Learning to live with tension

Learning to live with tension

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So we’ve recently concluded our latest Inquiry-based Learning initiative (see Rachel’s previous Facebook Note on this); an inquiry where we focused on the environment for five 4-hour sessions.

If you’ve been following our educational journey on Facebook, via our website, or in person, you’ll know that the experiences, moments, and observations of children is our ‘fuel’. As facilitators of learning, we record everything – through a process we call ‘documentation’ – and use this to provoke, launch, and, relaunch child led-inquiries. Without these audio recordings, photographs, or written notes – alongside the time to review, reflect, and respond to them as a staff team – I can’t imagine how we’d facilitate a child-led culture of learning.

So when, our current group of co-learners fed back that one of their key learning points from the last five weeks was the “ups and downs” of working together as a team, I took note. My facilitative sensors were triggered; because, although the focus of our time together in July/August was ‘the environment’ – a trajectory that originated from a previous child-led observation that: “chemicals like plastics are bad & therefore kill the earth” and “adults aren’t doing enough” (03/06/2019) – this latest gathering of children didn’t collaborate in the same way they had previously. That there were Ups and Downs was a valid learning point to raise.

The very beginning of what would, in time, become known as: ‘The Time Machine’ (May 20 2019).

When asked what the children thought the difference might be this time – verses last time, when the children chosen to ‘go on an adventure’ into history, which involved constructing a time machine (right) – a few children felt that they had brought their own resources from home this time, rather than been provided with resources, last time.


“For the time machine we got given resources; this is the first time sharing resources.”



In July / August’s inquiry, our children decided they wanted to address some of the problems created by plastics by building a litter-picker-upper (above); although, as early as the second session they suspected it might not help, in fact it might make matters worse they thought, since it might make people litter more; “Is this going to make people lazy?” (July 22 2019).

As I reflect on the ‘Ups and Downs’ of our time together, I think the children are correct in recognising how we treat resources we own vs. shared-resources that we have in common.

The Franciscan Community of Casa San Salvador in Brookland, Washington DC

Rachel and I have very fond memories of staying at Casa San Salvador, an intentional community in Washington DC, last year (May). As we traveled around the world, researching education, between April and June 2018, we intentionally chose to stay in lots of different places, where we met and were hosted by lots of incredible people, but I remember worrying about what it would be like living with others, before arriving in DC.

As it turned out, the fact that no one living in the house owned it, and all the resources were in common / pooled, meant that it was a real life tangible example of no one claiming, ‘…that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had’ (Acts 4:32). It was actually one of the most liberating experiences of living with others I’ve ever had. Very different to when I’ve stayed in someone else’s house, or when we’ve hosted people in ours.

The difference in children’s collaboration in May/June 2019 vs. July/August 2019, was not that the children were constructing a time machine vs. a litter-picker-upper; it was that the children had been encouraged / decided to bring their own (reusable) resources from home.


“Some people got jealous with what we brought.”


“I can’t read – I’m still learning (July 29 2019). “He can read!” (August 5 2019).

As I reflected on this, the morning after our latest feedback session, I suppose it was inevitable that I would begin by asking myself whether we had ‘failed’ this time around. Whilst its true that I was both surprised and delighted by how the children had relished the opportunity to stretch other skills – foundational literacy, for example (right) – I still couldn’t stop myself from focusing on how creative problem solving, communication, and collaboration didn’t flow in the same ways that it did before.

Thankfully, I wasn’t down for long; I ‘happened’ to come across an article on Facebook from IDEO – one of the top design firms that I often quote – which began with: ‘Not all tension is bad.’ What? Really! It was both timely and interesting.

In IDEO’s experience – when it comes to cultivating creative collaboration – ‘tension’ around i). ideas, ii). team dynamics, and iii). one to one feedback, is absolutely essential. They agree / argue that tension is ‘a critical element for fueling creative thinking on teams’ (IDEO 2019).

And so, the next time we gather children, I wonder if we ought to provoke an inquiry into teamwork, welcoming tension, or being intentional about sharing resources as a community?

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