A note to new teachers

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I’ve been a little quiet with the blog recently because I’m in the midst of starting a new company. Doing that and writing about it at the same time is tricky, because the doing requires so much brain space that there’s not much left for writing. Starting a company occupies a lot of grey matter because it involves making hundreds of new decisions every day. Routine decisions, like what to have for lunch, require a lot less effort because we’ve made them many times before. New decisions are a lot more taxing.

It reminds me of when I first started teaching, another time when everything was new. Unexpected situations seem to come from every angle and you’re constantly deciding what to do with them. It happens so many times in one day that by the time you’ve packed up and gone home, your head can feel a bit like Jonny Brownlee at the end of a triathlon. The good news is that because of all this mental marathoning, your brain hard wires those decisions so that they’re not nearly as taxing next time round. You learn to recognise similar situations and take care of them automatically, which is extremely helpful when it comes to such an all encompassing job.

This September, thousands of new teachers are experiencing this as they step up to lead a class for the first time, including the 17 musicians (pictured above) who have just started with Rocksteady Music School. I wish you every success in getting to grips with your new role and remember, whilst your head might be spinning to start with, hang in there. Your brain will soon catch up and you’ll be handling classes like a pro before you can say Christmas.

Have fun and enjoy the journey. There aren’t many like it.

A Great Teacher For Every Child

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The united nations has committed to giving every child a quality education by 2030 as one of 17 global goals. The single most important ingredient in a quality education is a great teacher.

Whether it’s live in person (direct), watching a video (indirect), one to one, or one to many, a great teacher is almost always behind our most important learning experiences. This is especially true in the formative stages, where great teachers change the rest of our lives.

Unfortunately, we’re facing a global shortage of teachers right now and whilst trends are heading in a positive direction, we’re not moving fast enough. 61% of countries will not have enough primary teachers in classrooms by 2020 and at our current rate of progress, we’re still looking at a 34% shortfall by 2030. As a global society, we need to recruit and train 25.8 million teachers over the next 14 years to fill this gap, which means improving on two counts:

  1. Recruiting more of the right teachers into the profession.
  2. Creating the right conditions to keep them there.

Governments have a role to play in this and will be looking to fix the problem through the broad strokes of changing  policy, but there’s no need for us to sit around and wait for things to happen. There’s a big opportunity for the teaching and entrepreneurial community to contribute, starting with some original thinking on the problem and then crucially, doing something about it. Here’s some of my ideas.

How would you make it happen?

 

 

 

 

Einstein On Education

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I recently came across a speech given by Albert Einstein on education. His insight was astonishing (as always) and his ideas are as relevant today as they were in 1931. Check out the key messages in his own words and a brief summary at the end:

On the purpose of education:

‘Sometimes one sees in the school simply the instrument for transferring a certain maximum quantity of knowledge to the growing generation. But that’s not right. Knowledge is dead; the school, however, serves the living. It should develop in the young individuals those equalities and capabilities which are of value for the welfare of the commonwealth. But that does not mean that individuality should be destroyed and the individual becomes a mere tool of the community, like a bee or an ant. For a community of standerdized individuals without personal originality and personal aims would be a poor community without possibilities for development. On the contrary, the aim must be the training of independently thinking and acting individuals, who, however, see in the service of the community their highest life problem.’

On learning by doing:

‘But how shall one try to attain this ideal? Should one perhaps try to realize this aim by moralizing? Not at all. Words are and remain empty sound, and the road to perdition has ever been accompanied by lip service to an ideal. But personalities are not formed by what is heard and said but by labor and activity. The most important method of education accordingly always has consisted of the where pupil was urged to actual performance.’

On the role of motivation in education, the most overlooked area in our system today in my opinion:

‘But behind every achievement exists the motivation which is at the foundation of it and, which in turn is strengthened and nourished by the accomplishment of the under- taking. Here, there are the greatest differences and they are of greatest importance to the education value of the school. The same work may owe its origin to fear and com- pulsion, ambitious desire for authority and distinction, or loving interest in the object and a desire for truth and understanding, and thus to that divine curiosity which every healthy child possesses, but which so often is weakened early.’

On sticks:

‘To me the worst thing seems to be for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force, and artificial authority. Such treatment destroys the sound sentiments, the sincerity, and the self confidence of the pupil. It produces the submissive subject. It is not so hard to keep the school free from the worst of all evils. Give into the power of the teacher the fewest possible coercive measures, so that the only source of the pupil’s respect for the teacher is the human and intellectual qualities of the latter.’

And carrots:

‘The second-named motive, ambition or, in milder terms, the aiming at recognition and consideration, lies firmly fixed in human nature. With absense of mental stimulus of this kind, human cooperation would be entirely impossible; the desire for approval of one’s fellow-man certainly is one of the most important binding powers of society. In this com- plex of feelings, constructive and destrutive forces lie closely together. Desire for approval and recognition is a healthy motive but the desire to be acknowledged as better, stronger, or more intelligent than a fellow being or fellow scholar easily leads to an excessively egoistic psychological adjustment, which may become injurious for the individual and for the community. Therefore the school and the teacher must guard against employing the easy method of creating individual ambition, in order to induce the pupils to diligent work.’

On what success is and isn’t: 

‘Darwin’s thoery of the struggle for existence and the selectivity connected with it has by many people been cited as authorization of the encouragement of the spirit of competition. Some people also in such a way have tried to prove pseudo-scientifically the necessity of the destructive economic struggle of competition between individuals. But this is wrong, beacuse man owes his strength in the struggle for existence to the fact that he is a socially living animal. As little as a battle between single ants of an ant hill is essential for survival, just so little is this the case with the individual members of a human community.

Therefore, one should guard against preaching to the young man success in the customary sense as the aim of life. For a successful man is he who receives a great deal from his fellow men, usually incomparably more than corresponds to his service to them. The value of a man, however, should be seen in what he gives and not what he is able to receive.’

On developing intrinsic motivation:

‘The most important motive for work in the school and in life is pleasure in work, pleasure in its results, and the knowledge of the value of the result to the community. In the awakening and strengthening of the psychological forces in the young man, I see the most important task given by the school. Such a psychological foundation alone leads to a joyous desire for the highest possessions of men, knowledge and artist-like workmanship.

The awakening of the productive psychological powers is certainly less easy than the practice of force or the awakening of individual ambition but is the more valuable for it. The point is to develop the childlike inclination for play and the childlike desire for recognition and to guide the child over to the important fields for society; it is that education which in the main is founded upon the desire for successful activity and acknowledgement. If the school succeeds in working successfully from such points of view, it will be highly honored by the rising generation and the tasks given by the school will be submitted to as a sort of gift. I have known children who preferred schooltime to vacation.’

On giving teachers freedom:

‘Such a school demands from the teacher that he be a kind of artist in his province. What can be done that this spirit be gained in the school? For this there is just as little a universal remedy as there is for an individual to remain well. But there are certain neccesary conditions which can be met. First, teachers should grow up in such schools. Second, the teacher should be given extensive liberty in the selection of the material to be taught and the methods of teaching employed by him. For it is true also of him that pleasure in the shaping of his work is killed by force and exterior pressure.’

On what subjects we should be teaching in school:

‘If you have followed my meditations upto this point, you will probably wonder about one thing. I have spoken fully about what spirit, according to my opinion, youth should have instructed. But I have said nothing yet about the choice of subjects for instruction, nor about the method of teaching. Should language predominate or the technical educa- tion in science?

To this I answer: in my opinion all this is of secondary importance. If a young man has trained his muscles and physical endurance by gymnastics and walking, he will later be fitted for every physical work. This is also analogous to the training of the mind and of the mental and manual skill. Thus, the wit was not wrong who defined education in this way: ”Education is that which remains, if one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” For this reason I am not at all anxious to take sides in the struggle between the followers of the classical philologic-historical education and the education more devoted to natural science.

On the other hand, I want to oppose the idea that the school has to teach directly that special knowledge and those accomplishments which one has to use later directly in life. The demands of life are much too manifold to let such a specialized training in school appear possible. Apart from that, it seems to me, moreover, objectionable to treat the individual like a dead tool. The school should always have as its aim that the young man leave it as a harmonious personality, not as a specialist. This in my opinion is true in a certain sense even for technical schools, whose students will devote themselves to a quite definite profession. The development of general ability for independent thinking and judgement should always be placed foremost, not the acquisition of special knowl- edge. If a person masters the fundamentals of his subject and has learned to think and work independently, he will surely find his way and besides will better be able to adapt himself to progress and changes than the person whose training principally consists in the acquiring the detailed knowledge.’

In Summary: 

  • Teach people as individuals
  • Don’t use sticks
  • Be careful with carrots and competition
  • Awaken intrinsic motivation for work, results and doing good for others.
  • Give teachers freedom in how they do this
  • Don’t worry too much about what you’re teaching as long as you’re teaching people to think for themselves.

Two questions for us:

  1. Do we agree?
  2. Are these ideas possible in our current education system?

What I’m Focusing On In 2016 – Education

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Posting this blog halfway through January, I feel like I’m a little late to the new years resolution party but that’s okay, this one took time to write. I’m generally not a fan of resolutions, because they’re expressed as a decision to do or not do something. ‘I will go to the gym three times per week’ or ‘I will give 5% of my income to charity’ or ‘…’ Resolutions often fail long term because it’s a win lose thing, if you break it on a given day, you’ve failed. Once you’ve failed, you feel like giving up.

Instead of resolutions, I find it more useful to decide what I want to focus on for the coming year and leave the details to evolve. That way, there’s a little more breathing room for life to happen and the flexibility to seize opportunities as they arise. I’m fortunate to be in a position where I’m able to direct my energies where ever I chose and in my last post, I talked about making a difference being central to what I felt was important in life. With that in mind, my main focus for 2016 is making a bigger difference to the world of education.

Why Education

It was Nelson Mandela who said that ‘education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’ and I wholeheartedly agree with him. Having worked with children for my career to date, I see the difference that education can make to a person’s life, particularly in the early stages of development between around three and twelve years old.

 

 

That’s not to say you can’t make a difference at any age (you most certainly can) but it’s the age group where I can see the biggest impact to both the individual and society per £ invested in it. It’s at this age that children develop a sense of what things mean in the world, who they are and what their place in it is. It’s quite literally, the foundation for the rest of their lives. Get that right and building a great future on top of it is much easier to do.

Learning Curves – Rocksteady Music School

When I started Rocksteady Music School in 2007, I found that by the time children had reached their teenage years, many already had firm beliefs about whether they were musical or not and what learning an instrument was all about. By focusing on the primary school age group and reimagining what music education could look like, we were able to make sure their early experiences with music were fun and confidence building. We dropped the music reading, exams and formalities and started teaching children as young as four to play in their own bands, choose their own direction and work towards playing gigs from their first lesson. They learned to work as a team and say ‘I can’ when faced with challenges. They learned that music means fun, that they were musicians and that they could contribute, which made a big difference to many areas of their lives.

 

Children learning to play in their own band during the early days of Rocksteady Music School.

 

We also had the good fortune of being a private company with no funding which meant we had to create something of value quickly or we wouldn’t survive. To up the anti, I also allowed customers to cancel our services at any time with no notice, creating a very honest feedback machine that quickly honed our teaching style. Imagine if children were allowed to leave any lesson that didn’t engage them at school! That’s the environment we created for ourselves and it taught us a lot about how to create something special for children in a relatively short amount of time.

We found that at the root of it all children have to be enjoy lessons and make continuous progress to stay engaged. The lessons have to be fun, they have to give the opportunity to play with others and form friendships, they have to be relevant to the students motivations and give them opportunities to have a say in which direction their learning is going. Like all music education, we have to focus on teaching students how to play their instruments but confidence, teamwork and autonomy are also just as important in making a difference long term.

A Company With A Bright Future

All of this is easy to say, especially in retrospect but the know how in delivering it everyday across hundreds of schools and thousands of children turned out to be very hard won. Like all the best things, it is because it has been challenging that it has been so rewarding.

We want Rocksteady to make a difference to as many children as possible, and so in 2015 I hired Scott Monks, a CEO with a track record of scaling organisations to lead the company towards that destination. I also wrote a book for our customers, staff and the world of music education that’s due for release in 2016. It covers the journey so far, why we set out to tackle music education, our teaching methods and how they build confidence and skills for life whilst keeping a healthy dose of fun involved.

 

 

We’re currently teaching thousands of children per week to play in bands. Whether that ends up being tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions, we’ll have to see. I’m quite sure the journey will continue to evolve in wonderful ways that none of us can predict just yet, but in any case, it’s growing fast and is in very capable hands.

A New Chapter – From Music Education To Education

And that brings me to my focus for 2016. If we can make a difference to children’s lives by reimagining music lessons in half an hour per week, what sort of difference could we make by reimagining education as a whole?

It represents a big challenge, but as I look around at the current climate, we’re undoubtedly ready to tackle it. I see wonderful teachers making a difference everyday, holding up well under the increasing pressure of a system that isn’t quite working. I see curious children full of promise demotivated and not fulfilling their potential as they struggle to express their individual intelligence through formal exams. I see governments concerned with how to prepare the next generation for an uncertain future, sending their curriculums and the teaching profession scurrying in multiple directions, hoping that what’s worked before will continue to work in future if we push it just a little bit harder.

 

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Rowing harder only helps if we’re going in the right direction and since we’ve been on the roughly the same course now for the last century, it’s perhaps time to take a look at redirecting the boat. The world is ready for it.

Key Questions.

Before getting into the details, it’s worth taking some time to consider the bigger picture of where we want to take education over the coming decades. What does the destination look like and what do we want from the journey? This year, I’ll start by focusing on the following areas:

  • What could we do to level the playing field and make education equally accessible and enjoyable for all children, with all of the wonderful variations in learning preferences and behaviors they bring? Furthermore, could we identify and truly unlock the individual potential in every child?
  • What could we do to to send all children out into society happy and confident, standing on their own two feet and ready to contribute to the world? What will we need to do to prepare them for a future where over half of the jobs that they will be doing haven’t been invented yet?
  • What could we do to significantly reduce the friction that happens between government and teachers, between teachers and children and children and their learning?

From the insight gained through listening to schools, parents, teachers and those who employ school leavers over the last decade, I believe that these areas are not only the highest leverage in terms of making a difference, but they’re also the things that the people involved in education care the most about.

There are large numbers of children not being reached through traditional methods of education. We owe it to them to make improvements in this area.

Our current system is aimed at producing standards when we should be aiming at helping each child fill their unique potential and give their specific gifts to society. Every child is an individual, Einsteins quote that

‘everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing it is stupid’

is often referenced but it’s time that we actually did something about it at the systemic level.

 

 

The rate of change in the world is a challenge that has got many of us scratching our heads over what we should be teaching children exactly. Some are forecasting that 65% of children starting school today will be graduating into jobs that haven’t been invented yet. Will the skills we’re currently teaching, retained knowledge, memory and quick arithmetic still be relevant and to what extent? Which new areas that we don’t currently teach will become important? Which core skills will stand the test of time? Movements are being made towards teaching more character based skills such as resilience and persistence which is a great start, but we’re only just scratching the surface.

And finally, there’s the friction between the various moving parts of the system. Disengaged children misbehaving, teachers bowing under the stress of results, head teachers under resourced and dealing with an ever challenging set of requirements. Politicians under pressure to provide a world class education to contribute a global level when none of us are really sure what that means exactly. What are the underlying causes of friction in the system? There are many who do a fantastic job of dealing with it, but what would be possible for the next generation if we smoothed out the sailing and started rowing in the same direction?

A Big Opportunity To Make A Difference

I believe that education represents one of the biggest opportunities we have to shape the future as we want it to be. I believe everything we’re discussing here is possible. I believe it’s possible in a big, world changing sort of way. I believe we can take some bold steps towards making much of it happen in the near future and make a significant difference to the next generation in doing so.

 

 

Most sectors of the working world are heading for major disruption. Technology, the internet and an increasingly connected world have sent the rate of change into overdrive and it’s not looking like it’ll slow down any time soon. Like the worlds of business, health and government, education will also undergo a big change. This is our opportunity to make sure it’s disrupted in favor of children, the teaching profession and society at large.

Listening, Understanding and Making Things Happen

Like many things worth doing, it won’t come easily. There’s a lot of work to be done and a lot of stones to upturn. We’ll need to take a long hard look at what the needs of children are in 2016 and just as importantly, what they’re likely to be several generations down the line. We’ll need to look at the journey of the child through school and find out where needs are similar between children and where they differ. We’ll need to look at what’s working in current school systems around the world and what isn’t. We’ll need to look closely at the school environment, what’s on the curriculum, the role of technology and the role of the teacher.

 

 

We’ll need to carefully consider which traditions to preserve and where we want to create new ones. We’ll need to deal with conflicting views, change, fear and tension. We’ll need to bring people together; politicians, teachers, leaders, experts, employers, parents and children. We’ll need to listen carefully to what all of these people are telling us, understand things from many angles and find new ways of doing things. Above all, we’ll need to do the hard work of making things happen, not just once but in a long term, sustainable way.

It’s About The Children

How will we do all of these things? I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have all of the answers but I’m confident that with the right people and then enough determination we can find them.  I also know there are people already doing great work in these areas and I’m very glad to be joining them.

The wonderful thing about working in education is that the great majority of people involved are in it because they care. They care deeply about helping each child grow and develop into the best versions of themselves. They face the challenges with the energy and resolve to make a difference. And I’ve never yet met a child who doesn’t want to do their best. They may have difficulties with achieving it and may behave in ways we don’t understand at times, but their intentions are always in the right place deep down. We owe it to them to bring out the best in each and every one.

I wish everyone a successful 2016 and I hope your focus energises you and makes a difference in some way. Whatever you do, I hope it brings you happiness and fulfilment. Here’s to digging in and making it count.

 

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