My name is Esther Russo and I work as a Vocational and Education Training teacher in the CIFP (El Centro Integrado de Formación Profesional) of Lorca in Murcia, Spain. In recent years my interest on new approaches to learning has grown, especially seeing the results that we have in our classrooms: lack of motivation, problems with managing time and goals, stress, abandonment of the courses, lack of social skills. I can see those even among my students, who are over 16 years old and many times over 18 or 20, are supposed to be really engaged, as they have chosen the courses in our centre.

That is the reason why, when I met Dr. Ian Cunningham in 2018 and I first heard about Self Managed Learning and the SML College, I thought of visiting them in Brighton. Thanks to an Erasmus + Programme I has been able to spend 5 days at the SML College to see how they worked.

In the College, they work with students from 9 to 17 years old, and help them to choose their own goals and challenges, using what are called the Learning Groups and the Learning Agreement. The Group is a meeting in which the students review their learning goals weekly and can have help and advice from their peers about it. They can choose to work on any project that suits their interests, individually or with mates.

The most interesting thing is that is that they choose the fields and the way in which they want to learn about them. And they are not afraid to choose, as there is no wrong choice. Every choice is going to serve learning. The only thing they are requested to do is join a Learning Group and attend the Learning Group meetings, as that is the space where one can help others and be helped and comforted, if needed.

During the week I observed students immersed in many different activities: programming with SCRATCH, making art for selling at the Open Day, drawing, preparing for GCSE exams in one-to-one tutoring, debating about vaccination, researching about ancient civilizations and their culture on death, discussing about the inconvenience of smoking, exposing conclusions about a research on luminescence, making a boat, calculating and discussing a payment plan, and many others.

What I could appreciate from observing the Learning groups was that the students felt totally comfortable to say whatever they want, were it a new idea for a research project or a personal problem. That is a constant in the work at the College, since personal life of the students is not separated from the learning process. Each person is seen as a complete individual, and can express themselves as a whole. Students are seen as individuals. Everyone matters, everybody can express their opinion, and everyone is respected (and is asked to be respectful).

That happens with the Learning Advisers, too. There is a chart in which you can see which skills every Adviser has and can offer help with. Not only subjects, but any knowledge or experience is offered to the students. Every Adviser is not just “teacher of a subject”, but a whole person who can inspire children and youngsters.

This was an extremely inspiring experience for me, and I hope to be able to use some of the ideas in my daily work as a teacher. I can only thank all the SML College’s staff and students for their warm welcome and patience with all my questions. It was very nice to be there and meet you all!

Esther Russo