The Learning Rainforest Great Teaching in Real Classrooms

Picture of Tom Sherrington
Tom Sherrington

First Published 2017 by John Catt Educational Ltd,

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Written by Vlatka Butković

Create Thriving Learning Environment

Whether you are an educator, a parent, a policymaker, or anyone interested in improving the quality of education, this is a book for you. Tom Sherrington sees education as a dynamic, adaptive ecosystem, and his insights into effective teaching practices are based on years of observation and experience in real classrooms.

The central metaphor for effective teaching is the rainforest, which he argues is a complex, interconnected ecosystem that thrives on diversity and resilience, and as such it is a powerful image to illustrate diverse, challenging and inspiring learning environment. We cannot but agree with Sherrington that schools should be dynamic, adaptive, and responsive to the needs of learners.

Rainforest Thinking

Rainforest Thinking in schools would bring leaders to prioritise nurturing individual talents of staff and students. It strives to create a culture without micromanaging processes or, a challenge in itself, predetermined outcomes. Such approach is rather complex. Therefore, teachers and leaders should embrace a range of teaching approaches, with the emphasis on professional development and experimental classroom practices, where tech and resources are useful, but secondary.

“In other more challenging contexts, I’ve had some moments of doubt. Is it too idealistic?”

Sherrington is aware of the possible challenges in his rainforest learning environment, both with some teachers who may not be meeting the necessary standards, as well as with some students who may be allowed to underperform. While Rainforest thinking offers the promise of high-level autonomy, he states in the book that it is necessary to incorporate some safeguards.

Student Voice

An interesting topic was discussed in the book – the author questions whether students should have the ability to shape their own curriculum. He believes that learning from experts can introduce students to paths they may never discover on their own, as students may not have enough knowledge to make informed choices that challenge them. Still, he admits that this view can be easily challenged with examples of student involvement that was not only effective, but also crucial, thus underlining the complexity of the Rainforest learning environment.

“In the case of computing, student expertise surpassed that of the teachers, allowing older students to teach younger ones based on their preferred computing courses. The whole process was entirely student-led with minimal logistical support from staff.”

Teacher Autonomy

One of the key themes of The Learning Rainforest is the importance of teacher autonomy. Sherrington argues that expert teachers need to be trusted to make their own decisions about how to teach, and that this autonomy should be supported by a culture of high trust and high challenge. Teachers who are given the freedom to experiment and innovate are more likely to be motivated and engaged in their work, and this in turn will have a positive impact on student outcomes. As Rita Pierson said in her fantastic TEDtalk 9 years ago, kids learn from the teachers they love, and we have to agree that this is the winning combination. Expert teachers become the specialists in their field, whose knowledge of the subject, hand in hand with the pedagogical approach he advocates for, creates thriving learning environment. Teachers should be given the time and resources they need to develop their subject knowledge, and they should be encouraged to collaborate with other teachers to share their expertise.

When talking about the importance of feedback, he talks about the feedback to teachers on their teaching practice, as well as the feedback they provide to their students. Everyone in the learning process should be encouraged to reflect on their own performance. Sherrington generously provides practical advice on how to create a culture of continuous improvement.

Passion For Excellence

The Learning Rainforest covers a wide range of topics, among many it discusses the role of assessment, and the use of technology in the classroom. Sherrington’s writing is engaging, with a wide range of examples from real classrooms to illustrate his points. His thorough approach to his view of successful education makes this book a valuable resource for anyone seeking to understand how to create a culture of excellence in schools.

Additional resources

Visit Tom’s Teacherhead website.

Follow Tom on Twitter.

Subscribe to Tom’s channel on YouTube.

Listen to a Podcast episode with Tom.

#TheLearningRainforest #TomSherrington #teacherhead #CEESAbookclub #CEESAconnects

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