the map, encouraging us by letting us know how far we have come, as well as where we need to go next. The reality is that, sometimes, it is only when we look back on school that we see precisely where and how we were successful.

2. Momentum in school is often short-lived. We sometimes feel successful in school, but the moments and the feelings don’t last long. Any sense of real momentum is quickly replaced by a feeling that the road ahead is difficult and we are likely to trip up. We get lost and stuck all the time. We work hard, but this hard work doesn’t always pay off. We are only as good as our last test. Our goal is to get through school, to survive it.

3. Momentum begins when the teachers sees me. We immediately feel when a teacher wants to be in the classroom. We are motivated and engaged by their passion for a subject. We are filled with confidence when they focus on what we have done well, even though we know that sometimes there is a lot we still have to learn. Most of all, however, we want to feel like our teachers see us as individuals, each one with passions and interests beyond the classroom. Sometimes we have stuff going on. We want them to understand that. We want to feel like they care about our lives and the choices we make. We want them to listen more. We want to be seen and understood.

4. Momentum is eclipsed by the fear of failure. We live the experience of school with a constant fear of failure. We feel rushed. We feel stressed. We feel overwhelmed by content. The pace is relentless. We know we are not always the smartest kids in the class. And when we are, we are terrified that we won’t be able to hold on to our position for very long. We are paralysed by the thought of a test. The test kills momentum, every single time.

This week, six remarkable, talented individuals came together and wrote down stories that confirm what many of us already know. They encourage all of us who are educators to revisit the experience of school and reframe our understanding of success for our students.


I am grateful for their insights.


And proud to be their father.


Photo by Geronimo Giqueaux on Unsplash

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