Dave Binks, a headteacher you would happily call a leader, was one of the first principals I worked with. He gave me the space and time to enjoy my teaching, to innovate and explore the untrodden path. To take risks and to fail.
Many years later I moved on and became a deputy headteacher myself and I really struggled. I had some of the hardest most challenging times in my working life. I struggled to find that balance between management and teaching and was having to compromise the quality of what I was doing – just to get it done!
I didn’t have access to the knowledge and ideas I needed in those moments when I needed it the most. How I wished I could have browsed Dave’s brain.
A Lack of Knowledge Urgency
We have a lack of knowledge urgency in our profession – we don’t feel the sting of wasted ideas or the importance of capturing and sharing our knowledge and experience, it simply is not in the front of our minds. There are over 430,000 teachers in the UK and in Australia just over 250,000 according to 2011 figures. But only a tiny fraction share ideas using Twitter.
On average in England over the last 25 years there have been around 15,000 teachers retiring from the profession every year. People like Dave who take their expertise and skill with them. That equates to nearly 525,000 years worth of teaching experience laying quiet and dormant on the back 9 of golf courses and between the aisles of garden centres. This saddens me.
This great body of latent knowledge going missing, but also the lack of urgency from current teachers to capture and share what they know. Let me give you an example of what I mean by knowledge urgency:
In 1972 the Imperial War Museum established the Department for Sound Records and began in earnest to archive and collate oral histories of those involved in conflicts and especially those involved in the First and Second world wars. It is a striking and extensive archive of over 56,000 hours worth of historical records. The urgency to capture this knowledge is clearly linked to the passing of the generations involved.
These pieces of knowledge are lengthy to produce and take time and deep thought to capture. Social technology has begun to reshape the timeframe needed to share our expertise all we need is a simple device and we can tweet and blog our experiences on the go.
Ross Selkirk Taylor was a British Army driver during the second world war and his pocket diary was his record of his experiences. Since then his grandson has begun tweeting his written diary entries, but in 1940 they were private to him and had no immediate impact on those around him. The postal service was often the sole means with which to share his experiences whilst away from home and that was heavily censored. The ranks of other army drivers could not learn from his published experiences and connect with him to learn. (Despite some hunting the original @DriverRoss account is no longer active.)
Twitter perfectly encapsulates the fragmentation of our knowledge and I think it has a direct impact on the frequency of sharing – the likelihood that people, teachers, openly share an idea or publish their thinking is increased if the scale is smaller.
Share What You Know
As teachers we need to be more open about our work and quickly realise that the whole profession can benefit from our collective expertise – we mustn’t become silos of knowledge ourselves. Nor do we want our knowledge and experience, our stories and ideas to lie dormant, our knowledge needs to live on and impact those around us, to be contextual and be flexible enough to improve the lives of as many people we can.
The phrase “Pearls of wisdom” is often attributed to this poem by James Russell Lowell.
These pearls of thought in Persian gulfs were bred, Each softly lucent as a rounded moon; The diver Omar plucked them from their bed, Fitzgerald strung them on an English thread.
I love the delicate description of the pearls of thought – “softly lucent as a rounded moon” – we need to ensure we treasure the jewels of knowledge we have – and continue to pluck them from their seabed and do more to share them with other teachers, display and publish them, string them on threads, and help everyone bathe in their moonlit glow.