Learning Stories

We know that learning has the power to change lives.

Our learning stories feature Bristol citizens who share how learning has made a difference to their lives and the many ways and places that they have learnt – through friends, activities, formal education and work.

We want to gather as many learning stories as possible from across the city and we would like to hear from you! Click here to submit your learning story.

Featured Learning Stories

Inês’s Learning Story


For a very long time I used to trust the wrong people. I didn’t know why I did it, or why I repeatedly kept doing it, but my suspicion lays in the fact that I had no real self-esteem and any bit of attention given to me was enough for me to call people friends. Second chances would become tenth chances, the lies would become truths and the excuses would become explanations. It wasn’t a pretty situation, but I was shy and lonely.

I wanted to have friends. Everybody at the age of 10 wanted to have friends. Everybody wanted to be the popular kid, wanted to be the best, wanted to be loved by everybody – and I wasn’t an exception, but I also wasn’t the norm. My “friend” was the norm. She was gorgeous, smart and very popular. Guys wanted her and girls wanted to be her and, if they couldn’t be her, they would try to be her friend. Yet, out of all the other prettier, skinnier girls she chose me to be her friend.

This girl, let’s call her Jane, she was good and kind to me and unlike everybody else she didn’t tease me or make fun of me for being who I was. She never hurt me per se, but she also didn’t do anything to stop me hurting from all of the other people. This was a girl who said she would always have my back and that she wouldn’t let anyone hurt me. Yet push came to shove and she shoved me. Pretty much everything she had said about protecting me went into the trash without a second thought. I never really confronted her about why she wouldn’t defend me and I never really called her out on it – for that I have only myself to blame. I knew that once I did I would lose the only “real” friend I had ever had and I didn’t want that to happen.

As time passed, I kept thinking why she would let the guys in our class taunt me the way they did, why she would let her own boyfriend toy with me, the person she called her best friend. I came up with the conclusion that no matter how popular she was, I was always more unpopular, which meant that if she had sided with me I’d have destroyed her popularity. All of her “friends” would have deserted her and she would have been as alone as I had felt for all of those years.

I should note that I don’t hold a grudge for her. In fact, if I saw her on the street I’d probably hug her and I would thank her from the bottom of my heart. Even though she sold our friendship for her popularity, she had always believed in me. She believed that I would succeed and that all of my pains would result in something incredible. And guess what? She was right!

We eventually lost touch and I believe that this was for the best. Getting this distance from her, but also from the people that made me hate and self-doubt myself for eight years, helped me to realise that there was nothing wrong with me and that I wasn’t broken. In fact, for the first time in my life I was on the right path and this time I knew what I wanted, who I wanted in my life and that history would not be repeating itself.

I went to university with a new philosophy. I would not care about what other people had to say about me and if I happened to find another “Jane”, spoiler alert I did, I would fight back and I would not fear losing a friend. And it worked! I ended my first year with a group of close friends, friends who loved me for who I was, who always had my back and who accepted my weirdness rather than judging it.

What this whole experience has taught me is that it is scary to open yourself to new people, especially when you’re a shy little creature like me. Things are unforeseeable and you can’t predict if, when or how some relationships will end. You also can’t also predict if, when or how relationships will succeed! Each person you meet, regardless of whether or not they will stay in your life, will teach you a lesson. For the majority of time you won’t necessarily remember the person, but the lesson they will leave you with.

Don’t overthink when things take a wrong turn and don’t try coming up with a solution, because a lot of the time situations like this just can’t be fixed and that is fine. It doesn’t make you weak or sad. It makes you strong!

Nikita’s Learning Story


Hello, my name is Nakita and I’m going to tell you about my learning journey.

When I was in high school I decided that I loved physics. Concepts of forces that I couldn’t see, and numbers and letters explaining the things I experienced, fascinated me. I wanted to know more, but it didn’t take me long to realise that physics was not going to be easy for me to learn…

By the end of high school I had given up on the difficult subject of physics. I decided to move onto a subject that would get me into university and give me the opportunity to try something new. I chose anthropology – the study of humans and societies. Finally, something I was good at, something that did come naturally to me. I loved it.

I then graduated and realised very few people get jobs as anthropologists and if I carried on with it I’d probably always be unemployed. Instead, I decided to pursue teaching. My Mum did it and, typically for a young person, I decided that if my Mum could do it then so could I (and probably better!).

I went off to do my teacher training and it was during this time that my learning really began – I fell pregnant. By the age of 24, I was the mother of the most beautiful, wonderful little boy. However, I soon discovered that:

  • My family was like one in 20 families in the UK, but that raising my son was likely to cost three times as much compared to the other 19 families
  • My son would have a 50% lower chance of finding employment as an adult, compared to his peers
  • My son was three times as likely to have no formal qualifications after school, compared to his peers
  • My son was likely to be a victim of hate crime and die five to ten years younger than his peers.

My son was born disabled.

It isn’t a disability of his mind or body, but a disability caused by those around. A society that requires him to go through a twenty week process to get the education he needs; a society that won’t make adaptations to accommodate him; people that make him strange, unusual and the other.

I quickly learnt that I had to get smarter if I was going to give my son the best chance in life. I needed to make sure that I understood the system he’d be navigating and the laws that would protect him. I learnt so much that I eventually got a job using what I had learnt for and from my son, for all children who have an invisible barrier put in front of them.

Now I’m a manager in specialist education and a trustee for Contact, a charity that supports families with disabled children. Most importantly, I am a better person and a better mother and I want to learn more.

My son was born disabled, but similar statistics exist for young people from Black Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds, children in care and young people living in poverty. I want my son and all children at risk of discrimination and prejudice to have the best possible futures they can have. I want us all to learn, as a society, that because a child is born disabled, black or poor they should still have the same opportunities and chances in life as their peers. For that to happen, I need us all to think about what we can do to carve pathways for young people to achieve. As a Learning Ambassador, I’m going to do all that I can to support disabled young people, and all young people, to access opportunities that inspire and raise their aspirations.

Nicholas’s Learning Story

Nick's Learning Story

I have been a teacher for 17 years now and have taught in many schools in and around Bristol. Over the last decade I have been fortunate enough to share my learning with other teachers locally, nationally and internationally.

I am lucky to have started my career in a special school in Totterdown, Bristol. It was a community-focused, energetic school that oozed creativity, led by the most amazing Headteacher Norma Watson. She was special to me as she saw what I was capable of and through a blend of encouragement and mild coercion enabled me to discover my own creativity through my teaching. She gave me permission to take risks and be the teacher I thought I could be, not the one I thought I should be. I worked hard to teach in variety of active, practical ways, immersing children in experiences and challenges.

Until recently, I didn’t realise the power of a single moment where you smile, encourage a child to do something they have never done before and support them to achieve it. You don’t think about the outcome this might have, because as a teacher you are always in the moment with them.

A few years ago, I stood in front of hundreds of teachers from several schools. It was their annual conference and I had been asked to speak about the power of intelligent risk. I finished with a story of a young blonde boy Harry who, during rehearsals of a Shakespearian musical, worked backstage – yet I noticed he knew every single person’s lines, even though he didn’t have any himself. One day, one of the main characters broke his arm and was not able to take to the stage. I asked Harry if he would step in as he knew the lines anyway. After some cajoling, he agreed and afterwards talked about how proud he was that he did it. I mused to the teachers in front of me how I always wondered what happened to him.

The room was silent. Then a single hand raised at the back of the room ‘…I’m Harry’.

I could have cried, but managed to get through the last of my talk. At the end of the session, Harry came up to speak to me and said that he was a teacher now and that I, along with with my colleagues, had inspired him to take risks and be the best he could be.

In that moment I learnt that every moment is important and every conversation might have the power to change the course of a child’s life.

Teachers – keep teaching. You have no idea how and for how long your ripples spread out into the world.

Nicholas currently supports schools with innovative curriculum design, coaching and teacher training through Lighting up Learning.

Maryam’s Learning Story

Maryam's Learning Story

I’m a young teenager in Year 10 who goes to secondary school at City Academy in Bristol. I currently study science, English, mathematics, geography, religious studies, health and social care and computer science. My favorite subjects are health and social care and mathematics – some people may think these are boring, but not everyone’s the same and I enjoy them in my own way.

This year at school we were all asked to find work experience placements. My friend Liana and I secured a one week placement at Bristol City Council. We were both shocked that we managed to get work experience at the council, as we know it’s a really busy place and thought that because of the important work they do for the city that it wouldn’t be possible.

My first day was very welcoming and I met many different people, including my team who work within Education, Learning and Skills. Liana and I got a tour around the building (which was massive!) and I was also given my equipment and timetable for the week ahead. We also got to attend the Employment, Skills and Learning Celebration event in the afternoon where we learnt what goes on in the city.

The next day I had my first meeting, which was with the Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees. This was very exciting as he talked through an average day as Mayor and I was also able to ask him some questions, for example ‘What gave you the idea to offer students work experience placements here?’. I also had the chance to tell him about the team I was working with and I was surprised to learn that this was a priority area for him, as it is all about creating equal opportunities for everyone in education, no matter what your background.

Another highlight of my week was attending the South West’s Big Bang Fair at the University of the West of England. I was a VIP guest, along with my mentor, and we got to see a whole range of exciting Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) activities and exhibits. We even received a free lunch!

Later in the week, I had an apprenticeship session to help explain what apprenticeships are, what the various levels are and what options are available. It was really helpful and gave me lots to think about for when I have to start preparing for leaving school.

Overall I really enjoyed myself on the placement. At the start, I felt like the council work would be boring and that the staff would be strict, but after my first day I realised that it was kind of cool and very relaxing. I was introduced to many job roles, projects and members of staff. I was set some assignments to complete on my own, such as researching strategies to improve literacy rates and finding out the latest news on Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND), and also attended a few events as well. The experience was really positive and I’m really pleased that I was given the opportunity.

Image: Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, with work experience students and Bristol City Council apprentice at City Hall. From left: Liana Cottrill, Maryam Omar, Marvin Rees and Amber Bloom. 

Shaddai’s Learning Story


I’ve read in the past that there are only two kinds of stories – those that follow a linear, straight path and those that don’t. Mine certainly falls into the latter category; it’s a bit messy, tangled and convoluted, but that’s life, right? Moreover, I don’t think my story is finished. I’m expecting several more twists and turns before I get to the end.

So where to start? The big turning point for me was my A-levels (or lack of). Having chosen sociology, psychology, law and communication and culture, I was hopeful of a few, fun-filled years at university before settling down into my dream job as the next Derren Brown, great reader of minds.

Unfortunately, this didn’t quite materialize the way I had expected and with two grade D’s and two grade E’s I dropped out and found myself applying for apprenticeships in catering and childcare. After a two week crash course working with children, I was on my first day as a Nursery Practitioner in a tiny setting in Redland, Bristol.

The next two years are a bit of a blur – I was thrown straight into the deep end and I was loving it! Spending my days being creative, walks to the local park and train stations, supporting emotional development, doing physical play and reading The Hungry Caterpillar was so much fun and gave me an appetite to cement a career in the Early Years.

I gained my level two and three qualifications and moved on to a larger setting in north Bristol. Here I had the opportunity to undertake my Foundation Degree and was introduced to the Men in Childcare group. Since my first setting was fairly balanced in terms of men and women, I hadn’t noticed there was such an imbalance until I become the lone man in a nursery where the other 40 members of staff were women.

But what made me so different? Yes, I was a man, but did that mean I could only do manly things with the children? I didn’t think so. After 2 years at that nursery, I chose to move to a Children’s Centre and did my top-up year to turn it into a full BA (Hons) degree in Education: Early Years.

The question of where all the men were persisted and it was an issue I explored in depth during that final year. I was fortunate enough join the Bristol Men in Early Years (BMIEY) Network and connect with others who had an interest in challenging the gender imbalance.

Today, I’m proud to represent BMIEY in achieving its goal of a more diverse workforce. We believe this is important because a diversity of role models for children has the power to challenge traditional, often harmful, ideas of what it means to be a man or a women. I’m also a Family Support Worker, Community Ambassador, Learning Ambassador and I am currently studying a Masters degree at the University of Bristol.

What’s the takeaway here? My story is perhaps unusual, but it points to fact that you shouldn’t let you past mistakes define your future. You need to work hard, yes, but it will pay off in the end and you will reap the rewards for doing so. I would encourage everyone with a passion for education to consider a career in the Early Years (and get involved with BMIEY too!) and discover what a fulfilling career you can have.

BMIEY are a city wide network of men and women who work with children aged from birth to seven. Consisting of Early Years practitioners, teachers, head teachers, governors, childminders and family support workers. They meet four times a year to share experiences and ideas as well as talk about current research and issues. Get involved with the next network meeting here.

The third National Men in Early Years Conference will take place on Tuesday 10th July 2018 at City Hall, Bristol.

Lawayne’s Learning Story

Lawayne's Learning Story

I started out as a parent governor when my son joined the sixth form at Redland Green School. He left many years ago now, but I have continued in my role.

I have always been involved in education. My mother, aunts and uncles were teachers and headteachers, so it’s been part of my entire life, as have volunteering and social work. I have also taught and tutored all my adult life while working as a communications professional. Being a governor was part of this continuum.

Being a school governor has brought me opportunities for personal and professional development in areas I may never have considered. It has provided opportunities to build networks and increase my awareness of the social and economic landscape, particularly in relation to education, so that I can broaden my volunteer work and support. I have also met an amazing set of people.

I think through volunteering as a governor I have become increasingly altruistic: becoming a better human being. I find myself mentoring many young people I come across in daily life. I often feel I am every young person’s ‘auntie’. In fact, they often say I am like their auntie! Often young people will just approach me and start a conversation and before you know it it’s a whole confidence boosting, or career dreams support conversation. And they are so joyful at the end of the conversation.

The sense of achievement and satisfaction from being a school governor and watching the school grow from strength to strength is astonishing – and since starting my role as a school governor, I have expanded my involvement to more Bristol schools and have supported more and more young people and fellow governors.

By being a school governor I feel that I have been able to make a difference to my community and support and improve the quality of life of young people. It’s been a way to avoid boredom and tedium and enjoy a fuller and more satisfied and dynamic life.

If you’re thinking of becoming a governor then I would certainly recommend seeking out as many training opportunities as possible. Take on new and different responsibilities to widen your areas of expertise and feed your curiosity by reading and research. Most of all always keep at the core the determination to do what is best for the children and young people.

The Bristol Learning City partnership launched the ‘Be a Governor‘ on 6 December 2018. People can register their interest of becoming a school governor or trustee on the Inspiring Governance website.

Dominika’s Learning Story

Dominika's Learning Story

I am an A-level student currently studying Geography, Sociology and Business. I have a huge passion for geography and especially sustainability; however there aren’t many activities outside the curriculum that involve the subject.

When I learnt about Catalyst Bootcamp, a three day residential programme in Bristol that supports young women to be change-makers for green careers and the planet, I was really excited and couldn’t wait to sign up! I wanted to learn about different career paths that can be taken to enforce sustainability, whilst being able to improve my confidence.

I was positively surprised by the Catalyst Boot camp, everything was better than I expected and my expectations were already really high. Everyone was friendly and each guest speaker was an interesting individual who talked to us about their sustainable experiences. Getting to share our own sustainability ideas and understanding of the world was something that I really liked about the programme, as well as the confidence building sessions.

Since the bootcamp, I have become more concerned about learning people’s opinions and looking at things from different perspectives. However, the biggest change is that I try to think of a sustainable solution in every situation – be it pollution around a school or traffic around a town.

I have become more organised and calm about my future. Also I know how to deal with stress and anxiety due to the motivational sessions and I’m not afraid to speak up. I have also been able to consider many different options and career paths – I have become really interested in taking a gap year after hearing people talk about their experience of traveling. However, I also liked how the guest speakers would describe their way to success, showing that going to university is not the only choice if you’re not that interested in it; but in the end, it still made me more eager to go.

If you are interested in sustainability and want to learn more about it, the bootcamp is the best way to do it and you get to meet many amazing people.

Catalyse Change CIC held their first Catalyst Bootcamp at the University of Bristol in August 2017. The programme was a mix of sustainability speakers, mentors and personal development tools. Bursaries were offered to a number of participants, including Dominika whose bursary was funded by Pukka Teas. 
Next year’s Catalyst Bootcamp will be held at the University of Bristol on 1-3 August 2018. Find out more: catalyschange.com.

How will sharing stories encourage people to learn in Bristol?

Sharing stories promotes understanding and brings people together.

In a neuroscience study, led by Uri Hasson in Princeton, a woman told a story to a group of listeners while their brains were monitored by MRI scans.  The results showed that the listeners experienced the exact same brain patterns as the storyteller.  The listeners developed empathy for the storyteller, because they were experiencing the story in the same way as the teller.

This means that when you tell a story to a friend, you can transfer your experiences, ideas, thoughts and emotions to them.  They feel what you feel.  What’s more, as you relate to someone’s desires through a story, they become your desires.

Sharing a learning story can bring a powerful force of change to those listening, encouraging them to go onto learn something new for themselves.

Share Your Learning Story!

We want to gather as many learning stories as possible from across the city and we would like to hear from you.

Your story might be based on an experience that made a difference to your life, it might be about one thing you learnt that set you on a specific course, or it might tell the story of your learning journey and demonstrate how what you learnt has impacted on your life.

Everyone’s learning story is important to us, so please help us by sending in your learning story below.

For ideas of how to create your learning story please download our top tips:


Submit Your Learning Story

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We review all submissions carefully and we will get in touch if we’re able to publish your learning story.

If you have told your learning story in a different way such as by film, music or pictures please upload it onto our Facebook page or alternatively email it to: learning.city@bristol.gov.uk