Communities of inquiry: How can candles of all ages help our schools?

School is only one part of a child’s day. And yet when we talk about “education”, we are generally only referring to what happens inside classrooms.

But learning happens everywhere, and so many people, places, events- even feelings- can be our candles.


Educational Postcard: we could have a community system of learning by Ken Whytock on Flickr under CC BY-NC 2.0

It appears as though so many of the bad things that happen in the world- eg people’s lack of resilience and lack of compassion, their lack of respect for authority, the way competition has seen our government repeatedly undermine one another, our decreasing attention spans and increasing narcissism- basically all of the societal failures and wrongdoings- end up added to the school curriculum. They become a teacher’s job to “fix”.

And I get that. Teach them to know better when they’re young enough to listen and take heed. Give them all the same message. Do it in a setting where they don’t have to learn it in isolation. Prevention is better than cure.

And besides, what is the alternative? Because how could parents, who many times are both working crazy hours to stay afloat, teach these things at home if some of them were never taught themselves?

But we’re forgetting something. Our communities don’t just consist of teachers and of parents. We also have grandparents, aunts, uncles, scout leaders, youth social workers, and other community elders. All with their own wisdom to light the way for the future generation.


Hands by QuInn Dombrowski on Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0

So I propose an idea. And it’s one that the Indigenous people of Australia have known all along. Instead of the youth of today being the only ones harnessing the publishing power of the Internet and broadcasting their ideas (and every detail of their lives) to the world- why don’t we encourage the more experienced, older… ahem… more “mature” folk to leverage their influence for the greater good? We may not be able to expect them all to create Facebook accounts and show us a different perspective, or start blogging their insights, but what about:

  • More school partnerships with hospitals and retirement villages (I’m thinking kids sing  and patients, as well as the folk a little more advanced in years, tell stories- which may or may not be real).
  • More mandatory homework assignments that involve young people interviewing their Grandparents about how the world has changed since they were young, and what regrets they have, and what they would do differently if they were young again.
  • More invitations from schools for family members to visit and see what is happening- and have an input.
  • More intergenarational collaboration around the act of producing and consuming texts online (Dowdall, 2009)
  • More compulsory units of study around the history of your local area.
  • More real-life learning experiences where kids get to garden with gardeners and cook with chefs and create art with artists and write books with authors and…. you get the idea.
  • More businesses taking a leaf from “The Intern”‘s book and taking on senior interns.
  • Introducing payments to grandparents who look after their grandkids. Let’s get that ball rolling!
  • And, my favourite, more compulsory gap years consisting of military training! (I just enjoy a bit of controversy!)

Once all this Covid mess dies down, let’s get families more actively engaged in education- not just in times of crisis.

Read here about how one innovative school is doing it.


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Dowdall, C. (2009). Masters and critics: Children as producers of online digital texts. In V. Carrington & M. Robinson (eds) Digital Literacies: Social learning and classroom practices. (pp. 43-61) Los Angeles: Sage


  1. Absolutely, these partnerships would be so valuable in expanding students’ minds, hearts and interests. It would also be fulfilling for members of the community. Education isn’t just in the classroom; it;s in the real world with real people.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think (like Tolstoy) that history is shaped by the ordinary and the everday not just the big moments and the big people of the history books. It’s also the everday and the ordinary that is often missing in the lessons that those with some ‘wisdom’ can impart. I often think of the sticker that i had on my school bag at highschool that said ‘girls can do anything’. When i look back now i wish that instead of the big dreams people told me i should dream of that someone had talked to me about the ordinary and everday. In particular I wish someone would have spoken to me about being a parent, particularly a working mother and what that would really mean for my life and how i would view the world and my choices. I wish my community with all it’s collective wisdom would have prepared me for something so ordinary and everday. And yet, with all that experience of those before me, it was never even mentioned.


    • I would argue that being a parent is not at all ordinary and everyday, but I do hear you. I wonder if the nature of being a working mother is a fairly new phenomenon that relatively few would have experienced enough to comment on? Or alternatively, whether those “in the know” didn’t impart knowledge/wisdom because they were never invited to?


  3. Well said and I agree. More mature people have so much to offer and no one knows how to tap into this resource. I have seen many elderly people eyes light up when someone just takes the time to ask them a question and for them to have an opportunity to be part of the community and pass on their experience is good for all.

    Liked by 1 person

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