A pair of great kiskadees have built their unkempt nest atop an electricity post outside of the hotel where I am trying to get some sleep in São Carlos. These are beautifully marked birds (as you can see below), but their grating calls, resembling a rusty hinge badly in need of oil appear to be in conflict with their colourful plumage. They serve as a dawn alarm clock, and early call to action here in Brazil.
Gathering a group of educators together for a few days, discussing opportunities for establishing partnerships for researching inclusive schooling, requires a great deal of thought. In particular achieving a balance between formal teaching activities, presentation of papers and a more informal sharing of ideas is not always easy. Today our gathered assembly have had a mixed economy of activities and it appears to have worked well.
Whilst it is important to ensure that all of these early career researchers have an opportunity to disseminate their research in formal sessions, this is not always the best means of encouraging an exchange of ideas. It would appear that our Brazilian colleagues, in common with the English contingent are pleasingly polite. We all listen to each other and then make appreciative comments, but may be less willing to engage in critical debate for fear of being misunderstood. Given some of the linguistic challenges we face this might actually be a genuine concern.
The quality of paper presentations has been good, but in my opinion the most dynamic learning opportunities were in evidence during less structured sessions. This morning, operating in pairs and then in small groups our colleagues worked together to identify research priorities and exchange their views and interpretations of a range of educational situations. Differing opinions were voiced in the safety of small groups, where there is the security to make critical comments. Ideas were exchanged, debated and in some cases discarded, and as an observer on the periphery of this activity I witnessed a tremendous sharing of learning.
This way of working does not, of course, find favour with all teachers. Those who are less confident find it difficult to relinquish control, and to release the agenda to the most important people present, in this case the early career researchers. Here is a fine example of learning as a shared activity in which those who are supposedly the learners, have much in which to instruct the teachers. In this situation it is good to stand back and listen and to be prepared to have one’s own ideas challenged.
This approach is, of course, far easier with adults than it might be with children, but is an important aspect of teaching and learning as a democratic process. Knowing when to exert some influence and when to release learners from this control, is an important skill which we see in the most effective teachers. Sadly there are some who appear unwilling or unable to take this step and remain determined to maintain possession of the learning agenda. When working with children this is of course, at times important, but when working with able adults the teacher who wishes to apply control is in danger of destroying the creativity of the individuals involved.
Giving a degree of freedom to our researcher colleagues today resulted in an exciting and creative melee of ideas, that have now begun to shape nicely into plans for action. Autonomous adults who have already proven themselves to be effective learners, do not want to be pushed into a particular way of learning, or to have a dominant perspective from a teacher paraded before them. The adults here in São Carlos sharing their experiences, have demonstrated that in informal learning situations they are confident in presenting their own perspectives and critically engaging with ideas.
As I left the classroom for lunch today, four disreputable black vultures had stationed themselves on the roof of the building opposite. They will be disappointed if they are awaiting carrion from today’s sessions!