A new decade: a renewed hope

Stratford-upon-Avon has 4 million visitors a year, according to the taxi driver who took me (and my daughter) back to the railway station after a short post-Christmas break indulging in culture in the town of Shakespeare’s birth. It was, I must say, a fabulous trip; we had a great time visiting various sites associated with the great Bard, and we indulged ourselves in two amazing productions. The RSC / David Walliams / Robbie Williams collaboration, ‘The Boy in the Dress’, is a joyous and glorious ode to diversity, while ‘The Life and Death of King John’, in Director Eleanor Rhode’s energetic and bold 60’s themed interpretation, was utterly, utterly captivating … and completed by an absolutely brilliant female King John.

Back to those 4 million visitors, though, who clearly come from all corners of the world, given the plethora of languages we heard. Whether it is 4 million visitors, or 2.5 million (according to Wikipedia), or 10 million (according to the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, 8 Jan 2017), this is a lot of visitors … all drawn to a hub of creative endeavour and excellence inspired by one of the world’s greatest literary inventors and fashioners of words. The fascination of Stratford is not hard to understand; Shakespeare is legendary throughout the world, the town is easily accessible, and the theatre is just phenomenal. (If I were on TripAdvisor now, I would advise you to take a behind-the-scenes tour – fascinating!)

I can’t help feeling, though, that there is something even deeper that attracts us – something that we might not even recognise before we arrive, or may pass our conscious understanding by, if we are not careful to grasp and illuminate the idea as it flits across our mind. There is a sense – which pervades the creative ingenuity that we glimpsed behind the productions – that as human beings, we are limited only by our imaginations … and our imaginations are, indeed, boundless. Technology, the human body … even, it seemed at times, the laws of Physics … all were stretched before our eyes, underpinned (so it must be) by a resolute commitment that anything and everything is possible, if only we set our mind to it.

I venture to suggest that the fascination and popularity of Stratford speaks to the inner core of our human spirit, which – if we release it – transcends artificial national boundaries and reminds us that there is always a solution to the issues and challenges that face us. What better way to start a new decade than to remind ourselves of this?

Happy New Year!

Making global competence a reality

It has been great to engage with colleagues across the world over the past week in particular, since my latest book, The Globally Competent School: a manual, was published. Thank you so much for your energising words, and – as ever – for your commitment to the education, development and growth of young people in what is undeniably a world that is globally connected as never before. In such a world, of course, we need to support our young people to develop the skills they will need to navigate (and shape) their futures. This is what global competence is all about.

Available on Amazon as both a paperback and a Kindle version

So … how do we make this happen? In my book, I have sketched out a process that begins with lighting the spark that will fuel the fire of action. This process of catalysing lays the foundation for the fervour and determination which will embed the development of global competence in the heart of school activity, wherever in the world they are, at whatever stage of development they find themselves, and whichever community they serve. The beauty of the skills needed for global competence – including digital and intercultural social skills – is that they are great equalisers and levellers. Equality of access to excellent education is a driving force for the vast majority of educators, and a focus on global competence in schools responds to this need. I would love to hear what you are doing, and am keen to help and support others by sharing your case studies on my new website, www.globalcompetence.net. Feel the energy, and do get in touch! And enjoy the book …

My new book! The Globally Competent School: a manual

My new book has been published! Hot off the press, it is now on Amazon as both a paperback and a Kindle version – and my fervent hope is that it will inspire teachers and school leaders to place global competence at the heart of their schools.

Available on Amazon as both a paperback and a Kindle version

I wrote the book as a follow on to my 2016 book, Powerful Schools: how schools can be drivers of social and global mobility, and it builds on my deep-held conviction that global competence (global mobility, in other words) holds the key to social mobility for our young people. I wanted to draw together all I have learned, and what I have seen starting to work in practice, and to make it as easy as possible for teachers and school leaders to make this difference really happen in their schools. It is not a blueprint – I am far too respectful of the unique circumstances of each school (and far too experienced!) to imagine that what works in one school can be directly imposed into another; this book will hopefully strike the balance between inspiring ideas and giving shape to operational reality, hence its designation as a manual.

I have also set up a dedicated website – to be found at www.globalcompetence.net – which lists a number of additional resources, and which will be regularly updated. I’ll be adding more elements to this soon, and am particularly keen to feature case studies of global competence learning and teaching in practice. I already have a few in my sights … watch this space!

Above all, I am passionate about helping to make a difference for our young people, and by enabling them to develop their global competence, we will all be doing this. So please do check in with the website and read the book (and if you are interested in a review copy, please contact me directly).

Onwards and upwards – and thank you so much for engaging!!

Learning to connect with those around us: a Macedonian learning adventure in the Scottish Borders

Courtesy of some poor systems and staffing planning by Trans-Pennine Express trains last week, I found myself on a rail replacement bus meandering across the Scottish Borders towards Carlisle, in order to get on another train that would finally take me to my destination. I can now report that there is a distinct limit to how much work one can do on a laptop on a rail replacement bus that is crossing the Scottish Borders … it was, in fact, not long until I gave up hope and turned my attention to the world around me, and I discovered that my immediate companion was a student of Geology from Greece who seemed quite keen to practise his English, so off we embarked on a conversation.

And what a conversation it was! After I had answered (rather inadequately) his questions about the train network in the U.K., and he had (with slightly puzzlement) answered my questions about the Greek education system, a chance remark of his about the state of Northern Macedonia led me to ask for his insights into the political tensions around the choice of name, and away we went on a journey of historical, geographical and political exploration that took us from the Ancient Greeks to the Balkan Wars. Alexander the Great played a significant role in our (mostly my) learnings, as did various Kings and politicians en route who had made wise or less wise decisions about when and how to invade different parts of the surrounding islands and countries. I learned such a lot.

Thanks to his remembered knowledge from school history, and my (much feebler) contribution of Google maps (and the odd recourse to Wikipedia), I – and, to be fair, he too – have a MUCH more comprehensive understanding of, amongst other events, the Asia Minor Disaster (aka the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922). What a really satisfying way to spend 3 hours! We parted at Carlisle station, both much more knowledgeable, and with me wishing him all the very best for his career in energy (preceded by his military service).

Anyway, my point is this – learnings and connections are usually just within our grasp, often (literally) sitting right beside us, or a mere click, or turn of a book page, away. All we have to do is (a) know this, and (b) reach out for them. Opening our minds and hearts is the first step in learning about others, how they live, what has influenced them and what enriches their lives. And – I say this with absolute conviction, based on experience – reaching out to others, and learning how they think and why, is enormously interesting, satisfying, enlightening and incredibly useful in one’s future interactions.

Need I say more? Connect with someone or something different today – and revel in the increased depth of your learning and understanding.

Globally competent thinking

Every time I visit Hong Kong, I leave feeling impressed and humbled by the city and the region. Geographically, it must be one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world, and the feats of human engineering which have situated almost unfeasibly high buildings on hillsides, created high octane container terminals and developed a speedy network of road and rail, bridges and tunnels, are, quite simply, stunningly ingenious. Above all, though, I always feel welcomed and in safe human hands when I am there; I am committed to and enjoy contributing to the vision of DSHK (Dalton School Hong) and I believe in the people who are taking this forward.

As a guest and visitor, it is not for me to comment on the events of the past few months, and the heightened tensions of the past week in particular, but I do know from seeing and speaking with many Hong Kong residents how this is an incredibly hard time for them. It is tearing families and communities apart, and creating levels of anxiety and concern that have no comparisons in the region within living memory. Faced with this, what can we, as educators, do?

Hong Kong in snapshot; ancient hills, colonial past and modern living

Well, this is not an easy question to answer. Who are we, with our own personal slivers of understanding of the world, to decree what those around us should learn, and how they should grow? On what grounds do we set ourselves up as experts in ‘what children need to know’? The truth is that as individuals, we really don’t have that legitimacy. The more well-read we are, the more we have educated ourselves about education, and the more we have considered, carefully and thoughtfully, what we believe and why, the more likely it is that we will approach what might turn out to be as right or good an answer as it is possible or practical to achieve … but there are an awful lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ implied in this assumption. Working with other educators is another step towards finding the answer we seek – provided that they represent diverse perspectives and are prepared to challenge our unconscious biases (and we theirs). And, of course, the more we can open our minds to the differences that mark our personal, collective, social and cultural views of the world, the more successful we are likely to be in at least finding a justifiably reasonable direction of travel in our quest.

Is it a sign of my own personal bias that I keep returning to this notion of ‘global competence’ as one of the core keys to help us support children and young people in their education and personal development? Undoubtedly! But I would also argue that it is a well-grounded pragmatic philosophical direction which clearly resonates strongly with parents, educators and young people themselves, so I will continue to promote it, passionately, as my contribution to the debate (recognising that it is just that – a contribution), and to the search for how to educate our young people in testing times.

Dr Helen Wright is the author of Powerful Schools: how schools can be drivers of social and global mobility. Her new book, The Globally Competent School: a manual, will be published on Amazon very shortly. Watch this space …

Daring to think differently about children and their behaviour

The biggest frustration I confess I have with Facebook is that it has an uncanny knack of hiding interesting information which I have seen once, and want to revisit, but can’t, because somehow it has disappeared from my feed. It may be my settings, or it may be the algorithm, but the upshot is the same – I can’t always get back to what I have seen, unless I save it immediately. If you have any suggestions about how I can change this, do say – but really, you have better things to do! Anyway, bear with me in this article, because my embarrassment lies not in the fact that I still use Facebook, but more importantly in the fact that I cannot credit the original authors of the comments I want to highlight.

In summary, the following two ideas popped into my feed a few days ago, and they struck me as worthy of sharing, not least in their juxtaposition:

Idea 1:
‘an apparently well-behaved child may not actually be good at self-regulating, but might in fact just be afraid’.

Idea 2:
‘neurology teaches us that children are not badly behaved – they are doing the best in the circumstances they find themselves in, and with the tools they have at their disposal.’

Obviously I am summarising … thanks, Facebook … but – gosh! What if we entertained these two thoughts? How much might this resonate with teachers and families? How about if we could see challenging behaviour as an indication of something that we – as adults or as society in general – are causing, rather than as a deficit on the part of the children themselves? What might this mean for our interaction with, and understanding of, children and young people?

If we strive to have in place a truly student-centred approach to education in our world – education in its broadest sense – then surely the more we embrace (and support) the notion of ‘individualness’, the better. This does not imply that children – or any individual – can simply do as they please, if it harms others, but it does imply that each child has a unique combination of traits, experiences and skills which will lead them to act in certain ways in response to specific stimuli … and maybe it is these stimuli we should be focusing on first, rather than the children themselves. If we can help children understand their responses – in the least judgemental fashion possible – and if we can support them by doing what we can to reduce the stimuli and build their response ‘toolkits’, then might this not make an enormous difference.

At the very least, isn’t it worth trying …?

The art of chairing

One thing I have learned in my several roles, past and present, as a non-executive Chair is that there is no such thing as a perfect meeting, merely meetings that are imperfect to a lesser or greater degree. Nor is there a perfect relationship to be built with the CEO/Executive Director or equivalent, but rather a constant navigation and negotiation of roles and perspectives. Tensions – good tensions for the most part, hopefully – are part and parcel of the role. In fact, I am not quite sure what the ideal or ‘perfection’ might look like, given the almost infinite permutations of shapes and directions that all these dynamics have.

What I have found, though, is that it is important constantly to interrogate these dynamics and to reflect on what to aspire to. A few resources which I have found useful (and continue to find useful) are:

  • Underpinning everything, however, are the 7 Principles of Public Life (published in the Nolan Report). These 7 principles – Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership – are an incredibly helpful ethical guide to how to behave on boards, and while they cannot provide clear actions to be taken in every situation, they certainly provide clear signposts, and having them very visible in boards is enormously helpful … in fact, I would argue that these are essential. It is not always easy to balance them all, but if the chair does not at least try, then the board will not succeed in its remit.   https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-7-principles-of-public-life/

We are always learning in life; and learning is easier when we share. Do share your ‘go-to’ sources …

Random acts of kindness

The petals on the flower in this photo may be curling and fading slightly now, as it gradually wilts in a vase in our hallway, but every time I see it, I smile. For this flower was given to me in a random act of kindness by a stranger as I crossed Dean Bridge in Edinburgh the other day, and I am reminded of this kindness whenever I catch a glimpse of it. And with this smile comes a flood of gratitude, for whenever someone does something unexpectedly kind, it can – and should! – release our gratitude.

Gratitude is a great gift to receive – it lifts the heavy mantle of individuality that keeps us locked into a cycle of thinking that we alone are the ones who can determine our destiny, when in fact in our interconnected world we need to be able to rely on others, and to accept what they have to offer, if we are to thrive. In turn, if we do the same, then together we form a virtuous upward spiral that benefits us all. It is, quite simply, good to be kind …

Random or not, acts of kindness bring gratitude and joy … make them part of your day!

Inspiring Learning – lessons in assessment

A hugely enjoyable day on Saturday at the Huili Institute of Learning ‘Inspiring Learning’ Forum in Shanghai – thank you to Wellington College in China for organising it! Bringing together teachers and leaders from across Shanghai, the rest of China, and further afield too – Abu Dhabi and the U.K., to name but two – the aim of the forum was to prompt thinking and discussion about contemporary issues in education … and it certainly met its goal. What a thought-provoking day!

Amongst the stimulating speakers was Professor Rob Coe of Durham University, who took us through contemporary thinking on assessment … and his key message was that we have a lot, lot more thinking to do about assessment if we are to be able to use it effectively to support – and drive – student learning. Assessment tasks should ideally elicit precise information which enables the teacher to take action that will create learning opportunities in the future. The precision of the assessment purpose and format (and our understanding of what the outcome of the assessment really means) really matters – not always, of course, especially if the purpose of the assessment is simply to motivate students to learn, but in most cases it really does. And as part of this understanding, educators need to have a very sophisticated grasp of the prerequisites, precursors and successors of specific learning objectives … and – above all – time to reflect on all of this.

Professor Rob Coe speaking at the Huili Institute of Learning

Time … this was the real message that came out of Professor Coe’s musings. If teachers are truly going to support their learnings, they need to have time to reflect, and to consider what their students have or haven’t learned, and why, and what, these students might best benefit from. One of his messages was that ‘good feedback causes thinking’, and it is obvious, if we pause and step back, that this applies just as much to teachers as it does to students. Yet time to think is often the first thing to disappear in a teacher’s day, what with the pressure of racing through a predetermined curriculum, with umpteen classes and reams of paperwork … ‘so much to do, so little time’ is the perennial cry of the teacher, after all. Without focused, dedicated time, however – and exposure to the kinds of professional insights which forums like Saturday’s provide – then how can teachers really, really provide our young people with the quality of education that they deserve, and that will enable them to thrive?

New half term’s resolution … take time.

Amazing student experience: lessons from the independent sector

It was a huge, huge pleasure last night to announce the awards to schools at the Independent Schools of the Year Awards in London, in my capacity as the chair of the judging panel. And what a lovely evening it was, courtesy of Independent School Parent magazine, who so generously supported the awards and who are acting as real champions of schools, telling the stories of achievement, joy and success which emerge from hard-working schools.

What was really, really clear last night was the positive impact that independent schools have on the lives of young people across our country, both in their own schools and beyond, in all types of schools, not to mention on the lives of the thousands more who are educated in British independent schools internationally, across the world. As I said last night, independent schools are carrying a flag of great educational practice, embedded in strong values and a belief in the power of all young people. And as we heard in many of the stories of the awards, independent schools are working tirelessly with their local community and with other schools, to develop their students as active citizens, able to make meaningful contributions to society and the world. 

What was special about last night’s awards is that they celebrate the core of what education really is all about – to ensure a positive, all round student experience, enabling children and young people to flourish – as in the inspiring story of last night’s ‘Rising Star’, a student whose utter and relentlessly positive determination to recover from brain injury was nurtured and amplified by his school, who went above and beyond in order to support him. These awards were not about grades – although in schools where students are truly enabled to thrive, and encouraged tirelessly from every single angle, academic success will follow. In great schools, young people always, always come first.

So – congratulations to all the shortlisted schools, finalists and winners last night – your students are in amazing hands!