Shattering “Another Brick in the Wall” Thinking

by Peter Cook

Shattering "Another Brick In The Wall" Thinking Introducing Tony Wall, who facilitates innovative learning strategies at the University of Chester in the UK.  I will leave him to take up the story, inspired by Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”:

“Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!” is one of those lyrics that many of us recognise instantly. That’s not surprising as “Another Brick in the Wall” reached No 1 around the globe. For some, it was simply a unique and catchy melody, but for others, it was a lot more. For these, it was a powerful protest against rigid schooling, which created ‘another brick’ in a ‘wall of limited thinking and acting’ – a wall stopping the learner thinking differently or learning differently. For Pink Floyd, it was a wall of “thought control”, a message calling for our education systems to facilitate more innovative thinking. Listening and watching the song and its performances in 2012, it’s striking to realise how current Pink Floyd’s message is in today’s schools and universities…

Think about typical university education for a moment. What are the bricks in the ‘wall of limiting innovation’? The university says which courses are offered. It says what specifically will be learnt. It says where it will be learnt. It says how it will be learnt. It says how this learning will be assessed. It says when the student can start and stop learning. It might even say what date and specific time they have to learn. All in all, these are just more ‘bricks’ in the wall of standard thinking and acting (as Pink Floyd would probably not say). These ‘bricks’ exist within the model (or paradigm) of mass university education. If we took this paradigm, and turned it upside down, the wall would fall to pieces, but opens up new avenues for facilitating innovative thinking and acting. We might call the opposite model, a personalised university education, whereby the individual learner makes choices, and choices way beyond that already conceived by flexible universities around the globe.

What would such a radically innovative system be like? Within the UK, we can look to the University of Chester’s Centre for Work Related Studies (CWRS) who has been operating this system for over a decade. Here, the learner negotiates a qualification that meets their specific needs and aspirations, and negotiates their qualification’s title (say Masters in Business Innovation and Creativity or Masters in Leading Innovation). The learner chooses when to learn. They choose what specifically they need/want to learn. They choose how they will learn it. And they choose how they are assessed. In this model, this means learning normally (rather than abnormally) happens outside of the classroom, in the workplace, or in life. All in all, this enables innovative and diverse ways for the learner to make changes to their life, and engage in an educational approach, which is authentic and meaningful to them personally. They have to think for themselves, though supported and guided, and not constrained by the ‘walls’ of subjects, disciplines or Teacher preferences (or dark sarcasm!). It is a model that has led to CWRS being one of Europe’s largest centres of its kind, with commendations from the UK university quality body and showcases by the UK university funding body.

Shouting “Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!” in this new paradigm doesn’t apply, as the “Teacher” is replaced by tutors facilitating personalised learning with individuals. Turning existing paradigms upside down is one way of creating innovative solutions to challenges or seizing opportunities. So, that leaves us with two questions:

  • What ‘bricks’ are you taking down to release innovative thinking?
  • What model can you turn on its head for something radically new and valuable?

We finish by jumping from Pink Floyd to Pink and her marvelous song “Just Like a Pill”, which tells a story of a dysfunctional relationship.  For me, this message is also embedded in Tony’s review.  Innovation in teaching and learning is about getting the relationship right between teachers and learners.  This is exactly what they are doing at the University of Chester.

Tony Wall facilitates innovative learning at CWRS and accredits commercial training with university credits. You can connect with Tony at LinkedIn

image credits:

Follow @ixchat on twitter

Don’t miss an article (4,000+) – Subscribe to our RSS feed and join our Innovation Excellence group!

Peter Cook is Rock’n’Roll Innovation Editor at Innovation Excellence.  He leads Human Dynamics and The Academy or Rock, and provides Keynote speaking, Organisation Development and Business Coaching. and  You can follow him on twitter @Academyofrock

No comments

  1. It is indeed an expanded paradigm as to how to conduct ‘teaching the students’ into how to achieve ‘learning in the students’. In olden days, Indian continent practiced this method by way of ‘ GURUKULA ‘ methodology. Such Gurukuls exist even now but they do work as joint residential homes for teachers and students but the method of teaching has become more of the class room teaching and less of the teacher/ taught dialogue under natural surroundings. The historic Rama got his learning in the Gurukul of Rishi Vishistha and similar was the case with Krishna who developed strong friendship with the son from a poor family named Sudhama in a Gurukul, as per the story of Mahabharata.

    • I am sure Tony will reply to you directly Narendra, but I must say you make an important point about the relationship between teacher and student. Having travelled in India widely, I think there is much we can learn from your example.


  2. Tony – having now re-read your post a month after it was developed, I am ‘comfortably numb’ lol

    Thanks for your contribution – wide ramifications of all educators here.


    • Peter – isn’t is great to re-read things developed some time ago? You can see different things and find new insights. Some people might not know the original version of Comfortably Numb, but might know the Scissor Sisters version here –

      I also listened to the audiobook of Daniel Pink’s a Whole New Mind recently (rather than reading it) – very pertinent to my reply to Thomas below.

      Worth the read, if anyone is interested in working with the brain.

      Kind regards, Tony.

  3. Tony Chester University is obviously at the forefront of innovative learning strategies and it is to be hoped others will follow. The wall of “though control” and limited thinking is built into the education system from nursery and accelerates at an exponential rate toward GCSE examinations. Students are taught and coached to pass exams and not necessarily to think critically, question wider events or be truly innovative.
    By the time the majority of students reach university innovation of thought has been knocked out of them and a substantial amount of unlearning and relearning needs to take place. I am a governor at a good high school which gives students a high level of “added value”. However that added value is based on the student being taught in a rigid framework the goal being exam passes. There is no doubt that learning takes place and some knowledge and skill developed. But the speed at which this goes at is phenomenal and there is little time for innovation and critical thinking or reflective practise.
    The preference for dark sarcasm will continue until the rigid formula that besets our education system is changed. It needs to at all levels so that higher education establishments do not complain of students who have poor research and critical thinking skills or employers that creativity and innovation have to be taught by them.
    It does seem a misnomer that the more GCSE, A Level and first degree passes there are the more complaints from business there are about the quality of what has been learned and even its relevance. To finish in context it will take many more people like Tony and the University of Chester to get students “outside the wall” by “Banging their heads against some mad buggers wall” I’m now in the mood for a little Pink Floyd so as I contemplate this subject further I will go for “The Final Cut”

  4. Narendra – fascinating post, thank you. Yes, there are some links with the gurukula methodology. I think a key distinction with guru(kula) and the ideas in this post is that we do not hold the tutors to be gurus. They are more like coaches, who help the learners develop their own wisdom – and the wisdom comes from being and doing in a real situation (not taken away from it). Situated learning. However, gurukula methodology is very powerful for very subtle and deep forms of learning which I value immensely. I wonder if you could share any personal experience of gurukula methodology?

    Kind regards, Tony.

  5. Thomas – I hear this so often, hence why so many teachers are becoming tired or burnt out. Though there is hope! I have been speaking to some amazing teachers through LinkedIn who have been using some brain-based approaches in their classrooms, with fantastic results (based on the standard measures). If a school climate can be created to enable teachers to be innovative, that can trickle through to students mindsets. As you’ll know, they pick up behaviours from their teachers as well as peers. That doesn’t change the framework though, does it? I wonder what could…

    Kind regards, Tony.

  6. “For Pink Floyd, it was a wall of ‘thought control’, a message calling for our education systems to facilitate more innovative thinking.”

    No, it really wasn’t. Watch the film and song in context. The child in the story has been targeted by a particularly vicious teacher and the song accompanies his daydream of the students revolting and burning down the school. There’s no overt political or social message there. It’s just part of the story.

Leave a Reply