Should teachers have role models?
What Would Sir Ken Robinson Do? This is the sticker inside the rear window of my car. Sir Ken travels everywhere with me; he’s my role model, a creative inspiration and adopting his mindset serves me well. He helps me drive my creative education.
I’m joking of course, about the window sticker that is. But Sir Ken is one of my ‘heroes’ and to many other teachers too I’d imagine. But he’s not the only one… sorry Ken but I’ve got quite a few more on my list.
Having a role model is important but I don’t mean wholesale adoption of that person’s style, mannerisms and quirks. That would be weird. I mean taking a little bit of someone and being a bit like them. That ‘bit’ could be a slice of thinking, a way of saying something, an attitude or a chunk of behaviour.
In essence, we are all ‘casserole’ teachers consisting of a rich stew of personalities that have been slowly cooking inside our heads for years. What’s in your pot depends on who has fed into you and who you have fed from.
It’s important to be ourselves but inevitably we are the amalgamation of those who inspires us, those we admire and those that make an impact on our teaching…not forgetting those that have taught us.
One of my role models is my first mentor. I remember how effortless she made teaching look. She was respected by children, parents and staff, she had a certain way about her and oozed a definite charisma. She is the only person I know that could walk into a playground and have everyone lined up in perfect silence without any vocals, whistle or a bell in under 60 seconds. All she had to do was stand in a certain spot and raise her left arm in the air. My other sticker is WWCD? (What Would Carol Do?)
Choosing role models is not dissimilar to jumping on Twitter and ‘Following’ those people who you think have something to offer. They might follow you too. The people you follow might not necessarily be role models but within those that you do follow there will be one or two exemplary educators who you really respect. You might follow the most respected names in education and like what they have to say because they are rich thinkers.
We’ve all got an A-lister in the field we listen out for. Their gems of wisdom might fly out of twitter and it’s good to be on the receiving end when they say something prophetic and when they share something just plain ordinary. A-listers will get a big following and get to the stage where they can put no foot wrong but following them like sheep isn’t advisable. Following them with an open-mind is important though as they form part of our personal and professional learning network and being linked to them enhances our lives as connected educators. We can lean on them for advice and inspiration even if we haven’t met them.
As teachers we are going to be role models for our pupils, not all but certainly some of them. They will look up to us and respect us just as we have colleagues we revere. Pupils will like our teaching style, our interactions, our behaviours, our decisions, our positivity, our honesty and our support. If you are lucky, you’ll have a following based on respect for who you are. Look again and you will find perhaps some of your colleagues respecting you in pretty much the same way.
But who we are is who we have come into contact with and who we might admire from afar. I’d like to think I was ‘me’ but I’m sure that I’m actually a product of around a dozen teachers who I have directly worked with mixed with about 50 pedagogues who I haven’t. It’s a potent mix and I’ve taken a slice off all of them somewhere down the line; they have all had a role to play.
It’s no use trying to be someone else copy and paste style, that seldom works. But there is nothing wrong with doing what you think they might do in certain situations. If I’m faced with an angry pupil, then I’ll think about how Julie or David might handle it – two great colleagues who had the knack for dealing with the impossible. If I want to deliver a brilliant assembly, then I’ll think what Cliff would do – his assemblies were always stunning. If I want to make a lesson edgy and unpredictable then I’ll think of Chris and imagine how she would go about it – she always had a trick up her sleeve that would wow pupils. These are all influential people and all unaware that I was ‘following’ them and still do.
Role models can help us reach for greatness but a more realistic reflection of their role is that they inspire us to be better at what we do. We all need role models but never look in the mirror and admire yourself because that’s someone else’s job.