Posts Tagged ‘Empowerment’

The Importance of Employability Skills: Let’s Create a Nation of Edupreneurs!

January 5, 2015

I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity this morning to listen to a motivational speaker: Richard Gerver.  His speech resonated so strongly with my current thinking that I have dusted off my blog to add this entry.  This led to a password reset because its been so long since by last entry that I’ve forgotten it!  I’m ditching my insecurities about Blogging.  You’ll either enjoy my blog and overlook any grammatical errors (I’m a fiend with the comma) or you won’t.

Richard started with the expected jovial warm up, which was so entertaining that he could have said anything and I would have continued to laugh.  He then want on to share a number of experiences, which illustrated key points that he wanted to share. Each of the challenges that he posed, I’ll type in bold.  I have included a subsection ‘Clarity’, which is based on my opinion.  This is aimed at adding some additional thoughts, to reduce misunderstanding.

Richard talked about a discussion that he had with Sebastian Foucan, founder of ‘Free Running’.  As Richard remarked to Sebastian, as he stood admiring the Church of the Savior on Blood, in Saint Petersburg, Russia, he was astounded that Sebastian hadn’t noticed the buildings. The conversation progressed to reveal Sebastian’s obsession with the space between objects.  He sees himself as water, rather than a ‘rock’, which he believes many people represent themselves as due to the way they view the world, in particular obstacles in their way. Water in contrast is fluid, adaptable and always finds its way around obstacles.   People can be categorised as rocks or water due to their mindset.  Most people are ‘rocks’ who spend their time obsessing over the obstacles, reeling off the reasons why they can’t do things.

We shouldn’t expect to be treated like a professional but to behave like a professional. Professionals find solutions.

Richard went on to talk to us about a topic that has been bogged about a lot over the Christmas holiday.  Many educated people believe that if we work hard enough then things will work out.  If they don’t work out then they interpret it to mean that we didn’t try hard enough.  Most teachers believe that the harder that you work, as in the number of extra hours that you put into your working day, the more successful you will become.  This was very much in accord with what people have been blogging about over Christmas that many of us have fallen foul to this thinking ourselves, at some point (usually the start and middle) of our careers.  Many have blogged about their personal points of realisation of how this impacted on other relationships, often their children. One teacher openly blogged that during an English lesson, a poem that he identified with moved him to tears because he realised that he had damaged the relationship with his son and couldn’t regain the years he had missed due to the long days and weekends that he had worked with stern instructions to his family that he wasn’t to be uninterrupted, and the type household that his had become: one where his son’s friends didn’t want to go because they had to keep so quiet .  After this, he went on to build a very strong relationship with his son but it was a lesson to us readers.

Clarity: do not confuse Richard’s advice with ideas of ‘working to rule’ or think this means that deliberate practice isn’t effective.  Deliberate practice is effective for learning new skills.  The point Richard made is not to equate things not working out at work with not having not worked hard enough.  Rather to take time to consider how to do things differently for more successful outcomes.

Teaching has never been a 9-5 job, it is a vocation that involves planning and marking some evenings, during weekends and holidays. However, it is important to maintain a healthy work life balance. This involves developing the art of keeping your values clear and close, being discerning and organising yourself.   The latter, I believe is vital for a successful and happy life.

I made a claim in August 2014, which I have repeated a number of times: ‘I am 100% confident’ and I believe this too!  This does not mean that I am perfect or have nothing to learn.  Indeed, I see myself as a lifelong learner and seek to continually improve.  Being 100% confident is based on the premise that I do my best in all I do with the time, information and resources that I have.  It doesn’t guarantee me anything but I can deal with the consequences when things don’t work out, without self-flagellation and a negative impact on my self-esteem.   My attitude of 100% has led me to greater success, more risk taking and feeling happier.  I love my job even more that I did before.

Richard asked us to consider how can we tackle problems in a different way to this 20th century industrial model of working.

Richard suggest that we identify your own answers to these questions:

  • What’s your personal vision?
  • Why did you come into this profession?
  • What makes a good day for you?
  • What makes your heart pump faster?
  • What happens om your teaching day or interaction with learners that makes you go home thinking ‘this is all worth while’?

Eric Schmidt (Google) pleasantly surprised Richard during a lunch by stating that ‘technology will never replace the teacher’.  Eric expanded that he believes that education is the development of human intention and human interaction is fundamental to this. Computers cannot replace human relationships and the interaction that teachers provide.  Eric made the point that Google can provide the information, which replaces the type of teacher who stands at the front to impact knowledge.  This was music to my ears, when Richard shared this with us.  I strongly believe that there is a clear value of technology and it’s key that we embrace it with all of its uses, to enhance the learning experience but will never replace the teacher.  All of the research that I have read on this matter concurs, making it clear that inter student relationships. the rapport with the teacher and the collaborative climate that the teacher creates is vital for learning with technology.

Eric had shared with Richard that at one time Google became less successful, when it changed from a being vibrant environment with a clear vision and values when all meetings consisted of sharing ideas: ifs.  The meetings became fearful places, when the focus turned to what their competitors were doing.  This anecdote is a warning that we must never stop trusting our own vision, values and purpose  This simply leads to reactionary action when people copy what others are doing.  This is disastrous but sadly what many people are keen to do throughout the educational sectors.  We believe that the answer is out there by identifying and copying what’s working for others.

Don’t stop thinking and never stop trusting your own values, vision and purpose.

Richards penultimate point is vital and one that is very much at the heart of Derby College: the link between education and employability.

  • We must not teach students to pass tests but develop their employability skills.
  • Qualifications are becoming less important, it is vital that we develop people.
  • Interpersonal skills are the most desirable skill set for employers. We must contextualise everything that we teach in developing our learners interpersonal skills, or there is no point to what they know.
  • The key ability for success is to be able to continually adapt and change, with a hunger to learn.
  • We must all strive to develop an even better link between the world of work and education.

Richard shared his believe that he had met the man who has changed the world, and explained why.  The man is Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple.  Steve had shared his own story with Richard, which included that he had been labelled at the age of eight, as dysfunctional, because he couldn’t build relationships with other children.  Having encountered an exceptional teacher, who made him feel that he could achieve anything, he fostered a desire to teach.  After Steve’s success with Apple, following an Engineering pathway, he fulfilled his second ambition and became a full-time teacher.  Steve believed that what you teach is irrelevant, it is how you learn, which is most important.

He told Richard  that Steve Jobs and himself had stated right at the start of their entrepreneurial career that ‘We need a company that invents stuff, rather than a company that makes stuff’, or words to that effect.  They made themselves a promise that they kept: ‘At Apple we will never employ anyone who needs managing’.

How do we create a climate where students can become this time of individual?  How can we create a Nation of Edupreneurs?


Risk; Resilience; Reward!

September 12, 2013

Take a second before you read on: close your eyes and imagine what you would do if you knew you could not fail?

I firmly believe that risk underpins all success; measured risks should be viewed as investments, which are highly likely to generate a significant learning return.  Have you noticed that on TV game shows/competitions, how frequently we hear the host exclaim “it’s a risk, will it pay off?’ and later to the winner ‘you took a risk and it paid off, this time’.  Both of which are followed by further questioning to discover why.  Isn’t this exactly what we want for our learners; for them to take a risk, which they can justify and great learning can follow.  After a similar chain of events in the Great British Bake Off’s technical challenge last week, Mary Berry retorted:  “I have never thought of doing that; it worked; I’m going to give it a go”.  In a nutshell: a measured risk led to success, reward and learning beyond the individual.

So, why don’t we take more risks when a possible outcome is great success?  Can you recall avoiding taking action, for example not applying for a job or answering a question publicly because your self-efficacy was low due to the probability of non-success?  We are more likely to label this outcome as FAILURE.  What does that conjure up in your mind and how does that feel?  Uncomfortable?  This feeling is as a result of an innate, adaptive biological response, which is governed by brain regions and neurochemicals.  This physiological response is designed to protect us and keep us safe.  Well, at least for the short term, maybe, but long term it is likely to be limiting and even damaging.  Consider: where do the safe options lead us and importantly how would they restrict our learners?  Certainly amongst the list would be low expectations, low aspirations, poor retention and underachievement.  We need to take more risks in our teaching and develop the resilience of our learners to empower them to take risks for success.


A measured risk may read as an oxymoron but there is clearly a bipolar scale: starting at zero – only taking action, which is certain to result in safety, through to 10 – thoughtless behaviour with no idea of the result.  So, I would assert that the measured risk is the grey area in between.  I often repeat Geoff Petty’s phrase ‘common practice is often not best practice’.  We are very skilled at what we do, so it usually yields the results that we are pleased with.  This does translate to the highest possible outcomes!  Playing it safe may feel comfortable; we know what to expect, we have most of the questions anticipated, the answers prepared, with some entertaining anecdotes (that make us smile), ensconced with a plethora of high quality resources, to boot!

So, let’s dip our toes into the risky zone.  The bad news is that for a short while it may not elicit the outcome that you usually get, let alone immediate success and may even go completely pear-shaped when things happen which you hadn’t anticipated.   Naturally, this may leave us feeling vulnerable and frustrated, even more so during an observation or a learning walk, we may even feel shame.  Please stick with me on this; don’t throw the towel in (or your trowel)!  The good news is that with practice, you will quickly become skilled with this new teaching strategy.

This year’s hot learning strategies are a great place to start because there is an array of research that provides strong evidence that it will be successful with an above average effect size.  In other words, it is likely to yield results, which outperform other strategies.  

More good news:  with the support you are entitled to access, you can gain personalised guidance and become skilled even faster.  This support includes: ‘learning hubs’, coaching, peer observations, developmental observations, ‘open surgeries’, online forums and more!  

I would encourage you to go on your own learning walks too!  Next time you have non-contact time, why not take a wander around and see how other people are teaching and learning.  You will be amazed what you can learn, in such a short time, and how empowering it can be. The best news is that your risks will be supported and I can assure you that you will not be lambasted if things do not go to plan. Indeed, your measured risk-taking will be celebrated!  Furthermore, it would be great if you could share what you are trialling via Twitter @DerbyCollegeLearning, or keep a blog, or if you prefer email me directly.  

So, in short: take measured risks! New strategies based on scientific research will produce greater success than ever before and it is safe!  Your risk-taking will generate success that will be celebrated.  

I promise that we will offer you support all the way.  


Children’s brains continue to develop areas required for emotional intelligence until they are approximately 20!  Now, can you recall a time when you didn’t answer the question because you were afraid that you may be wrong, which would lead to feelings of embarrassment, which is linked to shame?  

Remember how uncomfortable you felt and the relief that followed when someone else answered it.  Or perhaps you were the person who answered. if so, remember the look of relief on the other people’s faces, as their averted eyed suddenly brightened and their confident, furious nodding began to indicate they concurred with the respondent.  We are emotionally intelligent adults, so you can imagine how exacerbated our students’ feelings become when they cannot rationalise in the same way or cope with a possible failure.  Yet we delight in them taking the risk of answering a question when they are unsure of the answer, especially when they know they may be wrong!  We know (and hopefully, so do our learners) that when they reveal a wrong answer, their misunderstanding can be explored and their learning can be accelerated, often as a result of further questioning.  We need them to empower our learners to take this risk for great success to be achieved.  

High expectation is a vital element of outstanding progress and achievement; yet again this involves huge risks. Imagine a learner applying for their dream job or place at a red brick university.  They will have been told how competitive it is to achieve success in their application and chosen profession.   So, isn’t it safer to set their sights lower?  Of course it is safer in the short term but in the long term the effects of this can be quite damaging; resulting in low aspiration, boredom, regret and shame.  

A plethora of rigorous scientific research demonstrates that these outcomes can lead to a range of vulnerabilities: mental health disorders, engaging in offending behaviour and even lower life expectancy.  Therefore, a key ingredient for success is taking time to develop our learners holistically, developing their emotional intelligence, particularly their resilience with dealing with failures.  This will empower our learners to stop avoiding stressful situations but to practise coping strategies, which over time will develop into habits for positive well-being.  

The neural connections in the brain, which control fear, reward and emotional regulation, will become established, allowing new messages to transmit.  This will result in emotional regulation; positive cognitions and resilient behaviours to be learnt and over time to become automatic responses to stressors.  (Southwick & Charney, 2012).  Ultimately, this will result in the capacity to modulate the stress response, reducing the uncomfortable feelings, discussed earlier.

Recent research that was presented to the British Educational Research Association demonstrated that there is a significant negative correlation between worry and exam performance.  Students who worry are at risk of performing badly in exams.  Prior attainment was controlled for and shown not to be a confounding variable.  The difference in performance between a worrier and a student with greater task-focused coping could be a difference of three grades!

So, go on, try something new with your learners tomorrow and give us feedback about how it goes.  

I look forward to hearing how it went. Please, do not fear if it does not go quite to plan because I have every faith that, given time, by taking risks and learning from the mistakes that you will hit upon something rather special, changing your learners’ perceptions of what taking a risk can mean when it achieves such knowledge and understanding.

“Persistant people begin their success where others end in failure.” Edward Eggleston