The Way Forward?

I was very lucky this weekend to be invited to attend the eTwinningUK National Conference in Nottingham with Dáithí Murray (one of my partners in crime for our TeachMeet in March). We both felt very privileged to be given the opportunity to see the good work being done by other dedicated, innovative and motivated teachers around the UK.

The opening Keynote Speech was given by Dr Anne Looney, CEO of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in Ireland (NCCA). In what was an entertaining, insightful, passionate and interesting address she touched on the issue of teachers having ‘Professional Capital’ from a book by Andy Hargreaves.

I had never heard of this, and endeavour to find out more, but there was something that she said that I found to be interesting. Highly motivated and innovative teachers would, in the terms of reference, have high ‘Professional Capital’ (as expected) and those members of staff that don’t have the same intrinsic motivation would have low levels of ‘Professional Capital’ (again, as expected). However, and this is the heart of the blog this evening…

When those teachers are put side-by-side, instead of the motivation rubbing off and developing ideas, studies show that the teacher with the higher Capital is dragged down!

So, from reading between the lines, if you have one or two teachers like this in your staff – instead of the good practice, hard work, inspirational teaching, extra emotional time spent by those teachers with High Capital actually effecting change, it appears that the negativity from within will bring them down. If the studies are correct, and I may be mis-representing them and am willing to be corrected, is there really a point of driving change through when all it takes is one or two members on your staff to completely derail the ideas and enthusiasm?

This is a very pessimistic view to take, I admit, but is it a reality that many face day in, day out? No matter how hard they try to innovate, inspire and be creative – they will always be dragged back by the excess weight?

If a school is not all pulling in the one direction and all the staff are not on-board with this message, then how do they effect change where they see that it is needed?

I am a great believer in Sir Ken Robinson’s educational message and something that he said rang true with me when he wrote about surrounding yourself with your tribe – people of a similar mindset and beliefs. In this way, true innovation and inspiration can be shared for the greater good of the pupils and staff.

This can’t happen when inspired teachers are in the school where colleagues don’t buy into the message. Whether it be through staff who feel that they don’t have to put in the extra work or that they feel that they don’t have to learn anything new once they have received their teaching degree (by whatever means they achieved it). So what choices do schools have?

1 – Keep plugging away for ‘The Greater Good’?

2 – Move on and seek out your tribe – leaving the ‘naysayers’ to their negativity?

3 – Move the ‘naysayers’ on – activiely surrounding the school in a truly innovative and motivated staff?

4 – Come to a compromise – don’t be negative and we won’t ask you to get on board?

I’m sure there are more solutions and none of them ideal but this is the reality we all face, I fear. If you are prepared to give up a weekend to see some wonderful practice at work there are 10 members of staff updating their Facebook page deriding your dedication! It is the reality we face but it is also a sobering reminder of the lack of power some school leaders face. Why shouldn’t you be given the opportunity to surround the school and children with the Tribe of Innovators, Inspirators, Motivators instead of having to make do?

On reflection, this is a more negative post than I would like it to be but there are times when the Tribe need to come together and be reminded that, no matter how much they rely on each other and their belief structures; no matter how much they recognise all the outstanding examples of dedication that are evident; they are constantly under attack from within and without! And because of this, education is going to lose some wonderful people who will be better served working with others who believe in them and want them to succeed – why wouldn’t you?

So, what will they do?

Instead of reacting to the negative ways, they will overwhelm the naysayers with their positive beliefs until they realise that this is the right thing to do: Learn from each other, appreciate the strengths of true innovators; relish the opportunity to work with people who care and instead of being an anchor on the journey, be an extra engine to help them get there quicker and more efficiently!

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One thought on “The Way Forward?

  1. A great blogpost, Barry, and one whichever me think. I think it is easier in a secondary school as statistically there is more chance of meeting more like-minded teachers. I have found that I just kept going and found my Tribe along the way but the joys of teaching today mean that a lot of my Tribe are online colleagues whom I now consider friends. I think that where we can impact is wirh those with middle level ‘Professional Capital’ who may not find the way on their own but are happy to follow if we lead. That sounds more bigheaded than I meant, but I have kept going despite the raised eyebrows at my use of Web 2.0 and Twitter and now there is more acceptance and interest. A lot of this is die to the vision of our leadership and perhaps this is where I am fortunate.

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