The Learning Cycle: #2 Compliance to Your Training (Learning) Plan

Reflecting on the second episode of “The Road to Glory”,  and inspired by a fantastic Twitter conversation with @HuntingEnglish and @macn_1, this is the second of my Learning Cycle posts. See here for #1 and #3. My PLN buddies and I had all watched the first two episodes of “The Road to Glory”, a Sky documentary about the quest of the Sky Pro Cycling Team to be the first British cycling team to win the Tour de France. Led by Team GB Cycling Performance Director, Dave Brailsford, the documentary is providing a fascinating insight into the meticulous approach that is needed to be successful at the highest level.

In the second episode, we heard how Bradley Wiggins, the team leader and ‘arrow-head’ of the Sky Pro Cycling Team, had been on a personal journey to get to the point where he was ready to be the team leader and achieve the successes that were to come his way this summer. Interviews with the team psychologist, throughout the documentary, made it clear that the role of Dr Steve Peters was integral to all the riders, but in particular, with Bradley Wiggins. Whilst Bradley’s talent is unquestionable in terms of cycling ability, he has worked with Bradley on his levels of self-belief and, as Peters refers to them, his ‘inner chimp’ to really exploit the potential of his talent. There’s a useful explanation of Peters role and his view of the ‘inner chimp’ on the Sky Pro Cycling website and he’s written about it in his book, “The Chimp Paradox”, which is now on my reading list…! Anyway, the term ‘inner chimp’ is used to describe the emotional part of the brain. I’ve always thought of it as the reptilian part, the amygdala, but I prefer the chimp analogy as it captures just how troublesome it can be when we are ruled by our un-thinking, reactionary emotions when faced with unfamiliar or challenging situations. Consider your first day of school (as a pupil or an NQT) and you’ll soon start remembering not what happened, but how it felt. That’s the chimp for you. it has no language, no ability to rationalise, it is our inner-most hub of feelings and reactions to the world around us. It is this that is often the determining factor in how well, and, at times, if, we learn.

As the trainers talked about Bradley’s approach to becoming integrated into his new  team and responding to his training plan, they used the word, “compliance”. They said that once all riders, including Bradley, had ‘complied’ to their individual training programmes, then success would inevitably follow. In the sequence that followed, this is exactly what started to happen. Even to the point of Bradley surprising everyone when he won his first ‘bunch’ sprint finish on one of the stages on the Tour of Romandie prior to the Tour de France.

But back to our  learning agenda and that word, ‘compliance’. It feels uncomfortable to talk of any form of compliance when we’re discussing learning. For me, it conjures up the concept of ‘yielding’ or ‘acquiescing’ or even ‘subjugation’. It suggests a pathway to passivity, as opposed to encouraging, if not demanding, active engagement in a process or with a system.  So as I watched the programme, I struggled to find a way in which the concept of compliance might ever be applied to learning and what we ask our learners to do. To what, exactly, must they become compliant? But then, never one to walk away from a thinking struggle, I started to play around with the idea and see if there actually was a way to apply the philosophy of ‘compliance’ in learning. So here’s what I’ve come up with…

Perhaps if learners are charged with the task of designing their own learning plans and are genuinely empowered to follow, amend and implement these, for themselves and if they comply to this, their own plan, perhaps that’s a way to adapt the concept to learning? Stephen M.R. Covey talks about the need for us to make an explicit commitment to ourselves as the very first step in achieving trust, in his book, “The Speed of Trust”. Before we can trust others, whether individuals or organisations, we must be able to trust ourselves. This means that when we say we are going to eat our five-a-day, we need to do it. Only by being committed to our own goals and making these a priority, he argues, will we be able to really know what it means to completely trust others to do the same. The “Road to Glory” documentary depicted compliance as a positive act, as a way of reducing intra-personal conflict (with oneself, and particularly, the inner chimp) and of giving in to the ‘best’ way. I had a conversation with @lucysweetman about this and she used a lovely phrase in reflecting back to me what I was saying. For the team of cyclists, their compliance was all about ‘owning their ambition’. I love this phrase and it certainly resonates with the focus of so much of my work around motivation, confidence and self-directed learning. The practical application of this concept would need to be informed by a programme of Aggregation of Marginal Gains…

How manageable would it be to ask every learner to design their own personal learning plan informed by specific, individual goals that incorporate even the tiniest marginal gains? What would this look like? To be an effective learner in (x) subject would obviously have to include knowing the technical nuances of the subject, the skills related directly to this subject and being able to apply these in a variety of different topic areas. In addition, at a micro-level, it would also be explicit about the need to arrive to the lesson on time, with an open-mind and readiness to learn, demonstrated by bringing the correct equipment, knowing what was expected and listening to others’ ideas, contributing to class discussions.

Do learners ‘own their ambition’? Where is this already happening, and if so, how effective is it? Do we ask the learners how effective their learning regime is? What ‘gains’ do their existing plans already include and how could we include some micro-gains? If they are not complying with their learning plan, what can we do to help them engage with it? Who designed the plan and who takes responsibility for monitoring it?

All of this reminded me of the work on motivation by the fabulous Educational Psychologist, Alan McLean. He highlights the ‘Three A’s’ in his work on motivation in “The Motivated School”. These are:

Affiliation – a sense of belonging and of feeling a part of a group and community, where all views and contributions are welcomed and valued.

Autonomy – ability and opportunity to make authentic choices and be self-directed in learning pathways.

Agency – self-belief and confidence that tasks can and will be achieved. Learning is both challenging and achievable.

For me, the only kind of learning plan learners can and should be expected to comply to is one that is overtly underpinned by the Three A’s above. Only in that way, can they truly own their ambition.

Here’s what @HuntingEnglish  said:

“I also like the simplicity of the ‘triple A’ model for motivation.  It gives a clarity to some of my instincts on the matter. I do think the Rosetta stone of learning is motivation – if it can be triggered and sustained then truly anything can happen. 

With all my new teaching groups this week – effort and motivation have been integral to the tone I have sought to establish – which is where the ‘bum warmer’ marginal gain was referenced!” 

Imagine the impact of every learner in a class, year group and school agreeing to ‘comply’ to their very own ‘3 A’s’ learning plan; accountable first and foremost to themselves and their self-selected personal goals. Imagine the quality learning conversations that would happen in the drafting and re-drafting of such plans. Think of the ways in which we could incorporate all of the marginal gains in what we know about learning dispositions, the skills required to be an effective learner as both subject-specific and generic experts and the understanding we have of growth mindsets if we worked alongside each learner to craft such learning plans. I’m not sure yet but this certainly feels that compliance to such a plan would be empowering, energising and motivating. It’ll be interesting to hear what you all think.

Here’s what @macn_1 said in response to this…

“Your second post has really got me thinking about how we could apply this in school – I think there is a definite opportunity for some research here – in our school, I can really see your idea of linking marginal gains to learning plans and ‘owning ambition’ working –  we already have scheduled review meetings and 20 mins of vertical tutoring time every day, so there is lots of potential for conversations to take place, frequently, … lots to think about! It’s early enough in the year to get a project going!

I’d be really keen to work with you further on this/contribute anything I can!”

Next: #3 The Peloton

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