Can we teach from the inside of a bubble?

I was recently very fortunate to attend a keynote speech by Richard Gerver (@richardgerver) during the IB Annual Conference in Singapore.

One of Richard’s quotes that really resonated with me was:

“One of the most important things we need to do in education is get out more.”

This a short and simple statement but, like many short and simple statements, it asks many questions!

How often do we venture beyond the walls of our schools?

It’s funny… “field trips” are viewed as a special event and are done, in most schools, pretty rarely. In my school, for example, most grade levels have ventured out of the school only once. There are many reasons for this – costs and the fear of anything “happening” are often the biggest barrier. Indeed, I know of one IB school in Australia in which it is strictly not allowed to take students on field trips! How about that?

Yet, every time we take students outside of the school there are learning experiences above and beyond those we planned for:

  • Genuine connections with the real world
  • Improved sense of place
  • Observations of people’s behaviour
  • Improved ability to look, see and notice
  • Rich language and conversation
  • Emergence of prior knowledge and wisdom
  • Natural curiosity
  • Greater bonds between students
  • Bursting the bubble by going somewhere new, expanding horizons
  • Revealing information about students as individuals in different contexts
  • … and more

You see, very often teachers have a limited understanding of the learning objectives that will be reached by taking the kids out somewhere. But, if we realize that everything is learning, everything is an opportunity to develop, everything is a formative assessment – from how well students behave in an art gallery, to how curious they are in a botanical gardens, to how well they talk to strangers at a market, to how they sit and eat during a picnic. It is all real learning.

How well do teachers know the world outside the school?

I work in an international school and, of course, you get all types. In Bangladesh, I worked with local teachers who had never stepped foot in the local markets – that was for servants to do. In China, I worked with people who detested China and refused to enter into society at all, purely frequenting expat restaurants and bars. In Thailand, I worked with people who spoke literally not a single word of Thai. In Vietnam, I work with people who go from school to home and back again over and over and over each day, week, month and year. Of course, there are the complete opposites in each school too – one of my colleagues here speaks the language pretty fluently and has covered nearly every corner of the country in his travels.

My concern is that we are, in these schools, teaching many students who live in a privileged bubble, our schools are often bubbles themselves and many teachers also live in a bubble. What are we teaching them then?

I find it fascinating to provoke people in international schools by asking what difference it would make to the curriculum if the school was suddenly picked up and dropped in a completely different country in a completely different city. Rather soberingly, in some ways, the answer would be “not much”.

What connections does the school have with the community?

Inspired by the stories of two-way community connections that come out of Reggio Emilia, I do wonder about how schools can become genuine parts of their local community. Like a watch, schools seem to have become a “single-function device” – kids get dropped off here and we teach them. How else do we serve our community though? Is student art displayed in local restaurants, shops and public places? Are the students encouraged to initiate projects that feed into and have an impact on the local community? Are the expertise and talent from the local community brought into the school to create those connections? Are the students visible in the local community?

It seems we are stuck in some rather tired looking moulds (schools excel at that!). We can break those moulds by getting out more, as Richard says.

How does your school do it?


  1. concentricthinking

    This made me think of the time we took kids to walking street during Chinese New Year. The kids were in teams if four and had a budget where they were met with a series of challenges like using three modes of transport and finding certain decorations. We were able to do this because a parent was assigned to each team. This freed us up to take photos and document the learning. It’s been a while since I’ve been on a trip like that with kids where the learning has been so natural and meaningful. At NIST we tried to take the kids to the art museum and were scrutinized for not taking the other classes. We tried really hard to not get into that mentality of two classes are going (because that’s where the kids were in their learning) let’s take the other three classes, even though it would mean nothing to them. That was a real head scratcher for us. I liked the post you did a few months back about a checklist teachers should consider when planning for trips. We do need to get out more. It helps when you have an admin team that can make it happen quickly instead of the usual one or two week planning process that is required. We all know learning is not like that, well for me anyway.

  2. concentricthinking

    I have been giving this post a lot of thought and would like to add to the above comment. I believe here are two types of getting out of the bubble when going beyond the school walls. First there is the field trip that is “of” learning. My interpretation of that is when an experience sets the context and conditions of the learning that is about to take place or is taking place. Then there is the second type of getting out which is “for” learning. These are the trips I am most in Favour of. This is when students are part of the learning where they see and feel the whole process. Let me expand on this with an example. When students are creating a visual piece of art have them go out and buy the materials together. The budgeting, language skills and sense of them being part of the whole process is real learning. Then have them frame their work. It is so much more than just the frame which is the final touch to their work. Get the transdisciplinary skills out and most students would touch on at least 80% of these. When things are done “for” learning students will appreciate and see how much really goes into doing something well and properly. I myself have tried very hard to plan more of these trips but you need the help of parents, co-teachers and admin to support this way of doing and thinking.

  3. Pingback: Weekly Reflection: Who exactly needs to be tuning in? | Teaching the Teacher
  4. learningtowearthebigshoes

    Hi Sam, Thanks for the post. This has been on the top of my list for a while. Amazing sometimes how hard it is to encourage teachers (local or expat) to get the kids out into our community. We’ve a farmers market across the road which our chinese team wanted to take the kids to – some in context trading, and using Chinese conversation with the local farmers. We thought it was a great idea. but the amount of paperwork, conversations and meetings to take our kids across the road was incredible.
    I am running Internationalism workshop next month – so am thinking of incorporating this conversation into the workshop.
    Thanks again

  5. Sam sherratt

    Hi Tania… Easier to say than do, I know, but I reckon your team should fight that system, don’t let it deny yr students that opportunity. Do he paperwork and have the meetings! You all know it’s right!

  6. Pingback: What stops us from leaving our ‘bubble?’ | Teaching the Teacher

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