Big Education Dialogues 15th January 2019

15th January 2019

“Education is buzzing with ideas. Someone somewhere has the ideas we need.”

Russell Hobby, CEO of Teach First, introduced the third Dialogue in the series with a clear message… the biggest challenge in the education sector, is implementing and sustaining these ideas to drive innovation.

At Big Education, we want every child and adult to reach their highest point of contribution in the world. To achieve this, we need to create change. We need to change the way the curriculum works, the way we teach and the way we measure success. There is a growing movement of people globally embracing this change and showing it is possible.

Our Big Education schools innovate with rigour, but we want to take this to a scale that has a bigger impact on the education system…

But what does it take from us as leaders to build these creative capabilities that will change the sector? What specific leadership behaviours does an innovator need?

We explored these important questions at our third Dialogue.

The Big Education Dialogues bring together schools, leaders, educationalists and all those committed to a different kind of education – an education that develops the whole child – head, heart and hand. An education that gives children and teachers back their purpose and energy.

Despite the vastly different context to their work, EY are remarkably aligned with our views about the limitations of our educational model. Through the removal of traditional academic entry criteria to broaden their talent pool, EY are leading the sector in re-shaping how we think about the skills, knowledge and competencies young people need. We are excited to be partnering with EY in our work to rebalance the education system, and grateful to them for hosting this event.

Russell set out 5 barriers to innovation in our sector;

  • The power of the status quo – vested interested in the existing hierarchies and structures
  • A monofocus on a single outcome – over incentivises certain elements to the detriment of others
  • Short attention span – making radical ideas work takes time and focus and we can lack both
  • Blame culture – stakes are too high, reduces risk taking – things often get worse before they get better
  • Top down – ideas and energy need to come from the bottom up.
  • Far from doom and gloom, he then set us the positive challenges for action;
    Radical candour – the view from above is inherently distorted. Find out the reality, and model transparency in leadership
  • Simplicity – create high level non-negotiables and allow for greater autonomy and discretion
  • Pair bright ideas with down sides – what are the sacrifices/implications of this change?
  • High bar for new ideas – we are not short of ideas, but are short of time and capacity. Be very picky
  • Be confident – lead with confidence that finding new solutions is the right thing to do.

As ever, a thought provoking, yet practically grounded input – our thanks again to Russell.
The event then focused on four leadership qualities; irreverence, risk-tolerance, flexibility and autonomy. With thanks to Phil Lewis for the inspiration in Dialogue 2, we asked participants to indicate which competencies were more/less prevalent in their organisations; these came out the lowest. We think they are particularly relevant to the business of finding new solutions and answers, and so asked attendees to listen out for evidence of those in action with our next speaker.

Sophie Bray, co-founder of SAFE, told her moving and extraordinary story of working as a leader with members of the Maasai community, giving ample opportunity to reflect on those qualities in action.

Whilst living in a tent, with leopards and hyenas for companions, Sophie had to relearn how to be a leader in this unfamiliar context. Immediately showing her vulnerability, Sophie confessed to her Maasai peers that she did not have an immediate solution and did not know how she planned to lead.

Sophie’s time working with her Maasai peers was a continuous journey of becoming a different type of leader, constantly questioning her behaviour…

  • What is our vision? What change are we actually trying to make?
  • What is the appetite for change? Who do I/we need to engage?
  • What is the best way for me to navigate through these incredibly complex relationships within the community?
  • How do I manage the risk of fatality whilst being aware of my own white privilege?

Drawing some incredibly powerful conclusions, Sophie told the deeply moving moment of connecting with the challenge she was trying to resolve. The relationships with the community, went above the existing beliefs that Sophie held, demonstrating the importance of sustained trust and openness.

After eight years, Sophie had achieved something quite extraordinary; the eradication of FGM (female genital mutilation) within the community.

We learnt so much from Sophie’s experience and are grateful to have heard her story – it is one that most of us will never forget!

Once we had taken a few moments to reflect, we came together to share our learning on Sophie’s extraordinary story. We used Sophie’s experiences as a foundation to explore these barriers further in the context of our own leadership behaviours..

What actions am I/should I be taking? What questions am I/do I need to ask myself? What are my/should my beliefs be?

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