Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The role of intuition in learning and teaching

Guy Claxton has always been one of my go to learning hero’s, and teachers who know me well will tell you that “the ability to hang out in the fog, and to tolerate confusion” is one of my favourite quotes.  Recently I have been reflecting on something I read, implying that intuition will only take a leader so far, that it is knowledge and skills that will determine success.  One of the successful attributes of a great leader in my eyes, is their ability to develop, and nurture community.  In such a community everybody is valued as leaderful and are aware of the strengths that they contribute to make a community thrive.  While knowledge and skills are important, Claxton believes that “you either..enable people to harness and develop their intuition, or..neglect it, and so allow it to waste away” (p. 50), What does achieving this balance mean in practice?

Claxton, in his book “The intuitive practitioner” discusses the intuitive “ways of knowing” as expertise, implicit learning, judgement, sensitivity, creativity/problem solving and rumination. (pg. 40).
Let’s look at these “ways of knowing” and what they mean for leaders:
Expertise– the ability to truly be present and responsive to people in the moment, with your mind open to the possibilities; without having to think about ticking off boxes.  Weaving local curriculum, unpacking key documents to make sense of them through the lens of your unique community, your interpretation based on your ways of being. Expertise is about people not accountability to knowledge and skills.
Implicit Learning– always being open to learning, alongside the children, the teachers, your immediate and wider community in ways that you would never image;
Judgement – during the ELP lecture series titled Who said Good is Good  my reflective colleague Lynn Rupe discussed who says good is good? What is right in this moment, for this child, for this family?  Do you make decisions as a collective to ensure synergy?
Sensitivity– listening with your heart, your tummy and your head; what does this look like, feel like, sound like?  Deeply reflective relationships, where everyone is seen as an individual, and responded to as such;
Creativity– developing a ‘yes’ culture, how can we do this?  Let’s push the boundaries of our practice, be innovative and divergent. It is ok to make mistakes, as it is through our mistakes that we learn.  Sometimes the best ideas come in those times of quiet, when we are least expecting them.
Rumination– Claxton refers to “the process of ‘chewing the cud’ of experience in order to extract its meanings and implications”.  I wonder if this could be the new catch phrase for Internal Evaluation?

Claxton’s description of a teacher going about their day “adjusting or even abandoning their actions and intentions as they go, without being conscious of much reasoning, and without being able to say why or how they made the decisions they did, or to what clues they were responding” (pg. 35), resonates with me, and I am reminded of this video clip that was recently shared with me.  

In this now moment where are you?

Is your logical rational brain (left brain) dominant?  When faced with a making a decision do you write down the pro’s and con’s, analyse, think your way to a conclusion?  What you are doing when you think your way to a decision is that you are putting an old vinyl record on, with all your old beliefs, everything that Aunty said to you when you were three years old, and all the things that you thought about yourself when you were 18 months old.  When you think your way to a decision you are replaying everything that has happened to you in your past.  The alternative is to go into that quiet space, it does not matter how you create it, shut down your left brain, step out of your habits of thinking your way through life, and allow the knowing, your intuition to have some space.  

Guy Claxton suggests that judgement is predominantly intuitive.  In his book “Intelligence in the Flesh, why your mind needs your body much more than you think” Claxton also suggests that the human body is “a massive seething, streaming collection of interconnected communication systems that bind the muscles, the stomach, the heart, the sense and the brain so tightly together that no part – especially the brain – can be seen as functionally separate from, or senior to, any other part”.  We know that children are incredibly intuitive. They have a natural ability to engage in the world as it presents itself without limitation.   They have not judged things as being wrong yet.  The implications for us as teacher is that when children express their thoughts feelings intuitively, we need to listen and acknowledge how children are feeling in that moment.  If children, are getting negative approval e.g. don’t be silly that doesn’t exist.   What we are teaching children, is not to trust their instinct.

I wonder then if intuition could be seen as a teacher disposition?  This facet of the disposition towards resilience is built from respectful listening, environments that insist on justice, and adults who are interested in uncertainty and multiple perspectives.    Does intuition flourish in an open to possibilities learning culture, opening up different opportunities and looking holistically for the answers – which result in more natural solutions and answers, found through relationships.  I would suggest that this comes second nature as we acknowledge the importance of attachment relationships through ‘key teaching’ and ‘learning companions’.  “Whanaungatanga goes beyond what we see, but rather what others are trying to tell us” (Vanessa Paki in keynote, 2015).


Atkinson, T., & Claxton, G. (Eds).  (2000). The intuitive practitioner: on the value of not always knowing what one is doing. UK: Open University Press.
Lucas, B., & Claxton, G. (2010).  New kinds of smart: how the science of learnable intelligence is changing education.  UK: Open University Press.
Paki, V.  (2017, July).  Kaupapa transition: The intersections of pedagogial beliefs, practices and philosophies of educators and whanau in educational transitions.  In The Early Years Research Centre Conference: Children in the early years: Pedagogy, policy and community connectedness.

The Conscious Leadership Group.  (15 November, 2014).  Locating Yourself - A Key to Conscious Leadership.  Retrieved 11 September 2018 from http:/ 


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