At last year’s Scottish Learning Festival Sir John Jones became the first ever keynote speaker to get a spontaneous standing ovation.
And at last week’s Edinburgh Learning Festival (ELF!) he once again moved, challenged, amused and re-energised a large group of senior educational leaders.
His theme was the need for inspirational teaching and quality leadership to become the norm in every Scottish school. He spoke of our calling as educators, and the need for each of us to develop and show passion, wisdom and – most importantly – righteous indignation at the educational experience of many of our children and young people. These three elements need to be glued together in the relentless pursuit of excellence and in the context of a culture of UPR – unconditional positive regard for every child.
On a personal note he took me right back to my days running the Returning to Teaching programme in Edinburgh where this quote by Haim Ginott used to form the core philosophy of the sessions on positive behaviour:
“I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.”
In the second part of his address Sir John turned his attention to the learning experience of children. He quoted Ken Robinson who says we are trying to prepare our children for the future by repeating what we did in the past. He challenged us to consider whether our schools are more than centres of standardisation and conformity, where learners play the “Let’s guess what is in the teacher’s head” game, and where teachers forget to teach the love of learning in order to focus on content.
For success our young people need to be helped to move from logical, linear thinking to inventive, empathetic, conceptual thinking as described by Daniel Pink. Technology changes everything, he believes, by bringing infinite choice.
Sir John argued that the most successful systems such as Finland and Singapore had a new focus on curiosity, problem-solving, collaboration, initiative, personal responsibility, etc and had moved to a belief that to teach less was to learn more.
Mick Waters, who many of you will remember from the Selmas conference this year, says that to achieve deep learning, we need high engagement, and our lessons need to be relevant, interesting, and ideally naughty and with a giggle.
As educators we need to reconnect with our moral purpose – our righteous indignation – to deliver opportunities regardless of poverty, family, post code, and to remember that good schooling doesn’t just make the difference, it makes all the difference. We need to change some of the negative metaphors that describe our work, and change the script to change the picture.