Spotlight Interview with Diane Clark from Passion for learning

Diane Clark from Passion for learning
Diane Clark
Diane has been working with children in many different capacities for over 40 years.  She has a psychology degree from University of Liverpool. She has run a Playcentre for 5-16 year olds in Halton, been a primary school teacher, a lecturer in Health and Social Care; is mother herself and now leads Passion for learning with this wealth of experience.
What’s the secret to your success?

Passion for what we do, determination that we will succeed, and absolute conviction that what we do is really needed.

Who in your life has influenced you most and why?

That’s a really difficult one, because so many different people have influenced me. I would have to say teachers who can really pass on knowledge in a way that children want to receive it. They’re not necessarily the most knowledgeable people, but the ones who can pass on their passion for a subject and inspire excitement and curiosity in others.

Why? I find it difficult to be around people who are not particularly excited about things; I experience things full on. I am not the person that likes something in the middle somewhere. At school, we had a fantastic music teacher and I was fortunate to be a member of a really good choir where everything had to be the best it could possibly be. The experience inspired a real passion for music that I didn’t even know existed. Prior to meeting her or going to that school, music was not a significant part of my life. The knowledge that you can spark something completely new in somebody else is incredibly exciting. A lot of the children who we are working with do not have any hobby or any interests. They have never met anyone who is thrilled and excited by the world. The idea that you can go through the whole of your life, never being particularly excited or curious about anything, is awful. I want everyone to have those wow moments even if it’s for something as simple as seeing a rainbow. I can remember hearing an interview on the radio with a Maths Laureate. Her excitement, for numbers, was totally infectious. It left you sort of thinking “Gosh, I wish I was that excited about a calculation”. The reason why we’ve got computers, we went to space, we have mobile phones is because somebody somewhere was thrilled and excited about something that other people have no interest in. That’s why sharing the passion for learning and lighting the fires in our children, is very important to me.

What do you do for fun?

I absolutely love dance and music. I don’t dance myself, but I have a complete passion for every sort of dance, particularly ballet and contemporary. Alongside that, I love music, specifically, classical music. My daughter’s a violinist so I have shared that with her since she was a child. I have been to all her concerts, tours and everything else. I spend a tremendous amount of time with my grandchildren. I love going to different places with all my family and seeing everyone experience new things and places for the first time. I love cooking and baking. I’m always looking for new things to make and try.

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given? 

There are probably two main things. When you are dealing with difficult and stressful situations, you’ve got to ask yourself, on a scale of one to ten, where ten is death, where does this rank? It helps me to keep things in perspective. The second thing is something that I remember a teacher saying to me. “A clever person gets something wrong once; only a fool gets it wrong twice”. She’s wasn’t right, but I think that the need to learn from your mistakes is an important one. I think mistakes are only bad if you don’t learn from them

If you could have a 1 to 1 with anyone past or present who would it be with and why?

There are so many people. It would depend on which part of me was having that opportunity. I would love to speak to Rudolf Nureyev (Soviet ballet and contemporary dancer and choreographer). He shared that desire for perfection; nothing was ever good enough. On the other hand, there are some amazing educationalists, for example, Alexander Sutherland Neill. He believed that the purpose of education was to enable children to find their interests in life and follow their own passions and dreams, whatever they may be.  He founded a school called Summerhill built on the belief that interest was a prerequisite for learning and ultimately mental well-being.

I once heard somebody say, “if you knew that every child was a genius in one thing and you had until the age of ten to discover their unique ability, how would that change our education system?” Right now we only look for one thing and that’s academic excellence. We might be missing the creative engineers, the breath-taking dancers and musicians, the really off-the-wall scientists and so on. In the process we are destroying children’s self-esteem and that’s terribly damaging.

What is the biggest challenge in your sector right now?

Funding, without a doubt. As we experience the increasing effects of financial austerity, many essential services are struggling or even disappearing, and charities are having to take the slack. Inevitably funders are having to choose between a number of very worthy causes. That’s why it’s absolutely critical that you are making the impact that you intend to make. It’s not good enough to be doing something nice; you need to know that you make a difference. There is no room for well-intentioned mediocrity.

Tell us about the most memorable client, event or customer that you have interacted with over the years?

I could go on about this forever; so many children have really touched me. It would have to be a boy who I worked with a number of years ago who had lost his father to very tragic circumstance. His family situation meant that he had not had the chance to grieve. He started to put suicidal thoughts in the worry box at school and so they asked me if I would work with him. From the very first moment I met him, I knew he was really, really special. We did a project about where his father came from, over the course of a year. We looked at every aspect of his Dad’s country of origin right down to the village that his family came from. Our time together was all about about forging a friendship and giving him the opportunity to talk and be who he was. He was an incredibly intelligent young man who had no self-esteem and thought he didn’t have anything special about him. Actually, there was everything special about him. He had a big influence on me and, when he went to High School, I was sad to see him go. I knew that he’d be okay. His younger brother was still at primary school and he came to see me to deliver a message from his brother. ‘Tell Diane, I’m alright”. He was so special.

Is Brexit affecting/going to affect your organisation?

I don’t think so. It might affect some of the young children we work with, their lives, and their views of the world. We don’t at the moment, for example, apply for any European funding. But as the organisation grows, and it will grow, it would have been nice to have that opportunity. However, on the day to day basis, no. 

Where do you believe are the biggest opportunities right now for passion for learning and in the Charity sector generally? 

Working to enhance the future opportunities for children and young people. I feel that only by trying to impact the lives of children right at the beginning, can you have the greatest influence on their life chances. Over a period of time, we have been working with younger and younger children. We are supporting children who are coming to school at four already with big barriers to their learning. If you’re trying to inspire interest and motivate children to learn, it’s no good doing that at 14. They need to be excited about learning and have inspirations and ambitions when they are very young. Whether it’s becoming a truck driver or a nuclear physicist, they need to want to be something.

In terms of the charity sector generally, there are many demands out there. There are lots of people who are very isolated. In terms of our own volunteers, we have a very inclusive approach. We are aware that some people come to us with their own issues and challenges. We have two opportunities here. Our beneficiaries are obviously children, however, without a doubt, working with the children has impacted on their volunteers’ lives. For us, although we are working with children, we are also aiming to have a positive impact on their families, the community and our volunteers.

How do you motivate your staff?

By sharing my passion. My staff are very important for me as well. I am not going to say that I am not demanding, because I know that I am. I expect them to have the same passion as I have. We look for people who share our belief in the importance of making a difference to these children.  The motivation has to be, how much we can do for these children? Seeing children thrive is an unbeatable reward.

What do you most enjoy about leading passion for learning?

 Seeing children change. When we first meet some of the children there is literally no spark. They have no self-belief. They don’t think they are special. Many of our children don’t believe that they are important.  To see children become excited and curious about their world is so motivating. When you first see their faces really light up, and you have not seen that before, it’s really quite incredible. So, without hesitation, the children.

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