Light up learning with a little zest and zeal

Posted on 22nd May 2020 in School News, Which London School?

Faraday School Head Teacher, Claire Murdoch, share some bright ideas

“Science wins when its wings are uninhibited with imagination”
Michael Faraday

This year, we returned from our holidays emboldened and full of ideas. We had a tranche of new and enthusiastic staff ready to join the team and it felt like a good time to reflect and explore our approach to learning. We asked ourselves what we remembered most about school and which 

lessons we could recall. Then, we thought about what the children would share if asked to think back to their favourite activity. Which moments would stick in their memories and have the potential to do so for years to come?

And with each example we gave, we realised that our strongest recollections, our best learning experiences and our most impressive achievements were all wrapped up in joy, excitement and laughter. Moments that included re-enacting Boudicca’s life and death in assembly, seeing a carefully constructed paper chair fall to pieces just as it is put it to the test, or finding out that with lemons and a little effort, you could light a bulb.

What’s more, all these stories were re-told with a huge smile and a clear understanding and knowledge of what was learnt from the experience. You will not forget the power of those lemons, nor the strength of Boudicca’s determination or the weakness of your chair design. With lemons and a little effort. With zest and a little zeal.

So, we wondered, is it in fact the feeling of joy during these lessons had helped to get these facts to ‘stick’? We know that our emotions impact the way we work and the way we learn. In fact, happiness is known to create dopamine and serotonin and their release into our brains has a positive effect on our memory. These chemicals can increase the brain’s capacity and ability to make connections and learn new things. It can even help us to process and memorize new information, so that we can access it faster in the future.

Perhaps hunting for happiness is the key! We can fill the school with laughter and also find ourselves better problem solvers, more creative thinkers and more talented scientists. Thus happiness became the core of our school development plan and on we went….

We turned our ‘grit’, ‘resilience’ and ‘perseverance’ into ‘joy’ ‘zest’ and ‘zeal’. We shared this idea with the children and listened to what they truly loved about learning. We considered it when we planned our topics, when we marked our books and when we delivered our lessons. And it worked. Soon we found that happiness was just as valuable in the classroom as getting the children to persevere and to be curious. More importantly, we found it brought with it a wonderful sense of wellbeing amongst the whole school community. If everyone’s goal is to find happiness and joy through learning and we expect everyone to be on board with this goal, the environment quickly shifts. Teamwork and empathy become the norm.

We have filled our mornings with activities that excite and enthuse. We all join together, Reception to Year 6, to dance, to sing, to perform and to celebrate, so that we begin each day with an energy that wakes us up and gets us motivated. Our upper corridor has been transformed into a time line into the past, with curiosity cabinets and famous artwork to admire and explore.

Nothing makes our children happier than the chance to explore their interests, to share them with each other and take ownership of their learning journey. Last year, we were lucky enough to win the Fourth Plinth for Schools Award in 3 categories; a phenomenal achievement for a small school. But we relish competitions such as these, as they involve the whole school community and the children have an opportunity to share their individual talents and interests with a big audience.

Over 200 years ago, Michael Faraday worked in an experimental lighthouse next door to our school and some of his most exciting ideas were conjured up in his workshop overlooking the river Lea. So with Faraday and his lighthouse as our beacon, we are making our science ‘hands on’. As he famously quoted, “Science wins when its wings are uninhibited with imagination” and this perfectly describes our favourite new addition to the school calendar: the annual Faraday Science Fair. A week of experiments, investigations and explosions, culminating in presentations from children as young as 5, all the way up to 11, sharing the phenomena they were interested in and they chose to explore and teaching the rest of us something new. Exploding with excitement, knowledge and fun, it really is a sight to behold and to savour as another example of the importance of happiness when learning.

This article first appeared in the 2020/21 edition of Which London School? & the South-East, which you can view in full here: