Do schools need to give more opportunities for teachers to realise their potential? Do teachers need to grasp the chance of becoming passionate lifelong learners in their workplaces as well as in their personal lives? Bill Lucas considers the options.

Why is there so much talk today about failing schools and teachers who are allegedly not up to scratch? Is it that education (like health or law and order) is such an obvious political football, that politicians and journalists cannot resist being lazy critics? Or maybe a sense of passing and failing has been so effectively instilled in pupils by teachers that, when children grow up, they enjoy getting their own back. Perhaps times are changing so fast that teachers are just one in a long list of professional people whose status and standing have been so much eroded that they have become fair game for all to carp at?

All good ideas, but more likely, I suspect it is because education and learning are so important to children, who only have one chance to get it right, that society has lost patience with the inability of the educational system to adapt accordingly.

I thinkĀ  teachers are talented people doing an extraordinary job in the face of many complex challenges. I am impressed at the increasingly imaginative ways in which teachers and their non-teaching colleagues take the initiative in organising opportunities for their own development. INSET days are no longer a thinly-veiled legacy of Kenneth Baker, to be used for tidying up the stockroom. After-school meetings increasingly contain elements of professional development and schools regularly club together (whether in formalised networks or not) to create events at which new and exciting thinking can be explored.

That said, I believe that there is still some way to go in developing a mind-set in which the development of the all-round talent of teachers is of paramount importance. By ‘all-round’ I mean not just the acquisition of new aspirations and new skills for use at work, but also in many other settings, for example at home or elsewhere in the wider community.

A manifesto for change

At the Talent Foundation (a not-for-profit organisation looking to create more opportunities for people to develop their talents in the workplace) we have been exploring these kinds of issues with individuals who work in a range of settings – in the private and voluntary sector, in government and in the public services.

To stimulate discussion and change, we have recently published a manifesto to signal our thinking about the way in which the relationship between individuals and their employers is changing.

Put simply, we believe that in the early part of the twentieth century, with increasingly pressured lives, employers need to provided more opportunities for their people to realise their potential, whilst individuals need to grasp the chance of becoming passionate lifelong learners in their workplaces as well as in their personal lives.

Talent Foundation: manifesto for change

Changing the way we develop talent in today’s workplaces:

  1. People – their talents, their ideas and their performance – are critical to any organisation’s success today.
  2. There is an abundance rather than a scarcity of talent. Everyone, without exception, has talents to offer.
  3. The ability to adapt, change and grow is an essential part of what it is to be talented.
  4. Learning how to learn is the key skill of the 21st century.
  5. The emphasis needs to move from training to learning.
  6. The development of talent is a prime responsibility of all leaders and managers, not merely of the human resource or training department.

There are six core aspects to the Talent Foundation Manifesto. Below are some suggested ways in which they might have an an impact on schools and teachers.

1. People – their talents, their ideas and their performance – are critical to any organisation’s success today

This proposition has a new force today. For, where-as the UK working population grew significantly in the last 20 years, no growth is currently predicted for the next 20. Schools will have to nurture and grow their talent rather than rely on hiring and firing to be successful.

If this belief was really taken seriously, school managers might be rewarded as much for their ability to share what they are learning as for their results. Emotional intelligence would be valued. Schools would formally assess the full range of talents pupils have rather than solely using examinations. The notion of ‘personal best’ would eclipse the league table mentality.

2. There is an abundance rather than a scarcity of talent: everyone, without exception, has talents to offer

There will always be a few skirmishes in a few areas, for example in certain specialist subjects and when recruiting leaders in very challenging schools, but the more general ‘war for talent’ will cease to be a real issue. At every stage of school life we would invest much more in the development of individual staff. Schools, with their legacy of grammar schools and elite higher education pathways, have, perhaps unwittingly, been part of a system which condones sheep and goats’ view of people.

If an abundance model held sway, more and more employees would have access to a personal learning budget and be given protected time to use for their own development. Self-esteem and goal setting might become a formal part of the curriculum. Schools might use specific entitlements to learning opportunities as an overt part of their recruitment and retention strategies.

3. The ability to adapt, change and grow is an essential part of what it is to be talented

Given that people develop and acquire new competences when they have experiences that challenge them, this approach should underpin the management of people in all schools and educational organisations.

If Darwinian approaches to evolution and change were taken seriously today, then resilience and the capacity to change would be seen as essential core competences. Pupils would be taught to deal with the feelings of change.

4. Learning how to learn is the key skill of the 21st century

The UK fares badly on some international comparisons of its skill levels, (for example, in literacy and numeracy), but when it comes to invention and creativity, we are world-class. We want to create a grounds-well of interest in the process of learning itself.

In a learning to learn world, headteachers would begin to invest in actively motivating and engaging their staff. All schools would teach pupils how to learn and we might expect to see specialist schools proclaiming this as their specialty. Discussions of learning theory would become a mainstream activity rather than a minority pursuit, a bit like the way the issue of global warming has moved in from the environmental fringe to become a key area of debate. The ever-shorter half-life of knowledge and rapidity of technological progress, will surely act as a driver for change here. People need to feel in control of their own development and career progression, and the more confident they are as learners, the more they will be able to do this.

5. The emphasis needs to move from training to learning

We need new models of learning that understand the value of informality. We want to see dynamic ways of creating opportunities for learning. These are likely to be briefer, more accessible and more respectful of individuals as lifelong learners. So, while whole-school INSET will continue to exist, a whole range of new methods will be incorporated into the blend. These may include coaching, men-toring, networked learning, open learning, job rotation, job shadowing and the return of the idea of sabbaticals, although possibly for shorter periods of time.

Some organisations may be bold enough to abolish separate training departments or functions, empower managers and devolve responsibility for learning to individual employees. Some may abolish formal training altogether for a time, in order to encourage greater individual exploration of informal methods. Pupils would be taught how to manage their own informal learning as part of their formal learning!

6. The development of talent is a prime responsibility of all leaders and managers, not merely of the human resource department.

A fundamental re-think of the talent function is required, to move the debate beyond current human resource approaches to become the paramount interest of leaders and managers. The term ‘human resource’ is itself unhelpful, harking back as it does to an industrial model of production.

If this shift in perception were really happening, school leaders would model their commitment to learning and managers would be rewarded for their success as staff coaches. More headteachers might see the term ‘lead learner’ as a badge of honour rather than as a possible gimmick.

Engaging in debate

Many lowly paid staff in the private and public sector get no vocational training, let alone any opportunities for personal development. This is a national scandal that the Talent Foundation is determined to change. At the same time, we think that many comparatively well-paid staff are short-changed when it comes to their own talent management.

We believe that schools should be at the fore-front of thinking about these matters for all of their staff. We would love to hear from teachers and educationalists who are pioneering new ways of developing their people and share their ideas with colleagues in other sectors. TEX

Bill Lucas is a best-selling author and motivational speaker who works with organisations in all sectors. A growing number of schools and local authorities are adopting his ideas. His latest book, Discover your hidden talents; the essential guide to lifelong learning, was published to much critical acclaim last year. You can find out more about the Talent Foundation at www.talentfoundation.com.

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