From education to employment

Developing mindfulness through learning

Sally Dicketts is chief executive of Active Learning

How many of us grew up in households where we fought for attention?

If you had siblings, the chances are you figured out early on that the way to get your voice heard was to speak the loudest.

This approach quickly translates to the classroom, where the keenest pupils desperately stretch their hands high above the others to be selected as the chosen one who can give the answer to a question.

Before long we become used to snatching seconds of airtime to get our point across, to prove we know the answers and to show we have something valuable to say. In this quick fire approach, there is little time for thinking and developing a robust argument.

This may seem less like a problem and more like a symptom of living in a busy and crowded world. But it can limit our ability to become true masters of effective thinking, and also prevent us from really listening to the views of others.

In the case of the noisy classroom, it also translates into an academic ‘survival of the fittest’, in which those who cannot articulate their thoughts in a five second sound bite soon get overlooked and ignored.

As educational providers we need to provide the right social environment to enable our students to thrive. Our learning environments need to recognise that every learner is unique and offer the right support to help them develop excellent independent thinking skills.

Part of this approach is about carving out the time needed for people to do their thinking. This can be done in independent learning zones, with the support of a learning coach, or perhaps aloud in a one-on-one setting, working with a tutor or another student. The challenge is as much for the student developing their thoughts as it is for the tutor or peer, who must listen without interrupting and take on board what is being said before contributing.

This exchange can help both parties to develop much more robust arguments and thought processes, and each can truly learn from each other.

At Activate Learning we want to co-create learning experiences. This can be about working closely with employers and students to create the next commercial learning company, helping each party to improve the relevance and impact of what is being taught.

But it can equally be about bringing students together to improve the way they way they interact and think. Our brains are amazing, but much like other parts of the body they need continued stretch and challenge to keep on developing. If we are to become masters of mindfulness, we need to learn how to think and practice the techniques. I believe this can help every individual achieve so much more than they ever imagined.

Sally Dicketts is principal and chief executive of Oxford & Cherwell Valley College, a member of the Gazelle Colleges Group


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