Learning the bagpipes in public

11th March 2009  |  by Greg


“On his first morning as the new head of Staple Hill Primary School, Peter Mountstephen picked up his bagpipes and strode into assembly. Though they had been bought several weeks before, Peter had resisted the temptation to practise. He was a total bagpipe virgin, and he was going to attempt to play them for the very first time in front of several hundred unknown youngsters, not to mention staff. Peter explained that he couldn’t play the pipes, but he wanted to, and he was going to show them, week by week, his progress, and talk to them about his ups and downs. Then he put the bagpipes to his lips and blew. As expected he made a truly dreadful noise, and after a shocked silence, the students burst into laughter.”

Guy Claxton in Building Learning Power
I was reminded of this little story as I was sitting opposite two fashion models on the train yesterday. I was thinking about how my modelling career never quite got off the ground for some reason and then I realised (due to the strange way my mind works) that really, I am a full time model, but just not in the cheek-clenching way of the gentlemen in the Kay’s catalogue.

I am responsible, on a more or less full-time basis, for modelling behaviour for my classes and for my own children. The fantastically avuncular Guy Claxton, who is probably my favourite educational writer, wrote about the importance of modelling and other aspects of learning in his book Building Learning Power. The book was a precursor to PLTS (Personal, learning and thinking skills) now being introduced in a school near you, although I really do prefer the Claxton version. Amongst other things, he talks about how children can be told repeatedly how important reading is but never actually see adults themselves reading, and how learning an instrument can be incredibly frustrating but children hardly ever see adults model the persistence and stickablity needed to overcome this frustration. I think he’s right.

One of the first things babies learn is how to be attentive and they learn this from how attentive their parents are to them. We lead, for better or for worse, by example. I started to learn the guitar when my first daughter was born and I’ve been making a “truly dreadful noise” ever since. I hope, however, that my daughters see how much I enjoy it. Also, I’ve had to modify my habit of reaching for the chocolate biscuits between meals and go for some fruit instead (most of the time anyway) because I’ve become responsible for the eating habits of my children. I’ve realised, it’s not what we teach them, it’s what we do that they learn from.

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