The student who leads her teacher

Valletta - background to a week of working in Malta

Valletta – background to a week of working in Malta

One of the great privileges of my job is that I get to meet and work with a diverse range of fascinating people, often in interesting and previously unknown places. So it is that this week I am working on an evaluation project for the Ministry of Education in Malta with colleagues from England, Wales, France and Sweden. Of course, when brought together for work with a team of colleagues, some of whom were previously unknown, this can be a recipe for disaster. What happens if we don’t get along? How might it be if we disagree fundamentally on issues to do with inclusion or management of schools? By contrast it can be a time for forging new friendships and gaining opportunities to learn from and with people who bring different perspectives and experiences of the world.

Fortunately Amanda, who was largely responsible for bringing this team together, had taken these matters into consideration and within no time we have jelled together as a cohesive unit. We appear to be working together efficiently and sharing our professional experiences as we tackle the tasks set for the week. I always think that a good indicator of how well a team will work is the ability to share in a sense of humour, and despite stereotyped images of all of our nationalities, we have already demonstrated an ability to laugh together as well as at each other.

A particularly pleasing aspect of this week’s work is to be working under the guidance of one of my former students. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to supervise Amanda as she completed her studies and research for her PhD. In all honesty this was a relatively simple task as she was highly motivated, bright and hard working. A copy of her thesis on teacher engagement with research in special and inclusive education has a position of prominence on my bookshelves at home. As with all my former doctoral students I have followed her subsequent work with some pride, noticing when she has published papers or chapters and seeing her gain promotions within the European agency for which she now works. She has attained a position of leadership and responsibility and carries her role with dignity and a friendly demeanour. To find myself now working under her direction and to witness her professionalism first hand is a great pleasure and brings back memories of the supervision meetings we held together. Today she acts as supervisor and I am very much in a learning role as we embark upon the week’s work.

I have in recent years had similar experiences of working with other former PhD students, Mary in China and Johnson in India being just two examples. It is rewarding to find that the theoretical models that they developed as research students, the methods that they learned and deployed and the knowledge that they gained is being put to such good use in their own countries. Even more heartening is the committed approach to inclusive working that they have adopted and the principled way in which they conduct themselves. Their focus upon improving the lives of children remains central to their work and they have already become effective leaders in their communities. As supervisors of research students we can offer guidance and critical appraisal, but this comes to fruition only through their own endeavours after they have completed their studies.

So, this week as I work alongside Amanda and watch how she directs the work of Verity, Per, Serge and myself I can reflect upon the value of her learning experiences and take particular note of the commitment that she is giving to teachers and children, not only here in Malta, but through her work across Europe. In observing her dedication I think about my current students and hope that someday in the future they too may find that their former supervisor is worthy to become a part of one of their teams.