I interviewed ten social sector leaders to discover how they go about bringing out the best in the people who work with them, and whether it has any connection to how teachers bring out the best in their students. I’m breaking down my findings into bite-size bits. Here’s a bit.
What do you mean by scaffolding?
Lev Vygotsky was a developmental psychologist who came up with a very useful pedagogical theory called the Zone of Proximal Development. It is a method of stretching students appropriately, so that they can grown in their knowledge, understanding and independence, at a pace that is right for them. For it to work well, teachers need to be aware of the level at which the student is working, and a sense of where they can get to next, and “scaffold” support for them to get there. Once they are there, the teacher scaffolds again to help them get further.
You can see why this might be useful in organisations too. Dame Mary Marsh calls it “absolutely crucial.” Pretty much everyone agreed.
- it keeps people engaged
- it provides constant development and learning opportunities that
- it creates a safe space in which people are encouraged to make mistakes and to learn from them
- it doesn’t just have to be done by a line manager: buddy and peer-support systems are alternative ways to scaffold too
But it also comes with warnings: “Different people in terms of scaffolding learning have different stretch,” says Rashid Iqbal. So:
- you can’t build the same scaffolding for everyone, or for the same person all the time
- it’s also important to keep an individual’s development in line with the needs of the organisation too, so the ideal would be to map individual’s growth opportunities onto organisational strategy.
So how do I do it?
Scaffolding has underlying assumptions—namely that you know the level that the person is working at, you have high expectations of what they can do, and that they have the will and the bandwidth to learn and develop and stretch. Not all of these are true all of the time. And if you’re not sure, ask.
- Discover what they are doing well
- What do you feel as though you are achieving?
- What are you excited by or proud of right now?
- Discover their current willingness or ability to stretch
- How are you feeling about the workload and your focus? Are you happy to keep going as you are?
- What would you like to be doing? What would you like to learn? What skills or approaches would you like to take up?
- Discover what sort of scaffolding you should offer, and for how long
- What support do you need to help get to that level?
- How can I best help you get there?
- When do you want to start, and when should we check in again?