Master Yoda, Bill Campbell, and more. In this episode, Andy and Adam discuss the topic of professional development for teachers and leaders. Who teaches the people at the top? How can Headteachers get help? Plus, find out what lessons can be taken from the Singaporean system.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hello, I'm Emily Guille-Marrett.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is The School of School podcast.
Welcome to The School of School podcast.
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Welcome back to another episode of The School of School podcast. Andy, I was thinking about something the other day that came up with conversation. I've probably spoken about this a little bit before and I've been asked a few times, what do you think makes a great teacher? And I think one of the ingredients that makes an absolutely great teacher is someone who never loses the enthusiasm to learn, that we don't stop learning. And I reflected on, I became head teacher in 2012.
And the one thing that I noticed is that as a head teacher, I had a responsibility to new starting teachers. And we were a big enough school that we probably had brand new first year teachers every year or a high proportion of the time. And I looked at the support that they got and the programmes that were available for them. And then I was brand new sitting in a head teacher's chair. So I've never done the role before. I got a qualification for head teaching, but I've done it in order to get the job. Now I'm sitting in the chair, it felt like my professional development dried up. And it made me think, is there a perception that the more expert you get, there's less expectation that you should learn anymore?
Like you've kind of reached your capacity for learning. I reckon you'll have an opinion on that.
Yeah, for sure. Well, you know me, I got opinions on everything. And even if I don't, I'll play devil's advocate on just about any topic. I think anybody who thinks they know everything that they need to know is a fool. Like, generally speaking, the more you learn, the more you realise how little you actually know. And especially for educators for God's sake, like as an educator, you should be so aware of this. Just learning never stops. Learning doesn't just happen in the classroom, whether it's formal learning or it's like some other kind of collaborative learning or learning from your peers or whatever it is. There always has to be a certain amount. There needs to be some kind of coaching in your life. Someone needs to be coaching you at some level. Everybody needs that. Like the best athletes in the world all have coaches. No athlete is well, "I am the greatest at this ever. I don't need a coach." Good luck with that.
Of course, you need coaching, you need support, you need training, you need development. Everybody does. But yeah, the system isn't set up that way. Usually what ends up happening is professional development in hierarchical structures tends to be like what you need to know to do the next job. Not what you need to do, to do your job.
Yeah, that's a really fair point.
I've noticed that a lot of the time. Yeah. Well, okay. Let ask you that question, why do teachers do professional development?
Be better teachers.
Yeah. Yeah. And what does it take? What do you need to learn? What do you hope to expect for teachers to get from professional development?
I suppose, I don't know, because that really then does like widen out to loads of different areas. So, I could just give a sort of blanket statement again, what do you expect them to get out of it? Is to be better teachers and those sorts of things. But I think there's more to it than that.
So I think that part of what professional development gives you is if you've identified what you need to do in order to be better at your job. So that's already an identified aspect. So it could be targeted in that way. But I think another part of professional development is it gives us a chance to reflect on what we are good at and what we can like expand on. Even though, we might be okay at something or competent at something, that it gives us an opportunity to think-
And to share ideas and to learn off others and those sorts of things. Which when you're doing your job ... and I know this isn't unique to education, when you're in the thick of doing your job, you don't have that same time to reflect. Or to think about what sort of things you need to improve on. Or give yourself the space and time to actually do something about it.
I guess, you have to become, as a head teacher, for example, so this is like where we started. As a head teacher, you have to develop those self disciplines.
At some point it has to be led by you, I guess. I think that's the only solution to the problem. Because who's going to confidently teach a bunch of head teachers? Like it's not going to be a university professor because they don't even know anything about ... being a head teacher is way more complicated than being a teacher. Because there's all kinds of aspects, there's business aspects that you have to be concerned with, there's all kinds of other things. Who's going to train those? Is there like master head teacher somewhere that could mentor? It's really a mentorship coaching programme that I think that head teachers need more than anything else. Someone you can lean on and say, 'I've got this really tricky situation and I'm at my wits end and I don't know what to do. What do you think?"
I think you're right.
You need to have someone you can have those conversations with, right?
Yeah, absolutely. Like they do exist formally and informally, but I think that we're ... I suppose is people are ... we're not torn. But of course you want those head teachers who are able to do well in a range of circumstances to be in there doing well for those children. So in order to take them out, in order to help other head teachers, then is that to the detriment of other children, even though by doing that and helping extra five teachers, then you've got more children that you're helping. But I think that it's often seen that you kind of do your job and then you either leave your job or you retire. That if you like where you're in the prime of head teaching, I don't know that there are those specific ... there's not specific programmes that, I guess, are an encouraged governmentally. Maybe in some places, maybe in some councils they've developed their own programmes for that level of support.
Look, I remember hearing, and again, I can't speak with any accuracy on this. But the Singaporean sort of structure and it strikes me that there's a professional development structure that is incredibly clear. And I really like that. I think that appeals because you know who's going to be going where to support who, and how they're going to do it.
And I don't think we have that. I don't think a lot of countries have that. Not just England or the UK, but I think that's true of a lot of countries. And I think that's a bloody good thing to have, to be honest.
Well, you see like, I mean, like Singapore ... I know we often talk about Singapore here. There's other countries, as well, that do really well. But Singapore's kind of primarily an English speaking place, so it's easy to decipher what it is that they're doing. And over there, so as a teacher or as an educator, you have two streams you can go down. One is a teaching stream and the other one is an administrative stream. So if you want to become a head teacher, that's seen as more of an administrative job in the UK.
You don't necessarily get involved in too much of the pedagogical kind of stuff. But if you want to go more down the education route, they have this idea of a master teacher. You know Juliana? Juliana Loh.
One of our trainers, wonderful, wonderful person.
Yeah, she is, she's lovely.
Yeah. She was the first master teacher in Singapore, I don't know if you knew that.
Honestly, there's a story that almost brings a tear to my eye every time I think about Juliana and the story about when she was made a master teacher. I was walking next to her one day after a training session. I said to her, "You must have been so proud when you were made master teacher." I said, "That must have been a really special moment for you and your family and that sort of thing." She said, "I wasn't sure about teaching after that." Because she sort of thought, "Oh, I still make mistakes. I still have training days that aren't that great." So I said-
"You're here now. And that's post being made a master teacher." I said, "I've just had a training session with you. So clearly, you didn't give up on it. What was it?" And she said, "Well, I realised I'm just Juliana Loh and I'm allowed to make mistakes and those sorts of things." And it was one of those lovely pieces of advice that I've ever heard. So I had to say that. Yes, yes, I do know and she's lovely. And that piece of advice, I used to finish all of my trainings with that story, because I just think it's really important to know exactly what she said. And maybe some of what we're talking about is if you get to the heads level, you might believe there's an expectation you should know it all. You should know how to teach every lesson, you should know how to do all this. And it's a nonsense.
Especially if somebody gives you an accolade like that.
Just think about it, you're the best teacher in the world. That's basically what they said to her, right?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
This country has done better than any other country in education repeatedly over years and years and years and years, and you're the best one of all of them. So here you go, here's that thought. Now, good luck with your ego with that one. Like what do you do? Because two things are going to set in, if you're a narcissist, get out of the way because this person is now very dangerous.
And if they're not a narcissist and they're just a nice person, they're going to wake up every morning with that imposter syndrome. That thing that really, really famous people must experience all the time, where they go, "I'm just Andy. I'm just like, oh my God, how did I get here? Why is everybody listening to what I'm saying? I don't know anymore than they do." That's kind of a scary sort of thing. And that's kind of what she was explicating, I guess. Was that fear of the responsibility, it's like, "I don't know anymore than anybody else." Of course, she does, but you don't think you do.
Yeah, of course she does. But I think that what I loved and again, I think this is what everyone needs to understand, is she is still just as keen to learn. And I've seen her in the training session see something that she's not necessarily seen before and getting genuinely excited about it. And it's lovely because it motivates you to think, "Well, I can do that too." And those sorts of things. And I got to be honest, on the flip side of this, I have been into a school before where a head teacher ... and this is the flip side of it.
I was doing some training there and they sort of said, "Adam's here to do some math training, blah, blah, blah." And then he said something about, "Oh, the maths in our school and the curriculum." But he gave example and it was wrong. Like, it wasn't like interpreted, "Oh, I don't agree with him." Like what he said was actually wrong.
And of course, once he said it, he just left the training because he felt like the implicate ... what he was trying to say was, is that I'll say my bit, I don't need to attend this.
Because I already know this stuff.
So I'm out. So I'll present you with something that's wrong, leave. I just thought, this is exactly the thing that worries me. Especially if it's supported by the fact that if there's not an expectation to professionally develop, if there's not things that are available to people, does that suggest to someone you've done it, mate, you've learned everything there is to know. Which is a nonsense in any field.
Well, look, I mean in business is exactly this same thing. What's the famous saying ... I can't remember what it is. But it's like, people get promoted to their highest level of incompetence or whatever it is. Like you get to a point where ... and I'm sure we've all thought that at some point where it's like, "Whoa, I'm way over my head now." But as a CEO, it's exactly what you're describing. Where do you go? Everybody comes to you with their problems, you don't have anyone to go to with your problems. So like a parent, as well, it's all those things. It's like when you're at the top of a hierarchy, everybody forgets that those people need support, as well. Like they need-
Coaching and mentoring and every everything, as well. I would just love to have some kind of ... and I guess universities and things like that do help and they have courses. But I don't have time for that. And they don't necessarily answer my particular problems.
I think professional development at that level is really about sharing experiences. I think it needs to be. Sharing experiences with peers and having people who can coach you. Who don't necessarily know the answers of the things that you're struggling with, but they can help you, guide you in your thought processes. You need like a Yoda in your in your life. It's the hero story, you need a guide who's going to tell you how to think, not what the answer is.
But I think the other thing is, is that I think we need to hear you say it. We need to hear Juliana say it. And I think that's something that perhaps if more people do it ... I'm just thinking in education. If more people make it very clear, you can help me, you're a beginning teacher, I'm a head teacher. But I'm really intrigued about how you're doing this and I got to learn it so you can help me.
Then I think the likelihood is that if they choose to go through and choose to become a head teacher, choose to become a CEO. They're probably more likely to ask for that help. Instead of perhaps sitting in a room thinking, "Geez." And that's that imposter syndrome. "Everyone here knows what they're doing. Everyone's got it boxed off, no one's asking for help. So I'll keep my mouth shut and be part of the gang."
Okay. So I just had this thought. So, have you ever heard of Bill Campbell?
Bill Campbell? No. I don't think so.
No. Most people never heard of Bill Campbell. Have you ever heard of Steve Jobs?
Okay. Have you ever heard of the company called Google?
Like Eric Schmidt, who was the CEO, who's now the CEO ... yeah. Have you ever heard of a company called Amazon?
Have you ever heard of a guy called Jeff Bezos?
All right. Who was the coach to all those people?
Absolutely no idea.
Bill Campbell was a high school football coach who ended up sitting on the board of all these companies and was like the personal coach of all these guys, at the same time.
He passed recently. And his whole thing was he was just basically just a coach. Like he was a businessman, as well. He ran Kodak for a little while, he was the CEO of Intuit, all these companies. Anyway, there's this great book about him called, The Trillion Dollar Coach. He never went for the limelight. But Steve Jobs would go for walks with him-
And they would chat. And it tore Steve Jobs apart that Bill Campbell was also on the board of Google, while he was putting out the iPhone, they had the Android phone. It drove him bonkers. But yeah, like the most influential people, they all had this coach. We forget how important that is to have that person in your life. The book, Trillion Dollar Coach, Bill Campbell, again, it's written by Eric Schmidt, I think, who was the former CEO of Google. And how much of an impact Bill Campbell had on Silicon Valley and all the technology that we use. All these guys relied on that mentorship. We forget, you can't do those kinds of jobs in isolation. And that professional development has to happen at that kind of level, I think, over there. Of course you can take courses on how to better balance your budget or something. Which is important knowledge, but the really difficult parts of those jobs you need that coach.
You know what was another great book, and again, it wasn't written for head teachers. But for me, it was quite an important book, was a book by a guy called Ben Horowitz. The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Which is where he talks about what does it really mean to be a leader. And he doesn't talk about it like in the sense of make ... not the easy bits. Most books about leadership are about the easy things. His whole book says like, "Yeah, yeah, that's great. That wasn't the hard part. I knew I need to hire the best people I could find. That was obvious, you don't need to tell me that. The problem was I hired my mate and he was great at the beginning. And then the job outgrew him and now I got to get rid of him."
"Now what do I do?"
Because that's hard. And he talks about things like that, which anyone who's ever been in a leadership position understands those-
Yeah, sure, sure, sure.
Kinds of problems because they happen.
And yeah, The Hard Thing About Hard Things.
I think stuff like that across industry, listen to it, get the books. And I think it's probably just an important message just for everyone, that everyone keeps learning. And whether you have to be proactive ... I mean, we all have to be proactive in that path. We all must be. But also just to think that everyone has got stuff to learn about everything. So if I go back into a classroom, I've got loads to learn off a newly qualified teacher, even though I've been in plenty of classrooms for plenty of time. And I guess as long as people realise that, that holds true for everyone. Whether they believe that or not is another thing.
If they think they've got nothing to learn, be very afraid of those people.
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, you'll learn tonnes even from the kids, nevermind the newly qualified teachers. The kids will teach you a bunch of stuff.
Adam, in your experience as a head teacher, you must have experiences where you've met particular people. It tends to always happen at the right time, you meet the right person, like Juliana or whatever, and you go, "Yeah."
Oh totally. Yeah, and the impact that it can have is massive. Absolutely massive. So yeah, no, no, you're absolutely right. They're out there and I think just stay curious, be open to learning, listen.
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