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Education is not a preparation for life, education is life! Adding lifeblood to education through CollectivED Fellowship

‘Education is not a preparation for life, education is life!’. This phrase jumped out at me from headteacher Rae Snape’s recent CollectivED Fellowship application.  In ten simple words it captures such wisdom, communicates optimism and also pulls us up short.  

Education is not a preparation for life education is life
On the 9th July Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education in England, gave a policy-shifting speech about Further Education.  Some did not miss the irony that despite 10 years of majority Conservative rule Williamson admitted that for too long FE ‘may as well have stood for Forgotten Education’. However, it was another statement that many people on my twitter feed were unconvinced by when he said that ‘We must never forget that the purpose of education is to give people the skills they need to get a good and meaningful job’. 
 
While no-one would disregard the role of education in supporting an individual’s job prospects and employment success this statement is a reductionist and monologic understanding of education. Firstly, it overlooks the other roles that education plays as children and young people enter adult worlds; building their sense of self within their communities, equipping them with an essential understanding of the world, gaining social skills, building ambition and empathy, appreciating and contributing to cultural life and ensuring that they have practical skills necessary for safe and happy home and family lives.  Secondly, it overlooks the value of being in and experiencing education in the moment, rather than only as something of value at a later stage.  
 
Those of us who agree that ‘education is life’ need to ask ourselves what lives our pupils, students, teachers and wider education workforce are experiencing. It demands that we ask this not just of the here and now but also of the journey through education from early years, to secondary, further or higher education.  It also demands that we ask ourselves what role career-long professional education plays in the lives of new and experienced teachers. These are the sorts of questions that CollectivED Fellows seem to pose, both to themselves, their near colleagues and those who populate the education sector more widely. Reading their Fellowship applications, meeting for conversation during our Fellows webinars and appreciating their contributions to CollectivED outputs gives us a glimpse of who are Fellows are and why their work matters. I think that they could usefully give some advice to Gavin Williamson and his team.
 
If ‘education is life’ we can appreciate those whose work is the lifeblood of education settings. Amongst them are the CollectivED Fellows, and it with huge pleasure that the rest of this blog post is dedicated to welcoming our seven new Fellows.  They join a community of educators from early years, primary, secondary, special education and alternative provision, from UK and international schools, from FE and HE settings, who themselves are joined by coaches and consultants and doctoral students. Many of our Fellows wear multiple professional hats or have spanned several contexts during their careers.  Our online Fellows’ meetings have given them a chance to share stories and priorities, make connections and be inspired by each other. That will no doubt continue as our new Fellows join in.  
 
Raija Erkkilä and Sirpa Perunka are colleagues who work as teacher educators at the Oulu University of Applied Sciences, School of Professional Teacher Education, in Finland.  I first met them at an the ATEE conference in Dubrovnik in 2017 and was inspired by their presentation related to team teaching. In 2019 they joined the international CollectivED Symposium as co-contributors at the ICSEI conference in Stavanger at which another CollectivED Fellow, Canadian Trista Hollweck also presented. Both Sipra and Raija have been working with student teachers and mentors over many years, and reading their applications prompted reflection on the significance of the relationships that are built during teacher education, between students, tutors and mentors. Sirpa writes that ‘As a teacher educator, my pedagogical principles are dialogical discussion and counselling the student teachers according to the stage of development they are on. My goal is that each student teacher would become aware of the fundamentals of their work and get tools to develop their individual way to teach and guide.’ Raija writes that ‘I do my best to support my student teachers to grow into teachers who value their own work as professionals. I firmly believe that respecting and valuing one’s own teaching work leads to high quality teaching and guidance.’  Both statements correspond with the view that teacher education should be so much more than functional (funnelling new teachers into the workforce) but also be experienced as a period of personal growth where each new teacher attunes their professional identities with their own values and the value of their work.   Sirpa and Raija continue to research to inform their own and others’ teaching. Recent research related to student teachers and mentors and studied their experience on mentoring during the teaching practice. They reflect that ‘this has made it possible to regard teaching practice from the point of view of the supervisor and the mentor and from the point of view of the student teachers. The results of our study confirm that the teacher´s professional growth is a long process, and that it can be supported by a successful mentoring relationship right from the start. For that reason, we see the role of a mentor to be a co-reflector who guides and supports the teacher student without being an evaluator.’
 
Steven Riley works in a secondary school in West Yorkshire, where he has had the opportunity to design and support teacher CPDL (Continuing Professional Development and Learning). This has been underpinned by his own Masters’ research and has extended into his current doctoral research.  Steven would be the first to admit that getting CPDL right is a huge challenge, particularly at a time when the DfE is expecting a reduction in teacher workload and continues with a policy agenda which tends to favour convergence in teaching and learning approaches rather than more individualised research-informed professional development. He is addressing the tensions of balancing CPDL as preparation for future roles and opportunities with the need to recognise that for teachers their daily lives at school present urgent demands and can conflict with family life.    If one of the characteristics of recognising that ‘education is life’ is the challenge of recognising the different lives that teachers lead, their unique perspectives and ambitions, then Steven’s current priority seems relevant. As part of his doctoral research he is working on a ‘tool that can be used to generate recommendations for CPDL activities that are bespoke and appropriate at any given time’ which he hopes ‘could help to ensure that teachers and organisations focus on developmental opportunities that will have positive impacts for them’. Steven’s desire that ‘impacts might include improved and more sustained teacher-engagement and higher levels of learning and pedagogical enhancements for practitioners’ chime well with the vision and values of CollectivED. 
 
We are also pleased to welcome Nicki Wadley as a new Fellow.  Nicki is our first Fellow whose substantive roles are in school governance development and support. Her application for Fellowship was based on her contribution to the CollectivED Midwives of the Future symposium, for which the appreciative inquiry question was; What are the imperatives and opportunities for change in the education system created by the covid19 pandemic?  Nicki has served the governance community as an advocate and collaborator and has established a social media network (School Governors UK) bringing together circa 4,000 governors and trustees in a safe space to share practice, challenges and learn in partnership with each other. She also founded and facilitates a free local face-to-face network GovMeet which aims to bring all involved in governance together to share practice, build professional networks, offer support and celebrate the contribution good governance makes to the lives of young people. This once again speaks to the fact that we don’t wait for young peoples’ adult lives to be impacted by their education, we work to shape healthy and happy lives in education. Nicki brings to the Fellows community a new area of expertise based on a clear vision and the hard work of continuing to build her governance practice and those of others based on that vision. In her application she wrote that ‘I believe it is vital that we empower the voices of those with the strategic authority to shape a school’s vision and values, to act as authentic and collaborative accountability partners in the sector and move away from being complicit in the creation of a fear-based system.’ 
 
The final three new CollectivED Fellows are serving and former headteachers.  Gerry Robinson now works beyond headship (she was until recently a secondary headteacher in Haringey, London) and describes herself as an educational leader and activist. Her activist stance is of no surprise to me as it was evident even during her PGCE year, when I had the pleasure of being her tutor twenty years ago.  It also led me to include her in a recent blogpost about the legacy of teacher education in the lives of children and young people. In her application Gerry reflected on the school she had led, where with her staff team (including CollectivED Fellow Tracey Rollings) she had ensured that ‘values underpinned everything in the school – every action, every policy and every decision made’. These might seem the sorts of sentiments which feature in mission statements but are hard to spot in practice, but as Gerry appreciated ‘the school’s focus on creating an equitable learning environment for both staff and students has gained local and national recognition’.  Examples of this focus in the lives of teachers in the school include open-door communication and fewer formal line management meetings, with a move to a coaching culture, whole-school appraisal and development system that has an emphasis on development and coaching and a significant investment in beginner teachers who have weekly sessions with external independent coach (separate to subject mentoring), extensive beginner teacher CPD programme and beginner teacher residential conference in first term.  Once again there is strong overlap here with practices supported and promoted by CollectivED. 
 
John Mynott has also recently left headship, moving from leading a primary school in Watford to a new role in teacher education at the University of Aberdeen.  This comes soon after completing his doctorate in which he focused on Lesson Study.  In the true spirit of a CollectivED Fellow and with a commitment to knowledge exchange John has run a grassroot network linked to Lesson Study to share research and discuss Lesson Study. He is looking for ways to link with practitioners locally and internationally to continue sharing and developing collaborations linked to Lesson Study and enquiry in his new role. He writes that he enjoys ‘promoting and supporting the work of colleagues through developing and engaging them in discussion’. Like Steven, John has grappled with the tensions not just the opportunities of CPDL, and he writes and blogs about ‘some of the trickier parts of establishing and building collaborations, thinking through and identifying positives avenues for future work’.
 
And finally, returning to Rae Snape who took up her second primary headship in January this year.  Rae might best be described as an education livewire, whether that’s in person or on twitter. Rae has been the leader of a Teaching School in Cambridge and is also the designer of the Cambridgeshire Festival of Education. Like Nicki her application for Fellowship was based on her contribution to the CollectivED Midwives of the Future symposium. Rae has a huge commitment to children and believes that ‘as we cannot rely on Governments to keep the flame of legacy bright it is up to individual school leaders to know the journey we have been on and to think ahead to what could be possible’.  In her application that she reflected on the importance of ‘trust and warm appreciative relationships as the bedrock for learning whether as a child or an adult’. It was Rae who offered the proposition that ‘Education is not a preparation for life, education is life!’. 
 
So, as the academic year ends it is truly wonderful to welcome our new Fellows.  Let’s all hope that the next year brings opportunities for change which continue to support them to align their work with their values and to make a real difference to colleagues, students and communities. 
 
You can find out more about our Fellows through the twitter hashtag #CollectivEdFellows or by following @CollectivEDFel1. We will work to support the Fellowship community to sustain positive impacts on the lives of educators and outcomes for learners and we will invite Fellows to be proactive in developing approaches to this.  You can read more about the work of our new CollectivED Fellows through the working papers that they have contributed to following the hyperlinks below. You can find out more about becoming a CollectivED Fellow at our website.
 
Raija Erkkilä  CollectivED Working Papers Issue 3
John Mynott @jpmynott  CollectivED Working Papers Issue 6CollectivED Working Papers Issue 10
Sirpa Perunka  CollectivED Working Papers Issue 3
Gerry Robinson @gerryrobin5on CollectivED  Working Papers Issue 11 
Rae Snape @RaeSnape  Contributor to Midwives of the Future symposium
Nicki Wadley @nickiwadley1  Contributor to Midwives of the Future symposium
 
 
You can read about other CollectivED Fellows in two earlier blog posts.
 
 
 

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Professor Rachel Lofthouse

Rachel Lofthouse is Professor of Teacher Education in the Carnegie School of Education. She has a specific research interest in professional learning, exploring how teachers learn and how they can be supported to put that learning into practice.

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