The best learning experience I ever had – Kate Griffiths-Lambeth

Today’s guest post comes from Kate Griffiths-Lambeth. Kate is Head of HR and Exec Director at Stonehage and writes a fantastic blog you can find here. She is also very active on Twitter and we would highly recommend following her. Kate to her credit was one of the victims participants on our first open event and has been very supportive ever since!

In her post Kate shares an event that she experienced as a parent and how that has impacted her practice in developing both herself and others.

I am fortunate in that I have been exposed to some extraordinary learning experiences:

  • Formally in education and academia – On leaving my secondary school, I spent a period of time being taught by Peter Robinson (brother of Anne) – Peter, a talented journalist, operated at what was then the forefront of new educational techniques (using video and out-of-classroom experiences to broaden awareness and knowledge) – Peter took me overseas with him, I helped him to make films while he prepared me for the exams that would become the foundation of the next stage of my life.  He taught me to distil relevant information from diverse data sources and to use it to present meaningful arguments.  Later I learned so much at Cambridge (much of it not academic, but all of it invaluable) that there isn’t time to write about it here;
  • On-the-job and during Learning and Development sessions at work – I am grateful to Lloyds TSB for including me in their pioneering HR Leadership Development Programme – stepping into HR from a career outside the function, it was a wonderful way of immersing myself in the discipline and making a network of friends and colleagues; most of whom I am still in touch with today; and 
  • Both formally and informally, in my broader life – Nothing has taught me more in my life than the experiences of being a parent – it has put my own childhood into perspective.  I learn something new every day and suspect that I will until I die.  Away from family I keep learning too, for example, without suitable training (provided by the Co-op) and the ability to bounce ideas off others more experienced than me, I would not have become an urban bee keeper. 

Much though all of the above are important to me, it was clear when I was asked to write this post that a description of a single learning experience is required.  Trite though it may sound, I think my best learning experiences often have centred round perceived failure and mistakes – using the opportunity for dialogue, sharing ideas, determining a new and better path, watching the learning process occurring in others and observing my own responses.  Connected to this, there is one incident that constantly comes back to haunt me – it involves my eldest son when he was seven.  He and his class had been set homework by his teacher; they were to discover what the lower-case “e” symbol means on packaging and bottles.  On getting home he threw himself into the task, trawling his way through books and searching online, eventually he called his brother’s godmother – who was responsible for specialist food design and packaging at M&S.  She explained that it is a European legislative mark that relates to weights and measures – products with the mark can be transported across borders within the European region.  I was so proud of him for finding out the answer through his own efforts and initiative.  He was chuffed too – indeed so pleased was he with his success that he skipped ahead of me to school the following morning.  His little brother and I manoeuvred the buggy through the school gates and made our way to the classroom.  As soon as we entered I could see that something was wrong; my little boy was slumped at his desk, close to tears.  I went up to his teacher, seated behind her desk at the front, and asked if my son had told her about his great discovery. She sourly responded that he had stated that e-marked goods could be transported between EU countries, but that another child had already given her the right answer, that it was a legislative mark.  I pointed out that both children were correct and that their efforts should be praised.  My son then piped up to say that the mark was also to do with the average weight or quantity in a box or bottle.  Turning her back on me, the teacher brusquely told my son to stand up and repeat after her, in front of the class, that he was a “rude and stupid little boy” for speaking when he had not been asked to contribute.

I watched my child’s confidence and happiness seep out of him, like a deflating beach ball, and I was shocked.  Rather than picking a fight with the teacher, I felt compelled to leave the room, as I knew I would be unable to control myself.  I got as far as the school gates and then realising that I could not leave matters like that.  I turned and went to find the headmistress.  To cut a long story short, my son left the school soon after  (as indeed did eight other children in the class, all of whom had been belittled and humiliated on a regular basis in front of their peers).  My son transferred to a school that focuses on encouraging effort.  It took a while for him to believe that he was good and capable of success and even now he is still convinced that he can’t act or draw.  However, he clearly isn’t stupid – he’s off to Imperial College this autumn to start a degree in Theoretical Physics.

I would be the first to admit that my son’s learning experience in relation to the “e” incident was appalling.  However, I learned loads…  In the space of a few minutes I truly appreciated that:

  • people thrive on encouragement;
  • effort needs to be recognised;
  • debate is a better tool for achieving results than simply squashing someone’s point of view;
  • it is important for people in authority not to take advantage of their position, especially to the detriment and damage of others;
  • there are ways not to do things;
  • it is best to act swiftly to rectify problems;
  • there is sometimes more than one answer that’s right;
  • you should be lead by your values and stand up for what you believe in;
  • I wanted to work with people and help them to exceed their own expectations.

The “e” incident was a while ago – although it creeps into my mind on a regular basis.  Since then I have taken on responsibility for the learning and development of many individuals, both professionally and outside work.  I have also expanded my own knowledge and understanding, reading into what motivates people, how different personalities behave and gaining an understanding of various ways of developing individuals.  If you are interested in these aspects, as well as the potential impact of coping with mistakes and failure, I recommend reading “Mindset: the New Psychology of Success” by Professor Carol Dweck, of Stanford University.  She has produced some thought provoking work on success and analysed where people believe their abilities comes from (i.e. is it from an innate capability or due to hard graft acquiring skills and capabilities).  How you think impacts how you do.  I wish you all “growth mindsets”, so that you are more likely to continue persevering despite setbacks. I know it is possible to encourage people to persist and develop, despite failure, provided that you maintain the right outlook and view Learning with an open mind ready and are willing to grow.

4 thoughts on “The best learning experience I ever had – Kate Griffiths-Lambeth

  1. Rob – thanks for doing this series, a really inspired thing to do.

    Kate this is PURE MAGIC. What a story, what a conclusion. Fantastic example, illustrated in such a beautiul way and leaves a lasting impression. Hat’s off.

  2. Pingback: The best learning experience I’ve ever had – the story so far… | Trainers Kit Bag

  3. Hi Kate,
    As a primary school teacher I am mortified at the experience your son had at just 7 years old. Through my observations of teaching alongside teachers (whilst doing my own personal development work) many are still battling the wounds of their own childhoods, therefore sub consciously continuing to inflict the pain they feel on the children in their care. This is in no way an excuse for the behaviour he experienced, just an explanation. There is much work to be done around awareness of our own inner child before we can expect the teachers to be caring for our children’s self esteem at school in a deeply considerate way. A friend of mine has a 7 year old in primary school at present and her teacher labels her a “trouble maker”. I also struggled through school believing I was stupid (my teacher when I was 6 years old said I wouldn’t get anywhere), at the end of my degree I was diagnosed with Dyslexia! I also feel that with the pressure to “raise standards” and achieve “good” Ofsted reports we are somehow missing the point of our children’s education. I live in hope we are on the verge of an educational breakthrough or perhaps “breakdown”. Congratulations to your son for winning a place at Imperial Collage.
    Kirsten

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