It was a huge pleasure this past weekend to chair one of the panels at the World Leading Schools’ Association (WLSA) in Prague, and I want to say an enormous thank you to my wonderful fellow panellists: Teresa Blake (Director of Social and Emotional Learning – Positive Education at Appleby College, Canada), Michelle Quinton (School Director, Korea International School, Pangyo) and Berry Bock (Director of Operations, Montessori Schools, Netherlands) – you were fab!
Our theme was ‘Releasing the Potential of Your Faculty’, and was designed to share stories of some of the forward-looking practices currently employed by schools across the world to empower and develop their teachers; each of us brought a different perspective, but we had a passionate belief in common – that when teachers in schools are invested in, children benefit. We heard about a whole school approach to social and emotional learning, which involved supporting and growing staff first; we listened to a compelling argument for utter clarity in the hiring process when recruiting teachers, to ensure that teachers would be able to thrive in a school which was a good fit, and where from the outset they were encouraged to think about focusing on their legacy in school; and we were impressed by the dedication of teachers who were motivated to spend up to 10 extra hours a week re-learning how to learn, and how this was having an impact on the structure of the whole school programme for students as the work of these teachers challenged the assumptions that underpinned the existing curriculum. Time and again, in the conversation and in the ensuing questions, we recognised that if we are to have truly inspirational schools, then we need to support teachers in learning that is as closely matched to their needs as possible, and it was gratifying to hear on several occasions about the value of coaching – I firmly believe, as you know, in the power of coaching to take teachers and leaders (and, in fact, teachers through the work of leaders) to the next level in their understanding, competency and vision.
Key messages to emerge out of our vigorous conversation (which, incidentally, we could have carried on for hours with the help of the very engaged audience!)? I would summarise these as follows:
- schools need to spend as much time thinking about the learning of their teachers as the learning of their students … and in fact, the lessons we have learned over the years about what assists effective learning in students apply (unsurprisingly) equally to teachers, so let us employ these;
- schools will benefit if they are clear about their vision, and therefore what they are looking for in teachers to help create teams who have a shared direction of travel in their professional development as well as the desire to explore their individual pathways;
- schools should be bold, and make it highly visible in the community that they have an active professional development programme – how else can we make it clear that this is a learning community?
Above all, the clear message to schools and school leaders was – invest in teachers. Just do it. It matters, and it works. And when you do, you are contributing to excellence in the world; because when teachers move on and to different schools, as we hope that they will in time, for their own sakes as well as for the benefit of their future students, they take their learnings with them, and they grow in skill and influence, with the opportunity to make a difference to even more lives, because of the work that you have done with them. Together we can make a difference – and there are many, many schools out there already heeding this message. Thank you!