On leaving Oxford University, I started my career by training as a history teacher at London’s Institute of education. This had been a long held ambition – from a very young age I had been fascinated by why some people enjoyed learning and some resisted, why some subjects seemed easy and others alien and difficult. I felt sure I could teach in a way that would make others want to learn, but once I found myself facing classes, I felt frustrated that my training had not given me the insights I needed to make this happen.
Trial and error led me to some of the answers and I enjoyed a period of classroom teaching, but other opportunities arose and I spent many years as a writer and editor of books for children and, as time went by and I had my own children, for parents as well. While working on a book called Help Your Child Learn to Read I became fascinated by what turned some children into enthusiastic readers, with all the benefits that brought, and what turned other children away from reading. This led me to gain a qualification in working with young people with dyslexia, dyspraxia and other specific learning difficulties that can act as a barrier to learning.
After gaining some experience in this area, I was invited to set up and run a school department designed to help pupils overcome barriers to learning. The school was divided into three sections and covered the full school age range from three to eighteen. I soon had a very busy schedule and team of other staff to help me. I started to realise that many of the pupils, not just those diagnosed with a learning difficulty, could benefit from being taught learning strategies. I also noticed how pupils could be held back by their perception of themselves as incompetent learners or by misconceptions about what good learning looked like. I realised that I was gaining the insights that I had lacked at the start of my career and I was soon involved in several school wide initiatives to develop teaching and learning and helping to set up and teach a thinking skills course.
During this time I also qualified as a coach and trained in a technique for promoting critical and creative thinking, known as Philosophy for Children. Both of these techniques have had a powerful and hugely positive effect on my teaching and on my understanding of what ‘good’ learning looks like and what motivates people to learn.
More recently, in recognition that school is not the only place where learning takes place, I have trained as a Calmer Parenting practitioner and also learned and established a practise known as mindfulness, which helps to cultivate awareness and presence of mind. I am also currently working on a book called The Homework Handbook which aims to help parents support their children’s learning.
I am now drawing all these experiences together in order to provide a customised service to all those, who for whatever reason, would like to become more effective learners.