Learning Stories2018-09-10T15:33:09+00:00

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

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.

Keith’s Learning Story

Keith's Learning Story

My learning story began in January 2013 and with my bathroom scales telling me an uncomfortable truth! This wasn’t just about festive excess. In the preceding two years I’d gone from being an active, slender, fit man to a slovenly, overweight shadow of my former self, due to a litany of health issues, both physical and mental.

I needed a New Year’s weight loss initiative and had always thought it would be nice to learn a martial art. I loved the Jean-Claude Van Damme films of my childhood. I decided upon karate simply because it was the only martial art that I had heard of, other than judo.

Now that I had decided what I wanted to do, the next step was finding somewhere to do it. I remember googling ‘karate beginners lessons Bristol’ and looking through the top few results. Whilst reading through a few of the websites something caught my attention straight away – a short paragraph stating that none of the instructors get paid for teaching and volunteer their services for free. That, as I would come to discover in the coming years, defines what Zenshin Dojo is all about – people helping others to better themselves, simply because it’s the right thing to do. It sounds idealistic, but in a world too frequently dominated by selfish wants and needs, it’s refreshing to come across a community in which the ethos is about learning and helping others.

I can still remember how nervous I felt, attempting to attend my first lesson. I say ‘attempting’, because I never actually made it there. I had difficulty finding the venue and arrived ten minutes late. This was followed by ten further minutes sitting in my car procrastinating about whether it was too late to turn up, before driving home. I was struggling terribly with anxiety and remember driving home convinced that my martial arts experience was over before it even began. The next day I received a short email from the founder of the club, enquiring as to why I hadn’t turned up. There was an inherent warmness to his tone that convinced me to give it another go.

Sunday 20th January 2013 was my first ever karate lesson. I can remember the details more than any lesson I’ve attended since. As soon as I walked through the door, the instructor greeted me with a friendly warmth that immediately put me at ease. I was introduced to the group and taken away from the main group to learn the Fudo Dachi (stance) and Gedan Barai (block). Throughout the lesson I was made to feel welcome and that’s something that has stayed with me since. I will never forget the first time I put my Gi (uniform) on, though I wore a t-shirt underneath it due to my embarrassment at my weight. There’s something uniquely special about putting it on for the first time.

Whilst I enjoyed learning karate, I also struggled tremendously with my mental health. I’ve battled with depression and anxiety, and at the time I was taking some quite powerful anti-depressants, which I’m sure contributed to my weight gain.

As the weeks and months passed not only did I lose some weight, which was my primary goal, but I also began to feel less anxious. The depression began to lift and I slowly began to cut back on the anti-depressants. By the middle of 2014, I’d come off them completely.

As someone who has always prided myself on my athletic ability, I feel like I’m back to the person I used to be. On a deeper level, I will always be grateful to karate, and the supportive environment at Zenshin Dojo, for helping me to overcome the worst of my mental health difficulties. I still have my bad days, but they are few and far between, and I no longer have to wear a t-shirt under my Gi!

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