Richard Gerver may have started his working life as an actor, but it was through
teaching that he found his calling. Gerver began teaching in 1992, and by 2003, he was working with Tony Blair’s government as an advisor on education policy. He later won the prestigious “School Head Teacher of the Year Award” at the British National Teaching Awards for his work in leading a failing school to become one of the most innovative in the world.
These days, Gerver shares his expertise with teachers, business leaders and the broader public as a speaker, author, BBC media commentator and a regular contributor to The Times of London and The Daily Telegraph. Today, he shares his insights with us, noting what’s getting in the way of fixing education, and his own vision for improving it for the future.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
The work I led as Head at Grange Primary School in Long Eaton has led to schools all over the world exploring new approaches to curriculum, I was honored to write a book that followed up on that journey which has sold around the world and again has led to challenging, motivating and inspiring colleagues to think and act differently. I now spend most of my time speaking at events about education, leadership, change and human capacity; which I hope continues to have an impact on children, teachers, parents and wider audiences.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
A large number of schools practice [these principles], particularly in the UK, Spain, Australia, Sweden and the US. The way that some governments are thinking about curriculum has also changed.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
With vision, conviction and professionalism… the key is to develop the confidence to implement what is right for children first and to be eloquent in the way you communicate what you are doing, why it is the right way for your students and what impact it is having… I have a mantra; three words: Communication, Empowerment, Impact.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
Remembering that I left my headship in 2007, we led the way in demonstrating that technology was about PCs in classrooms. We were one of the first primary schools in the UK to have a wireless network (2001); we had a fully functioning TV and radio studio (2002) and also allowed students to use their own digital devices.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
Fear caused by government and media meddling.
What is your country doing right to support education?
Not a great deal, it is a dark time in England; the government is obsessed with systems and structures and traditional academic models. They talk about greater freedom but actually are behaving in a counter-intuitive manner.
What conditions must change to better support education?
We need to break down the conflicts between politicians, media and teachers and act more collaboratively in the interests of our children. We must reconfigure education and understand that schools are the hubs of education, but also that whole communities must be more involved in the process: businesses, parents, social enterprises, etc. We must create a better vision for the future of education and start to prepare for a more entrepreneurial and diverse future for our kids. We must move away from the conflict of ideology and be better informed about future models. We must stop seeing education as a competitive process; between schools, communities and nations, and realise that the most successful systems are founded on collaboration.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
To invest much more time in understanding how the digital revolution can add to the collaborative power of great learning. How can we use what our children do instinctively with social networks and use it as a powerful learning tool? We can invest far more time and energy in connecting educators with people in worlds beyond the classroom (businesses, etc.) and develop greater pathways of connection.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Never lose sight of what really matters: our moral imperative to play a role in preparing our children for THEIR future and strive to do so in an exciting, rich and dynamic way! On the tough days, remember the magic in a child’s eyes when they discover something new because of you!
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
All trends get in the way… we have become obsessed with searching out the “silver bullet” and as a result we have confused so much around education, which in principle is a fairly simple process. It is about human beings; about developing their aspirations and values, their skills, abilities and competencies; it is about living, learning and laughing. Education must be about evolution, not trends!
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
The ability to take risks and the understanding that the moment you get something wrong is the moment you learn something new!
Richard Gerver is a former head teacher who has devoted his career to creating transformation – in schools, businesses and in the lives of individuals.
In 2009, Gerver wrote the best-selling book, Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today, which deals with education transformation, and his second, due by the end of 2012, deals with human capacity and leading change.
In addition to consulting with governments, schools and business leaders, he works
closely with Sir Ken Robinson on developing the awareness of human potential
and creativity. Gerver’s work features in Robinson’s best-selling book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.
He is also a frequent speaker to audiences around the globe, and an influential media commentator.
Birthplace: Wimbledon, London, England
Current residence: Derbyshire, United Kingdom
Education: Mill Hill School, London and Derby University
Websites I check every day: twitter and my own!
Person who inspires me most: Gary, a pupil in my first ever class. It’s a long story but one of the most inspirational human beings it has been my privilege to know!
Favorite childhood memory: Lying under the willow tree on our school field, on a warm summer’s day, listening to my teacher read us a story…magical! Even then, as an 8-year old, I remember thinking that life couldn’t get any better!
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Work, Paris and Madrid
When was the last time you laughed? Why? This morning when my daughter showed me a photo she had taken at her leavers day at school… silly faces, mad poses and a lot of young people with a spark in their eyes!
Favorite book: The Element by Ken Robinson
Favorite music: Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd
Your favorite quote or motto: To teach is to touch a life forever!