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Who are your influencers?

Driving home from school the other day I was listening to the radio, the Steve Wright show on Radio 2. A musician was being interviewed and he was asked the usual question that they all seem to get asked. 'So, who has influenced your music?' He then proceeded to reel of an eclectic list of singers, songwriters and musicians who had influenced him, and helped shape his style and the music he produced.

This got me thinking about who I would say are the big influencers on myself as as school leader. We do not just arrive in a position of school leadership without being influenced and informed by a range people. A lot of these of course, are unsung and unknown influencers who we have had the pleasure, or otherwise, of working with and alongside as our career has developed. So, the teachers and school leaders we have all worked with as our own style and philosophies have developed, have all helped shape our thinking and our practice. We may even have benefitted from coaching and mentoring by experienced school leaders as we took our first tentative steps in school leadership.

However, it would be remiss of us to develop our thinking and our leadership just through interactions with the people we have been fortunate to meet as our career has progressed. For all of us I am sure we have a whole number of influencers, most of whom we have probably never met, but who have a national or international reputation in education, leadership, and research related to all of these. I think a really good test of who the people are in this category that have had the most influence is to consider  which ones you can remember off the top of your head without having to do some research to help you remember. So here goes with my own eclectic list, and apologies to any I fail to remember or mention.

I trained in the seventies and the names that come back to me from that time, and who I know influenced my thinking one way or another included Jean Piaget, John Bowlby, Lady Plowden, BF Skinner, Pavlov and Hans Eysenck. Piaget was a 'must read' for all teachers in training then to help us develop an understanding of how children, and their brains, grow and become ready to learn. Bowlby did a lot of work on child psychology and especially the importance of attachment as children are born and grow. The Plowden Report set the agenda for all primary schools and teachers in the late sixties and into the seventies. Most students had their own, well thumbed, copy of this report and I still have mine. Skinner was another read as we sought to understand intelligence and IQ, and how this might be assessed. Linked to this was Ivan Pavlov and his dog salivating everywhere, which aimed to help us understand conditioned learning. I never really got this as I wasn't going to be a dog trainer. Eysenck was another controversial figure in the seventies as he sought to link intelligence to hereditary and racial factors, rather than social and experiential. I think he was partly responsible for bringing out the rebel in me, along with the then Education Minister a certain M Thatcher, but I must acknowledge that he was responsible for a lot of other very important and perhaps more valid work as well.

These are the main influencers that I remember from my initial teacher training. I am sure there were others as this was also the time of 'Programmed Learning' which we were getting told would be the next great step forward in schools and learning. 'Children will soon not need teachers, as they control their learning themselves.' Does this sound familiar? It was also the time of ITA, Initial Teaching Alaphabet, another disastrous experiment with teaching spelling, long consigned to the dustbin of failed education fads and magic bullets.

As I was out from education and in business for a long time, let us fast forward to to the early 1990s when I returned to teaching in Scotland. This was just at the time that the 5-14 Curriculum was being introduced in Scotland. The early years of my return were filled with the documentation associated with this curriculum. At least I was understanding the direction of travel in Scottish primary schools. I had returned reinvigorated and determined to make the most of what I saw as my second chance in the career I had wished for and I was avaricious in my reading as I sought to catch up with how education had developed whilst I had been away.

The first two people I remember engaging with were Alastair Smith and Tony Buzan. I read a lot of Smith's work on Accelerated Learning which was interesting and useful, though I didn't actually like the term. To me it was about all learning and key aspects of a well structured lesson. I also came across Buzan at this time and was intrigued by his Mindmapping and how this could help learners retain and remember information, as well as getting them thinking about metacognition. Another researcher and author I came across at this time was Brian Boyd and his work on intelligence, learning and the brain. All of these people helped me develop my thinking and update my knowledge around teaching and ways of facilitating learning. The next big influence was Reuven Feuerstein and his instrumental enrichment and mediated learning models, which looked at the plasticity of the brain and how we can mediate learning for our learners. This had a big influence on me and my practice in the classroom. Howard Gardner and his work on multiple intelligence was someone else who got me thinking and re-enforced my beliefs that learners can display high levels of achievement in lots of different ways and that we shouldn't be so precious about so called 'academic intelligence.'

As I began my leadership journey a whole host of new reading and influencers appeared on my horizon. Perhaps the first of these was Daniel Golman and his work on emotional intelligence. As leadership, and all work in schools, is predicated on working with people and developing relationships then I believe Golman's work is a must read for all aspiring, and practicing, school leaders. Michael Fullan is another must read for me too. His work on school leadership, what works, what doesn't and what effective schools and systems look like, and need to consider, has informed leaders across the globe. You cannot really engage with Fullan without coming across Andy Hargreaves who has worked closely with Fullan and many more key influencers. Over the last year or so I have had the pleasure of reading and working a little with Alma Harris, Clive Dimmock, Chris Chapman, Margery McMahon, Gillian Robinson and others who have all helped improve and influence my thinking. Geoff Petty, John Hattie, Helen Timperley, Marylyn Cochran-Smith have also been important as I believe so much in using practitioner enquiry to develop teachers and schools, and developing adaptive expertise and system leadership. Carol Dweck's work on mindsets have also allowed me to reconsider my own thinking and help others to consider their own.There have been so many others that have impacted on my thinking and leadership but My aim is not to name them all here. Instead it is to perhaps get you to consider who are the people who have had the most influence on you and your practice.

Outside of education I have read books by many not connected to my work, but who I know have influenced my thinking. People like Malcolm Gladwell, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Martin Sorrell and Sir Harvey Jones have all made me think in different ways about leadership and the importance of learning. Of course I also now have Twitter and blogs to further increase my reading and the opportunity to engage with thinkers and researchers all over the world.

We are all the product of our upbringing and our experiences as we move through life and our careers. To me, reading has allowed me to extend my ability to engage with research and researchers and to gain more experience, from the learning and thinking of them, so as to better equip me to lead successfully. Who are your own key influences?


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