The Happy Messiness of Learning

Governments, corporations, academics and most highly successful people will tell you how important to plan and structure our thinking. We all work in environments where we are encouraged to have a vision; set clear goals on a pathway to that vision; assess our effectiveness; pivot where necessary; and of course, assess all the data we collect along the way. At the College, we embed this into our curriculum design, using a concept-based, backward-by-design process to create an innovative and inspiring curriculum, whilst ensuring we assess students as they progress.


But think back to your school experience and remember those moments of ‘wow’. Try to remember that inspirational story your History teacher told you; or that moment when you really understood what your sports coach was getting at; or that exhilaration you felt as you answered the Maths problem correctly. Was that a moment that felt organised and structured?


It’s more likely that it was messy! Your moment of inspiration rested on a firm foundation of organisation, but the actual learning itself was unexpected and surprising. At the College, these moments of ‘wow’ are what we’re trying to create for all our students. In a recent visit from Dr Ron Ritchhart from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education he spoke about how learning was messy. There are so many structures out there that try to define the process of learning (like Bloom’s taxonomy or a number of design thinking processes you may use in business), but actually, when it comes down to it, learning can evolve from anywhere and it can follow an unexpected pathway. It is that nature of learning that is so hard to define, but that is the essence of creativity and innovation.


Why is it important to acknowledge this messiness of learning at St Leonard’s? Because otherwise, the experience would be boring! Our students would be stunted and restricted in their thinking if they were always forced to follow a set structure. On a Learning Walk around the Middle School on Tuesday I saw that lovely messiness of learning in action. Year 7 Maths classes were working on their problem solving project and Ms Race and Mr Fogarty had students working in the alcoves around the middle school, sorting out solutions. Meanwhile Year 8 English classes were moving around their rooms to show how much they agreed with statements with lots of energy and hilarity! In the next room Ms Malgas and her Year 7 Head, Heart and Soul class were energetically (and loudly!) filming interactions and debates. There was a wonderful energy in the building: an energy generated by the pure joy of learning and varied experience.


As a school, we have to walk the tightrope between these unstructured, inspirational and messy learning experiences, and the inevitable structured, government imposed assessment procedures. But as long as we remember that learning will always be messy, and we should revel in the mess, then learning won’t be dull! Our education will continue to inspire and develop innovative and creative adults.


Charles Neave

Director of Pedagogy and Professional Learning