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.


8 thoughts on “The student who leads her teacher

  1. Richard, this is another quality of a teacher rare to find. Willingness to learn from one’s student, putting aside any ego or authoritative idea. Many teachers find it humiliating when their students point out a mistake they might have made. Teachers point out mistake to their students day in and day out and students are supposed to just listen carefully and ensure they do not repeat the mistakes. The whole idea is I am the teacher and you are the taught. Yes, you are the teacher but does that mean you will never make mistakes. There is something really nice about working in a Montessori environment, children learn on their own and Dr. Montessori always said that the Adult should cease to exist in the environment, in other words the child is so independent and self reliant that he/she is able to learn and absorb without directions and authority. Sadly, even in many Montessori environments, Adults become aware of authority and feel that children will learn only if they show the presentations, there is a feeling of authority and that completely goes against the philosophy. So, in many cases we have rigidity and authority and not a learning environment.

  2. Hi Savitha,
    For me this is about the idea of learning as a shared experience. Without the teacher a student may at times find difficulties with learning, but without the student the teacher has noone on whom to test their ideas. Surely we should be pleased when our students reverse the role and teach us new ideas or knowledge. How can we define an educated person if it is not one who recognises that opportunities to learn and understand comes from all quarters, including ones’s own students? Maria Montessori certainly understood this concept and we would do well to revisit her ideas.

  3. Richard-How lovely! And I agree with Savitha!!
    My Psychology teacher who taught me in 11th grade, is now working with me in the After School Remedial centre in Brindavan. She is so humble and tells children that I am her boss!! I am humbled by her willingness to learn, the meticulousness and dedication she shows. I can so relate
    to what you are saying- from the other side!

  4. Hi Jayashree,
    I think we should be delighted when our students find themselves managing us. It shows that they have gained confidence in their own skills and abilities and that they appreciate our own qualities when they invite us to work with them.

  5. Dear Richard and Colleagues,
    It’s a little hard to know how to reply to such a moving and personal blog-post. I am truly touched and honoured by what you’ve written Richard.
    Working with you as a student was always easy and productive. Working with you now as a colleague is just a real pleasure!
    For me in both these situations there was and is something vital present – a personal connection. It seems to me teachers are most effective when they are willing to make a connection – of one sort or another – with their students. Similarly, colleagues work most effectively together when they too make personal connections with each other.
    Such personal connections touch something deep in all us humans …. no matter what our cultural background or nationality.
    Different researchers and writers have looked at such human connections in different ways and there are so many terms and concepts used to try and understand something that is so fundamental to all of us: mutual respect, valuing others, kindness, friendship … I could go on.
    Sometimes under the pressures of work in education, it’s easy to lose sight of what might be most meaningful in supporting someone’s learning. I still find it incredible that if you ask people what they valued most about a particular learning experience they’ve had, they will rarely talk about buildings, resources, technology, even subject content … what they do talk about is people who are special to them and who have touched their lives in some way or another. People who have made a personal connection with them!
    I think the insightful blog-posts of you and your colleagues reinforce my thinking about the importance of personal connections and that is very re-assuring indeed.

  6. As ever Amanda, you offer a perceptive view of what we should value most in our work. It is not systems or processes that bring about change, but rather the collaboration of people willing to share their ideas and expertise towards the attainment of a specific goal. The journey becomes much easier when we collaborate with others.

  7. Hi Mary,
    Thank you for the compliment, but I can assure you I learned as much from me as every you learned from me. Your achievements are down to your hard work and commitment.

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