What is Minerva?
Minerva (the name of the Roman goddess of wisdom) is the name we give to our learning culture.
Everyone knows that successful learning outcomes depend on both high quality teaching and hard work by the learner, but even with both of these elements in place, learning can be less effective than it could be, or more stressful than it needs to be, if a school does not do all it can to promote a strong and healthy learning culture.
In fact, international research shows that, leaving aside the obvious factors of the inherent intelligence and self-discipline of the learner, there are four main predictors of any individual’s future academic success. In order of importance these are:
- The stability and supportiveness of the person’s home life
- The learning culture of the person’s school
- The extent to which the person regularly reads for pleasure
- The quality of the person’s teachers
In short, a school’s learning culture is second only to the quality of a person’s home life in predicting their ultimate educational success.
What does a successful learning culture look like?
We have come to the conclusion that a successful learning culture can be distilled into four key elements, these are (1) The learning environment; (2) Clearing a path for knowledge and confidence; (3) Nurturing a growth mind-set in our learners; (4) Insisting on the precise verbal articulation of ideas.
The learning environment
This refers to both the physical environment of the school and to the general behavioural and academic atmosphere and expectations. Here the aim is to achieve a learning environment that is (a) warm, fun, encouraging and supportive; (b) places high expectations on its learners and seeks to push them beyond their comfort zone, and (c) is generally calm and focused.
The physical environment anywhere is subtly important to the happiness, wellbeing, focus and mind-set of the people living and working within it. Our aim is to create and maintain a physical environment that embodies and expresses our values and expectations.
Behavioural standards are the most basic and important element of any school’s culture. This is why we are quite ‘traditional’ in our approach to behaviour. At the same time, we want to create an environment in which healthy individualism, thoughtful self-expression and risk taking are positively encouraged. Above all, we want to nurture an environment in which the drive for excellence is both enjoyable and celebrated.
Clearing a path for knowledge and confidence
This element of learning culture can be summarised as minimising extrinsic cognitive load so that we can maximise intrinsic cognitive load.
Extrinsic cognitive load is bureaucracy, niff-naff and trivia. It is anything that gets in the way of focusing on what is important. The greater your extrinsic cognitive load, the more stressed and flustered you tend to become and the less confident and effective you become.
Intrinsic cognitive load is the stuff you need to learn. The greater the intrinsic cognitive load you can carry, the greater your learning progress.
Nurturing a growth mind-set among our learners
Next to ensuring decent behavioural standards, this is the most important element in individual success. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that achieving growth mind-set among the vast majority of learners is the ‘Holy Grail’ for every school. Growth mind-set is a much mis-understood concept. It does not claim that there is no such thing as natural intelligence or God-given talent (this would clearly be untrue), but what it does claim is that, over time, diligence, resilience, basic self-confidence and disciplined habits play a much greater part in success (of any kind) than any initial natural talent or intelligence.
Most schools try to encourage growth mind-set in their pupils through endless exhortations to resilience and self-belief and countless examples of people who achieved their dreams against all odds. Whist this may be encouraging in small doses, our society has long since overdosed on such tonics, and it is noticeable that the results are anything but encouraging. We work on the principle that, rather than endless lectures and intimidating exemplars, your average child and teenager needs to operate in an environment of habits, routines and expectations that simply encourage the development of smart and resilient working habits over time.
Insisting on the precise verbal articulation of ideas
This is perhaps the most ‘controversial’ of our four elements of learning culture. The claim is simply that you haven’t actually had a successful idea until you can clearly articulate it. For this reason, it is not enough that learners give correct answers in lessons. It is part of a teacher’s job to draw out of learners’ answers that are not only valid but full, clear and capable of being further discussed, evidenced and defended. If this goal hasn’t been achieved then no real learning has taken place.
If pupils work in classrooms where they are habitually required to clearly articulate their ideas, they will, over time, inevitably become much clearer thinkers and much better writers.
Of course, habitual reading for pleasure also helps enormously in achieving this goal.