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Can one size fit all?

(I wrote this in 2014 and it would appear that I am still asking the same questions)

Imagine a world where we only made one shoe size... UK size 8 and a half for arguments sake. Now this one shoe size system would work for me because I actually wear UK size 8 and a half shoes, nice one! But what about those folk with different sized feet? It would be uncomfortable for most, for many downright painful, for some even dangerous by increasing tripping and falling and could even cause permanent damage. For many it would slow them down and impede their progress. I imagine all that would make folks feel rather disgruntled, not me or people like me because we would be comfortable, but the other people. So let's apply this to standardised teaching and testing... are we not trying to make diverse human beings 'fit' into a one size fits all model which can work for some but for others be uncomfortable, painful, potentially dangerous and even damaging? Could this impede learning for some of the diverse range of human beings we teach? Could this be part of the reason behind behavioural issues we are faced with in schools, disgruntled learners who know that they just don't fit?                         

Lately I have noticed a lot of articles talking about the importance of play for children's development, wellbeing and learning. I have also spotted a number of articles despairing over educational systems that are becoming testing laden factories removing the joy of learning from our children and teachers. There would appear to be a disconnect between what is suggested as good practice for learning and what the target is for some of our systems. 

I believe that Sir Ken Robinson clarifies the concerns around this disconnect well in his talk about changing educational paradigms, if you haven't seen it I thoroughly recommend you click on the link below for eleven minutes of food for thought.

He is arguing that we need to change to meet the needs of the 21st century, rather than rehashing the assumptions around intelligence, teaching and learning from the past. Sir Ken talks about the system deadening inspiration and interest rather than igniting it. He argues that we need to change the paradigm.

So what if we just stopped for a wee moment, put away all of our assumptions and asked ourselves some questions like... what is the purpose of education? What outcomes do we really want for our kids and the future world they will live in? What sorts of things are important in our society? What about the future? You get the picture.

When we ask these sorts of questions where does the one size fits all model fit? If it does, is it a comfortable fit or are we doing an ugly sisters impression with the glass slipper?

For me when I think of what I want for my little boy's learning journey I want him to be in a space where he is valued, where he can learn in any number of ways, where mistakes are celebrated as a wonderful part of the learning process, where he has freedom to play (in so many ways!), where his creativity is embraced, where the people who work with him get to know him and help him to discover his talents, where they help him know what makes him tick so he can use this to manage his learning journey, where he will learn about how to work with others and embrace diversity, where he is treated like a human being not a number or a piece of data... and as a teacher, I think my profession wants something like this for every child in our care but it seems to be at odds with many of the systems we work in.

At the moment my little boy is an unbridled learner, a delightful explorer who has recently discovered the pure joy of running fast and dancing (with or without music). He has a fantastic imagination, loves books, is fascinated by numbers and sings beautifully. I am totally biased, I guess that goes without saying really, but I do worry about whether becoming educated will be detrimental to his natural inclination to learn through play and exploration and talking and questioning and moving.

I wish I had clear answers to ease my mind as a parent, a teacher, an active member of the community, a tertiary student and a leader but I don't. I have more questions. I have ideas and opinions and I have a commitment to keep exploring what we do and how we do it to deepen and challenge my own understandings of learning especially for those who don't fit the UK size 8.5 shoe model that worked (for the most part) successfully for me. I guess the big question I am left with tonight is how do we truly celebrate and embrace human diversity in our education systems?

More viewing:

More reading:

A thousand rivers: this post offers another perspective around children and their learning that challenges assumptions and has the potential to open the dialogue even more.

Technology Learning and Adolesscence- another blog post-

Education's culture of overwork turning teachers and children into ghosts- a newspaper article from the UK exploring the merit of slowing down to allow deeper learning to occur-

Disclaimer: I am sure that the shoe size analogy has been used by others more than once but cannot attribute it as it occurred to me as an analogy the other night while I was reading A Thousand Rivers as a simple idea to explain my perspective in a conversation with a friend. So to me it felt like a new discovery but seems too beautifully simple to be original so if you have used this in your own work please know that I have not plagarised you deliberately.  

Megan Gallagher, is a mum, teacher, coach, speaker, PLD facilitator and consultant. She weaves her teaching experience, intense interest and curiosity about the brain, and coaching skills together in all that she does.

She specialises in coaching for children, families and educators, and shares her expertise in wellbeing, curriculum design, and impactful teaching and learning as a speaker and facilitator.

One of her greatest pleasures in life is seeing others shining and this is the basis of the work she does with Ignite Your Spark and through her work with Teaching and Learning with the Heart and Brain in Mind.

For more information please check out You can contact her at

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I love this - I'd be OK I also take an 8.5 shoe, however none of my family would it fit!! Great food or thought - or if the shoe fits...

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Actually same here in our household now too!

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