If you want to understand teaching, children learning, parent relationships, institutions, focus, passion, love…well, most any of the things that make up what great teaching and learning is and what impedes, read the first chapter of The Beautiful Tree.

I am late to the party in reading this “Personal journey into how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves.”

But, the truths in the book are just as fresh today as when it was written in 2009.

Especially what learning and teaching really looks like.

Here are a few excerpts from “A Discovery in India,” the beginning of author James Tooley’s journey looking at learning in the poorest places.

Passion and Lovebeautiful tree cover

Sajid-Sir, one school leader: “He clearly had a passion for teaching and inspiring others. Teaching he told me, kept him fresh, and it was his hobby as well as his livelihood; to him, he said, teaching was like acting. His aim was to instill a love for the subject he taught, mathematics. Mathematical allusions peppered many of his conversations.”

Passion. Inspiring. Fresh. Love! For subject. Comes from who he is, round the clock.

Focus and Quality Control

Sajid’s focus on new teachers, mostly untrained, using his Bachelor of Education method: “A lesson must have five parts, he said: an introduction, where the topic to be explored is fit into the context of students’ existing knowledge; announcement of topic; presentation; recapitulation; and evaluation (usually through homework). Before he allowed a new teacher to teaching in his school, he or she had to observe Sajid teaching. Then Sajid watched their first few lessons, made detailed notes, and challenged them on particular points.”

The beauty of a simple approach to lesson planning and student engagement. Combined with watching and doing by the teacher, with honest feedback on improvements. And, not letting anyone teach without assurance they are doing it well by first hand observation of the leader.

Engagement and Planning

A young teacher teaching about the derivation of salt and water from hydrochloric acid: “She was very clear, lively, animated, and engaged her class throughout. There was nothing labored about her approach; the whole lesson moved forward smoothly. She taught without notes and seemed completely on top of her subject. At the end, she summarized the lesson, expertly managing the class so that all seemed to have understood, and set a three-part homework assignment.”

The author says of her, “I had never liked chemistry in school: if she had taught me, I think I would have loved the subject.”

Students First

And, while the school managers were businessmen, they were doing well because they cared about children first. “They seemed dedicated to the children in their charge, going out of their way to help improve the education being offered.”

Their business was for children. Not children for the business.

Parents and Learning

I read a few complaints about the book being repetitive, but that is because Tooley finds the same thing in the poorest areas in other countries and tells those similar stories.

In the midst of his research and stories among the poorest in the world, you hear and see real learning, real love, real teaching, a real focus on students and doing the best for them and their families. You also see parents who are love their children and are committed to their learning.

I love the words repeated in the first chapter: “passion,” “love,” “knowledge,” “learning,” and “parents.”

Real learning is found here, stripped of funds and institutional concerns, yet making a difference in the lives of children.

Maybe there is something for us to learn…