Just a few days before the Council of Education Ministers will adopt a major education package, the European Commission closed down its Thematic Working Group on Schools by a 2-day conference entitled Inspiring Change – The Governance of School Education Across Europe. The event was kicked off by an inspiring keynote by Andy Hargeaves. He inspired the participants highlighting a few issues and facts in education in order to prepare systems for the challenges of today and the future. Read a short report of this inspiring keynote below.
The years between 2000 and 2015 were a period when improvement was based on achievement questions, namely PISA questions: How are we doing? How do we know? How can we improve? and How can it benefit everybody? Since 2015 we are facing the challenge of new questions: Who we are? What will become of us? and Who will decide? This has been accompanied by focusing on soft skills, well-being and the sense of belonging.
“If you need more alignment, go to a chiropractor.”
While offering a critical approach to PISA and highlighting that for example the problem-solving test part of PISA does not require and reward thinking outside the box, but rather needs linear, sequential thinking, he also highlighted seemingly trivial but rarely considered facts, namely that creativity cannot be fostered by uncreative teachers, and we cannot educate democratic children applying a top down authority approach.
Leading from the Middle
Trying to find answers to the last of these questions different approaches to leadership were presented and analysed. Andy emphasised that not all top down leadership is bad, especially if the leader has a vision and easily achievable goals are set. Still, top down approaches often prove to be wrong ones.
Is bottom up the real alternative? In many cases it simply doesn’t work, especially not for change and innovation as people tend to think along their own prejudices and experiences. What is more, what we think bottom up is not necessarily real bottom up.
Still change is absolutely necessary, but one more factor is surely to be considered, namely that according to research teachers do not like change initiated by others. At the same time the change they think they initiated more often than not actually started somewhere else. Thus, for success it is necessary to make them believe they actually initiated change. The role of the top in general should be restricted to creating frameworks, inspiring, giving opportunities and support.
“If we are all on the same page, nobody is likely to have read the whole book.”
According to him the solution is leading from the middle. To illustrate this, Andy shared the approach implemented in Ontario, Canada. This approach is aiming at achieving excellence and ensuring equity (including that of identities). The approach promotes well-being, physical and spiritual. It is also enhancing public confidence. He underlined that in the European Union there is a desperate need for a narrative that creates a European identity that is more than a compilation of different existing identities. This can only be achieved by responding on unique diversities.
Leading from the middle means responding to local needs and diversities, taking collective responsibility for learning, exercising initiative rather than implementing others’ and integrating local efforts into priorities, while it should all be done in a transparent way. If you are interested in details, you will be able to read his related article in the ParentHelp Library here. It is important to understand that it is not the same as leading in the middle and in this sense the middle means the tear that makes the connection between top and bottom, but rather that the change is driven by the middle.
To be successful and overcome challenges of present and past need collaborative professionalism. Collaboration has been happening, but it is not necessarily impactful. In this approach teachers with low levels of professional knowledge are not made to do things they cannot, but to take what they are able to do and move that around. While professional collaboration is descriptive, collaborative professionalism is prescriptive. What is more, using this approach students are not only the target, but professionals also need to collaborate with the them rather than for them. Collaboration can take very different forms and shapest, partly depending on local culture, but it can still work even in strict hierarchies like in Hong Kong or in very informal networks like in Columbia. Research has been done in diverse parts of the world on this is will be published in a new book coming out in about a month’s time.
This approach can be implemented in engaging parents, too. For that you need to assess what went on before, see how it is possible to learn form other, what is in between and beside the collaborating parties and the institution (school), and you also have to consider how you can support people on the side. The main challenge everywhere in the world is how to go beyond 4-year government periods. You also have to consider that is very rare, nearly impossible to go from no collaboration to brilliant, there usually is a necessary bad experience. You should also always find your own solutions, not copy one example, but to look at more and combine innovate into what can work for your local diversities.