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A brave and reimagined new world?

In June this year, during lockdown, I listened to a webinar hosted by Stephen Cox. During this webinar John Hattie was talking about ‘building back better’ after having been in lockdown and working in the ‘new normal’. Hattie referred to a ‘new grammar of learning’ and posited a series of questions and statements. Some of the most important statements he made were about teachers and school leaders, where:

  1. Teachers and students are evaluators of their impact.
  2. All have high expectations.
  3. All move towards explicit success criteria.
  4. The Goldilocks principles of challenge are used.
  5. Errors and trust are welcomed as opportunities to learn.
  6. Feedback to teachers about their impact is maximised.
  7. The right proportion of surface to deep learning is in place.                      

In Education Reimagined, a paper by Michael Fullan, Joanne Quinn, Max Drummy and Mag Gardner, the authors ask us to reflect on and reimagine education. The model of schooling we know was built on two organising (and confining) constructs: time (when children learned) and space (where they learned). These might have been useful for the 19th and 20th centuries but have shown to be ill-suited to remote learning and our Covid-19 experience. We do not need the confines of a classroom to achieve deep meaningful learning.  The remote learning experience has shown us that children can learn when they are ready to. Nevertheless, we should be very cognisant of the six questions asked by Fullan et al in Education Reimagined:

  1. What knowledge, skills and attributes do our learners need to thrive in this complex world?
  2. What kind of learning is needed for this current and future complexity?
  3. How do we ensure equity?
  4. How do we attend to well-being?
  5. What have we learned from remote learning?
  6. How can technology be best leveraged for learning in the future?

I would also add a further question. How can all teachers lead and be leaders of learning?

Simon Sinek talks about how great leaders inspire action. In his 2010 TEDx talk he explains why they were such successful leaders. Steve Jobs constantly challenged his employees to think beyond what had already been done and made them create products. Martin Luther King’s passion for justice and his methods of protesting gathered worldwide support. Barack Obama encouraged his staff to ‘think outside the box’ and Nelson Mandela connected with the masses and the many levels of South African society with his charismatic leadership, destroying apartheid. Norton said that leadership does not happen at the top of an organisation; he stressed that everybody is a leader. Every person who decides to get out of bed in the morning is leading themselves.

Leadership is not the prerogative of the people in power, with the authority to make big decisions. We have got to get away from this dual concept of leadership only happening at the top of an organisation and filtering down: we all are responsible for leading. Last academic year, I was very fortunate to be part of the Middle Leaders - Leading Change programme organised by Education Scotland. The course stressed the importance of middle leaders. One of the tools that was very useful was coaching. Peer coaching is a more powerful tool in terms of transfer of training than all other training components researchers have found. John De Nobile (2019) says that middle leaders are becoming more important as links between the vision of senior leadership teams and the daily work of teachers at the 'chalkface'. Distributive leadership is vital for the organisation to thrive.

So much has been achieved by teachers and learners during the pandemic in terms of education and technology. Over the last six months, system leaders, educators, learners and families across Scotland have demonstrated incredible energy, commitment and flexibility as they quickly responded to the need to move to distance learning. That energy and flexibility should not go to waste. Hattie talks of ‘building back better’ and that is what we should be doing in many aspects of teaching and leadership. Members of staff who have shown initiative and flexibility should be offered responsibility for curriculum areas or leadership areas.  The late Sir Ken Robinson advocated for the real role of leadership in education not being command and control, but climate control, creating a climate of possibilities. We need a revolution. This is best summed up with his closing words in How to Escape Education’s Death Valley. Death Valley is the hottest and driest place in America. In the winter of 2004 it rained and in spring 2005 the whole floor was carpeted in flowers. Death Valley was not dead; it was dormant. Seeds of possibility were just beneath the surface and with the right conditions, life was inevitable. These seeds of possibility are the pupils, and teachers who should be leading, but are perhaps not in that position and, of course, the use and integration of technology.  

As humans we are inherently creative. For us to ‘build back better’ or have a revolution we need to look forwards, and ‘feed forwards’ to learners and teachers, informing them what they need to do next to progress, not talking about what they have already done. We must use this opportunity to improve our education and management systems and not allow things to slide slowly back to the status quo of before. We must imagine and create the future, focusing on deep learning with opportunities to build relationships, allowing teachers to contribute more to decision making, and challenging learners and all those in education to have high expectations.

In times like these when we are all teaching and working at school or at home, the situation demands that we are all being leaders in learning. This is vital if we are to look after our pupils and staff and care for their needs. This new situation that we have had to adapt to since the third week in March has involved distance learning, Flipped Learning and e-learning. For many these are new experiences that have meant learning quickly how to use new platforms and ‘digital content’. This in turn has led to a rapid integration of digital technology into the curriculum and, now that we are back at school, provides greater opportunities to ‘build back better’ and reimagine leadership, teaching and learning.


De Nobile, J. (2019). The roles of middle leaders in schools: developing a conceptual framework for research. Leading and managing, 25(1), 1-14.

Fullan, M., Quinn, J., Drummy, M., Gardner, M. (2020). Education Reimagined, The Future of Learning. A collaborative position paper between New Pedagogies for Deep Learning and Microsoft Education. http://aka.ms/HybridLearningPaper

How to escape education's death valley In-text: (Robinson, 2013) Robinson, K., 2020. How To Escape Education's Death Valley. www.ted.com    Available https://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley [Accessed 4 October 2020].