A tour de force for learning

The shopkeepers of York were inspired by the Tour de France which visited the city this weekend. Can such inspiration be harnessed for teaching and learning?

The shopkeepers of York were inspired by the Tour de France which visited the city this weekend. Can such inspiration be harnessed for teaching and learning?

Sara and I have just returned from watching the first two stages of the Tour de France – in Yorkshire. If you are baffled by the reason we went to the north of England to watch this quintessentially French event I should perhaps explain that “La Grande Boucle”, the world’s most spectacular annual sporting event, often visits other countries in order to provide cycle racing fans with an opportunity to feel that they are a part of the spectacle. I have, like many in this country, been riding a bicycle since I was a child and trying to ride quite fast around the local lanes, often with friends from my club the Rockingham Forest Wheelers, has become a source of both exercise and relaxation. I should warn you in advance that in common with many who pursue this particular sporting pastime, should you ever find yourself in conversation with me about cycling I can bore you for hours with discussion of gear ratios, the records of Eddy Merckx or the comparative merits of shimano or campagnolo (campag every time for me – no competition there really!).

I had not intended mentioning the Tour de France on this blog, as it seems far removed from the usual topics under discussion on these pages. However, first thing this morning I read Nancy Gedge’s  blog “The Diary of a Not So Ordinary Boy” through which Nancy gives regular accounts of her life with Sam her son who has Down’s syndrome. I have written about this blog before (March 16th 2014), and regularly read Nancy’s page as it provides positive insights into aspects of parenting of a young man with special educational needs.

In her most recent blog piece “Tour de Town” http://notsoordinarydiary.wordpress.com/2014/07/04/tour-de-town/ Nancy Gedge describes how Sam has suddenly found a new passion for riding his bicycle and has increased his confidence and competence as a cyclist. She describes how for some time cycling with Sam was a somewhat laboured occupation as he moved so slowly that at times he almost ground to a halt. This has obviously been a source of some frustration to Nancy who recounts how she is often anxious about getting to places on time and reluctantly resorts to using a car (a far inferior form of transport to the bicycle many of us believe) in order to get around efficiently. However, Nancy’s worries are at an end, whilst it is unlikely that Sam will ever emulate the performances of Mark Cavendish or Bradley Wiggins, he is now speeding along at a pace that may even challenge his mother and has a new found zest for two wheeled propulsion to be admired.

The most interesting aspect of Sam’s transformation from a cycling tortoise to a two wheeled hare is the source of inspiration that has enabled him to make this significant progress. Nancy Gedge speculates on the reason for this sudden change and asks the rhetorical questions:-

“Had we taken him on training runs?  Did we practice with him in the evenings?  Take him to a cycling club?  Buy him a yellow jersey or show him video footage of Bradley Wiggins?”

Apparently none of these tactics had been used. The source of this transformative process had been much more simple and one that we often witness in children, namely the influence of a friend and role model. Nancy describes how a young man, often employed as a “babysitter” for Sam, who is an enthusiastic cyclist had proven to be an inspiration for her son who now wants to be just like this lad and ride at a similar speed and with the same confidence.

Reading Nancy’s blog I was not surprised by this heartening tale. It would be foolish for those of us who work in education not to give full credit to the teaching which is provided by peers. Children are often far more impressed by those who are slightly older than themselves than they are by the adults in their lives. This applies to both parents and teachers, who may often be seen as authoritative figures with aspirations that do not totally equate to those of the children in their care. However, the influence of a young role model can often inspire learning as children attempt to imitate the behaviours and demeanour of their near contemporaries. Such has clearly been the case with Sam as it has with many others before him. As teachers we need to harness opportunities like these. Learning often comes from the inspiration of the moment and with encouragement can lead to surges in competence and a new enthusiasm for learning. I suspect that the recent events at the football world cup in Brazil will have encouraged many youngsters to go out and hone their skills or join a football club, just as I anticipate that the numbers of new cyclists on the roads of Yorkshire this weekend, inspired by the professionals who raced through the county, will be considerable.

Teachers need to get their inspiration for enabling their pupils to progress wherever they can. Sam’s source of learning was another young man for whom he clearly holds some admiration. Others will be moved to participate by a great sporting event. As educators we must grasp these opportunities, build upon them and enable our students to recognise such sources of learning as valuable in their lives.

Speeding cyclists pass in an instant, but the inspiration that they provide can make a difference.

Speeding cyclists pass in an instant, but the inspiration that they provide can make a difference.

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