There Needs to Be a Reboot on Education: Here’s How, with Independent Thinking Associate, Dave Harris: Podcast Transcript

Ludo Millar
Hello, and welcome to the Qualified Tutor Podcast, the podcast that brings you the latest in the world of tutoring EdTech and education and hopefully inspires in us a big change that each and every one of us is capable of.

Qualified Tutor is an industry-leading tutor training organisation and an online tutoring community for 1000s of tutors around the world. This podcast is the voice of this community, where we aim to hear from tutors, teachers, entrepreneurs, coaches, business experts, students, tutor printers, and more from the world of tutoring about what inspires them every day, how they can help tutors like you and what they’ve learned about tutoring along the way.

The question is, what will you learn today?

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Ludo Millar 1:30
Hello, and welcome to this episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast, the 95th episode no less. So just let that sink in for a little bit. If this is your first time listening to the QT Podcast, you have a whole trove to go back and listen to and if you’ve been here with us since episode one, then thank you for staying with us.

I am delighted to be welcoming on our guest today, Dave Harris. Now just before I let Dave do the talking, let me just tell you a little bit about Dave so you have some context. Dave is the Managing Director of Independent Thinking, which is an incredible organisation that seeks to challenge leaders and educators prompting them to go further, to think more and do more for their communities and their students. Founder of Independent Thinking, Ian Gilbert was a guest on this very podcast in the spring of last year, of 2021 and, following that, joined us as a keynote speaker at the first Love Tutoring Festival in June 2021. Dave, and fellow Independent Thinking associate Nina Jackson, will be joining us as keynote speakers for this month’s Love Tutoring Festival 2 which starts on Monday 24th of January.

Now I’m not sure I could do Dave justice with an introduction as his level of expertise, skill and experience, I would say, cannot be easily summarised, such is its breadth. So what I will try and do in the next 25 minutes is to allow Dave to display his his charm, his wit and knowledge on the area of change management, inspiring learners, thinking differently and some more topics. Many of the topics that Dave will be speaking about during his keynote in the coming few weeks. So, Dave, welcome to the podcast.

Dave Harris 4:08
Hi, there. Thank you for the for the very positive intro.

Ludo Millar 4:14
That’s quite alright. I hope that’s given our listeners a little bit of a background to you. So our first question, those of you who’ve been with us for the past 95 episodes will know, is what is your WHY, Dave?

Dave Harris 4:29
I suppose my why is very similar to that we claim as the company which is there is another way. I might sound a little bit bizarre, but we say there is another way purely because we don’t actually believe that education is something that we should be following a prescription for, that there is a set thing to do. But the only thing we do believe is that there is another way of doing it, that we don’t have to do it the way that everybody else is. And I think there’s an acceptance across the world, that education is a particular thing, which it used to be, but it is no longer.

So, in other words, I guess that there is no doubt that education is not actually fulfilling the needs that we as society have for it, not just in Britain, but across the world. And I think that there needs to be a reboot as to what we actually want from education. And I think that’s at the heart of anything we do. Because otherwise, we’re just kind of trying to reproduce something, which is just simply not appropriate.

Ludo Millar 5:42
Yeah. And I imagine there will be listeners right now nodding their heads, this idea that education used to be something. But I’m sure there’ll be some who don’t really know what this this concept is, could you go a little bit more into it? I mean, education used to be a certain thing, and it may not be anymore.

Dave Harris 6:02
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s really interesting, if you go back to the foundations of education, the first bit, it was actually based around curiosity, people used to have collections of unusual things, which people used to go and visit to see. And that was about getting people interested in what was there. We then moved into the industrial society, which is when formal education came out, we had some very set rules. It was about producing things, about making stuff and it was organised in a very hierarchical way.

If you look at schools, they are based very similarly to the structure of a mill. That is, either you have a boss, you have two deputies, you have for the next level. And the approach to it was very much about trying to replicate the information you needed the young people to have to work in society. So in other words, education’s function was to provide information for kids, for young people to become productive adults. Great, totally understand that. The issue is that there is nobody who believes that we’re still in the industrial society and the industrial society has changed. We are at the end of a transition period moving into a new kind of society, we no longer have the same rules or the needs for people to produce things. Of course, we’ve automated things, but we have now much more automated, we know that we can ask someone to do something on the other side of the world, and it can be printed over here. So the concept, the idea that we are working in a community to produce an output is no longer there.

So for us to carry on, assuming that education is still the same, the kids still need to learn the same stuff they did 50 years ago is, frankly, lunatic. It kind of doesn’t make any sense at all. For us to think that we need to learn, you know, the 10 longest rivers in the world. Why would you need to know that? There might have been an argument, questionable if there was, but the argument 50 years ago, that that’s the case, what we now need is our young people to have the desire to learn, because the information is at the end of their fingertips. They can ask Siri, what the 10 longest rivers in the world are. Remembering it is not the point. The fact is, what do you do with it? And why do you want to do something with it? Which is why there needs to be a reboot of education, not thinking about us replicating the information in the previous generation.

If all we do as an education system is replicate what the generation before did, we are absolutely stuffed as a society, because our only way to develop is to change that. And unless we see education as an evolution, and I guess revolution, then I think we really are in very troubled area as a society.

Ludo Millar 9:17
So how have the goalposts of exactly what you’re explaining, how have the goalposts of thinking differently in education changed, looking at 2022?

Dave Harris 9:28
I think it’s an interesting one, because there was no doubt, I mean, I’ve watched and I often talk about watching a pendulum go backwards and forwards over the centuries, between one kind of education or the other and we had in the last 10 years, moved the pendulum as far as it’s possible to go on turning education into numbers and just believing that the only important thing was that we proved our knowledge by answering questions in exams, which is clearly not the best use of it, but we got to that point and things were creaking; even Ofsted, in their great wisdom, was starting to say those things. And I could really see the shifts in the UK starting to come back.

Now I think the pandemic has somewhat knocked us off a bit. The pandemic has been horrible for large proportions of the population. It has caused all sorts of damage and it is only natural that now when people are trying to do things, they’re trying to get back to a normal. Now that’s quite dangerous when the normal was already unsteady and problematic. And so it worries me that one or two people who were starting to go, ‘You know what, we’ve got to get a better curriculum, we’ve got to change the way we teach’. It’s a bit like they were agreeing they got across to this a river. What the pandemic has done is flooded the river. So now putting your foot in the river, people feel this is frightening and scary. No, no, let’s get back to where we were for a bit. Let’s just get our breath back. And let’s just sort things out.

The reality is I don’t think we should. We’ve got time to be doing that. So part of me goes that, much as I think the temptation is to go, ‘Well, let’s just get a steady year under our belts’. I think the best we could do as society is to say, ‘Okay, it has been horrible the pandemic, but it offers us a chance’. We’ve now made it clear that, if we stop exams, the world doesn’t stop spinning. If we actually look at kids’ learning, they can do it from home. But what’s important is that the kids are interested and fascinated. And I recently did, about a year, well, just before the pandemic, I did a survey on the Isle of Man when they were looking at how they could improve their education system. And I asked parents, what did they want from the education system? What did they want their kid- what was the absolute, you know, if they’ve got a three-year-old, what did they want their three-year-old to know, by the time they were 20? And most of the parents were really clear. They said, ‘I don’t really care what they know. I just want them to be passionate about what they know’. And I think that’s a really good point is that if we haven’t got curiosity, passion, wonder in our learning, we’re dead behind the eyes. We are doing it for what reason. And if education is only about passing exams, boy, have we got it wrong. Because that would mean that the moment you pass your exams, you stop learning.

For me, I’m 61 and I learn something new every day. I love finding out things. And there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t go, ‘Wow’ because something amazes me. That’s what education is. And the best gift we can give to any young person is to give them The Wow.

Ludo Millar 13:06
And it’s not learning what the 11th longest river is. [LAUGHS]

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Ludo Millar

For those of you who know the Love Tutoring Festival, you will be delighted to hear that … we’re back!

From Monday 24th to Friday 28th of January 2022, the Love Tutoring Festival will return bigger and better than ever. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re in for a real treat. The most loved festival in tutoring, the Love Tutoring Festival is a five-day, online celebration of all things tutoring. With some of the biggest names in tutoring, education and pedagogy and hundreds of committed and motivated tutors from all four corners of the globe taking part, it really is the biggest party in tutoring. We will again be working on a freemium ticket model this year, with all our events totally free, apart from our famous, and ludicrously inexpensive, CPD-Accredited workshops. You can find out more, including the confirmed speakers so far, how to grab your place, and key information on our wonderful sponsors at qualifiedtutor.org/lovetutoringfestival.

Let’s raise standards in tutoring together.

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Ludo Millar

So let’s pull on that thread a little bit more. Your event at the Love Tutoring Festival 2 is titled ‘Wonder and Curiosity in Learning’ and you’ve just, very passionately may I say, been talking about the curiosity and passion in learning. Can you just tell us a little bit more about how that plays out in your work?

Dave Harris 14:47
I mean, at Independent Thinking, we’ve got a number of very talented individuals. We’re all like the A Team, you know, everybody does a different type of thing. We don’t all repeat our stuff but one of our people, there’s Dr Andrew Curran, who’s a neuroscientist, and he wrote the book, The Little Book of Big Stuff About the Brain. And I love spending time with him. And from him, I developed a real passion and interest about the way the brain works. And what scares me is whether educationalists have that passion. If we went into a garage, imagine you drive your car into a garage, and you go, ‘Okay, can you tell me something wrong with the engine?’. And the person says, ‘Actually, I don’t really know much about engines, but yeah, we’ll see what we can do you’. You’d say, ‘Well, I’m not going to this garage’. Yet we go regularly to educational establishments where people don’t understand what learning is, what actually happens in the brain, when you learn something. And what it’s done for me by opening up the world of neuroscience. Now, I am not a neuroscientist, people like Andrew have spent their life at it. And it would be insulting to imply that I am. But what I have done is grasped enough neuroscience to understand the basics, what needs to happen for learning.

And, I mean, crudely, the brain is split into three parts, they call it the triune brain. It’s not many more parts than that. But there are three basic areas that people identify. One of the key areas that’s involved in learning is the limbic system. And the limbic system absolutely responds to passion and curiosity and love and wonder and storytelling. And what you can’t do is separate that. Yes, of course, we have a large part of the brain, the neocortex, which is a bag of the logical thinking and is about higher-order thinking. But if we believe that’s what all the learning is, we’re completely missing the point. Because the reality is, if you are not interested or not passionate, you are not usually going to remember. The whole thing about learning is learning is not an instant.

If I tell you the Latvian word for certainly as protams, I happen to know that because I used to have a friend who lived there. And you’ve learned that. So I can say, ‘Okay, I have taught Ludo something, he knows that, more or less’. Certainly by tomorrow, you won’t have learned it because you won’t remember it. Certainly five or six days, you won’t know it. Is that because I’m a bad teacher? No, it’s because you have 1000s of inputs in the brain every day, the only way you get them into learning is not for me to shout it at you or get cross, because you forget it. The way is for you to revisit that information, to see it, to be interested, to go, ‘Oh, wow. I wonder why. I wonder what the world of curiosity and wonder does’. It is encouraging you to revisit your learning on your own not because a teacher has told you or a tutor has told you or somebody has said, ‘You need to learn this for the exam’. But because you’ve gone, ‘Oh, I wonder what that does’ and I surround myself now- if people could see me now. And those of you who come to the workshop will see me bringing various items I have got on my wall on my cupboards everywhere. Objects that just make me think, make me smile.

As I was talking to you about earlier, I’ve got a little puzzle that I’m just turning from being a man into a cube, which is just I have, it’s keeping my mind busy. It keeps me wondering what’s in the world. When I go outside and I see a flower, I look at a flower and go, ‘Why does that reproduce?’. If you look at it, you realise that boredom is not something that is given to you. It’s something you allow to happen to yourself. There are too many wonderful things around you to be bored. But I understand that, if we let young people believe that learning is delivered to them in little packages, then of course it’s boring. If you let young people realise that learning is what’s around them, it makes your mind think so differently.

And I remember one of the things that Andrew Curran told us when we had one of our Associates Sessions with him is he was telling us about how some research recently had discovered that we’re tired most of your life. You have a balance between chemicals like serotonin and oxytocin that calm you down, that you can use if you need to, to get that space, and dopamine and other chemicals, glutamine, which get you really responding in a bit of an agitated way. And you know that they’re the things that help you when you need that, for most of your life, you can call on that balance between your chemicals. The only time in your life where you have a real misbalance is your teenage years. And in the teenage years, you have a soup of active chemicals, which cause your brain to be all over the place. And I said to Andrew, I said, ‘Isn’t that a bit of bad design, to give us this desire to be different and to push the boundaries and to find their own way?’. And he said, ‘No, it’s probably the main reason we survive as a species’. [LAUGHS]

Because back to the point I made earlier, if we just replicate the information, if we did everything our parents had said, and that’s all we ever did, generationally, we become completely devoid of new ideas, we become unable to cope with the new world. And so this idea that actually the young people that we may be tutoring, or looking after, it’s very easy to get or why don’t you learn? The reality is their brain is hardwired to look at the world differently. Now I find that if you give them an object to fiddle, you let them discover. They respond in a whole different way to if you’ve got somebody standing at the front going, this is what you’ve got to do. And that’s where we’ve got to reset education and put the power of education back into the learner, not into the system.

Ludo Millar 21:55
Yes, is my first response. And my second is, there’s a tutor, educator, specialist, interventionist listening to this. What advice do you have on how to implement what you’ve just said, giving the power back to the learner, how can they do that in a one-to-one session?

Dave Harris 22:17
Yeah, I mean, if you’re one-to-one, and you’re I mean, I understand a lot of online, it is more calm, it’s more complex. If you’re in the same room as someone, then it’s a whole lot more exciting and possible. If you are lucky enough to be in a room with someone, then take an object. I see learning transfer by objects and there are millions of objects and cover some of them when I’m working with you in a couple of weeks time. But there are things that you can get them to do in their own home. The reality is it’s turning things into the physical. Many young people because of this effect on their brain really learn best when they are touching and feeling. The most simple idea is the Möbius strip and I’ll demonstrate this, and I do it with the Möbius strip. If you haven’t seen it, look it up. If you just get a strip of card or paper, join them with sellotape when you cut it down the middle. So you get two circles, no magic there.

If you then repeat that, but this time, put one twist in and then cut down the middle. This amazing thing happens, you get one gigantic circle, not two little hoops. You get one big one, if you twist it twice before you sellotape it, so you join the ends of the loop together, but twist it once 180 degrees and another 180, so it’s making like a little bracelet but it’s got a double twist in it, cut down the middle of that you get two interlocking circles. It’s amazing. Now you can do that with kids but get them to write something on it first. And whatever, whether you’re doing English whether you’re doing maths, whether you’re doing science with them, whatever you’re doing, just the process of them actually looking at and doing the Möbius strip, putting their keywords, linking, cutting in and giving these two circles or the big circle which everyone doing that and thinking about it takes it away from being you telling them to them to engage with it.

And I think it’s any tricks you can do but it’s also getting them to go out and take photographs, getting them to you know, to send you back, play dumb. I was thinking one of the best things tutors, I think sometimes make the mistake of feeling they have to be all knowledgeable. If you say you’re all knowledgeable, that hints that you’ve got all the answers and all they’re doing is learning from you. Learn from them. Go, ‘Yeah, I’ve never really understood this. Can you explain it from your point of view?’. How do you see this hiding and stopping young people believing the only thing that matters is repeating What’s in your head? If as a tutor, you are asking questions to get the answer that’s in your head, you’re missing the point. They might as well not have you to be effective. You need them to give you the answers that weren’t in your head, you need to go, ‘Wow, I think you’ve just blown my mind there’. Because you’ve actually just explained how you got that. Even if they’ve said something completely wrong, don’t shut them down, because they haven’t got the idea in your head. Increase the idea of wonder that’s in their brains. And that’s how we make them feel the positive rewards that your brain can do when they know they’ve done something well, and nothing does that like praise.

Ludo Millar 25:43
And perhaps that’s a whole other area is the usage and management of praise in the learning environment. I wish there was another 25 minutes to look into that. But if you’re listening to this, and you think, yeah, I think this guest has a point, then come and see Dave expand on these points in a collaborative interactive environment as much as that’s possible online. And Dave and I were talking earlier about some of the relationship changes that take place, and the interactive changes that take place, when you move from in-person to online. But Dave will be running a highly interactive workshop on Wednesday the 26th of January as part of Day 3, the big Teaching and Learning day at the Festival. So come and join in for that. As I said, the title will be ‘Wonder and Curiosity in Learning’, if you want to take part in curiosity and learning, then that’s the space for you. But just before we finish, Dave, I’d like to ask you, what does 2022 hold for Dave Harris?

Dave Harris 26:57
It has lots of wonder and curiosity, it has to have, because if it doesn’t, then why are we living so out of whatever the world throws at us, there’s got to be some good stuff. And I’ve got good, good feelings about 2022. It’s got to be better, isn’t it? And I’m looking forward to getting back out in the world, seeing people more, interacting. And I’ve got a Wonder Suitcase which I hope to be traveling around the country with so maybe I’ll get to see some people in person, you can come and have a fiddle with some of my objects and enjoy my passion.

Ludo Millar 27:32
That sounds like a wonderful plan. That sounds like the next place that you can find Dave in person. I’m sure that the passion and that curiosity is much more highly transmitted, translated even, in a physical room. But we’ll have to stick with online for the Love Tutoring Festival, it works for us, because we’re able to bring in an audience from around the world. And Dave is the consummate professional online. So that’s your big call to action after this, is going to grab your free ticket to Dave’s event, which will just be the Free Pass which will get you access to every single free event which includes podcasts, roundtables, keynotes, workshops, all of the likes. And starting on Monday the 24th of January.

So Dave, one final time. Thank you very much for taking us through that little scientific look as well there with the brain and I hope you enjoyed talking about what you do.

Dave Harris 28:31
It was a real pleasure to speak to you. I look forward to hopefully seeing many of the listeners in the webinar in a couple of weeks. Absolutely.

Ludo Millar 28:39
Thank you very much, Dave, and see you next time.

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Ludo Millar

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. Whether you’re a regular listener of this podcast, or you’ve just stumbled across it, join the Qualified Tutor Podcast Group within the Qualified Tutor Community. To stay up to date with our latest news offers workshops and of course, simply to meet other tutors like you, whatever your level is as a tutor, our training courses will be the next step in your professional development. Visit qualified tutor.org/training to find out more about our CPD-Accredited and Ofqual-recognised courses: the first of their kind in the tutoring industry.

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