The idea

What can leaders learn from teachers? Could pedagogical theories be relevant for chief execs and managers? Are the mechanics of teaching in any way useful beyond corralling a group of 30-odd children?

As a 2014 Fellow on the Clore Social Leadership Programme, I researched whether key teaching and learning theories are or could be used by leaders in the social sector to support the development of their teams. It’s a personal quest masquerading as a professional one: I used to be a classroom teacher, now I am not, and it would be so neat/such a relief if I could objectively prove that the skills and theories I learned back then are applicable and helpful in the world I am now in.

After leaving teaching in 2007, I gained a Masters in Education, worked at a educational non-profit in San Francisco (826 Valencia), before founding youth charity Spark+Mettle in 2011. It runs a range of personal and professional development programmes for less privileged 18–24 year olds.

Along the way I’ve constantly stolen adapted teaching techniques and principles and used them in my work. These range from the planning approaches for a curriculum (short, medium and long-term “schemes of work”) adapted to the strategic needs of an organisation, to pedagogical theories that I have been able to apply to my approach to building teams and running programmes. I should add that I am an archetypal leftie (wear Birkenstocks, read The Guardian—I even live in Brighton), so my view of good teaching is a progressive, interactive one. I’m not into a draconian, didactic, sage-on-stage approach. This also informs my views on good leadership. Let’s just say I’m not in Donald Trump’s corner.

My hypothesis is this:

Successful social sector leaders are intuitive educators. They employ a range of techniques to nurture effective teams and bring out the best in individual employees, many of which can be related back to key progressive pedagogical theories.

I chose as examples three pedagogical theories that have been particularly influential on me first as a teacher and later as a leader. I wanted to see whether they hold any value for other leaders in the social sector, as well as exploring other approaches that might link to different teaching and learning theories. I am aware that leading people is just one of many aspects to leadership, but it is one that it is central to effective leadership and increased impact.

I interviewed ten social sector leaders to try to discover what overlap there might be between teaching and leading. I conducted the interviews between May and September 2015, and posted the write-ups here during October and November. I summarised my findings in bite-size chunks, and I worked with a designer to create some beautiful printable and interactive pages that offer some answers and ask some questions to a broad audience.

If you’d like to find out more about this work, please get in touch:

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