I had the great fortune to be involved in bringing Sir John Jones to Borders to speak to an audience of enthusiasts, mainly across Borders but also open to neighbouring authorities in our Teacher Education Partnership. I have to be absolutely honest and admit that titles don’t mean much to me: that doesn’t mean that I disrespect people with a title- just that I believe people are people are people. To form a view about someone who has achieved a recognition through systems, national or international, distracts from the value of the person behind the title. I respect people for how I experience them and some people humble me to such an extent I think any award or achievement is warranted. Equally some of the most inspirational people I have met will never enter into the sphere of recognition they deserve. Sir John Jones, as I was about to discover, deserves every accolade he has been given.
I elected to meet Him from his arrival in Berwick Upon Tweed railway station and bring him to our ‘Friday Speaker’ event in Scottish Borders. Firstly, he was definitely ‘John’ and not ‘Sir John’. Quickly I realised I was experiencing a special interlude that would influence me and strike a chord beyond the day of our meeting.
The summary of this is around the cognitive and emotional connection he made with me and my colleague who had joined me for the journey. The temptation we resisted was to squirrel him away somewhere to enjoy our dialogue with him for the afternoon and forget there was a hall full of teachers and headteachers arriving in Earlston who had opted to spend their Friday afternoon listening to a great leader.
On reflection, the striking note for us was his humility. He was almost surprised at how his success had come about as it was all about an everyday attitude to people- a deep driving passion and he spoke eloquently and amusingly about this in his talk. John had led three secondary schools, forging relationships based on absolute concern for young people’s welfare and, in the process, spoken of unconditional high regard for all staff in his own pathway through leadership.
You can tell a lot by how people relate away from the conference hall, the microphone, the blog…we had dialogue that spanned tales of school management, leadership; history and battlefields’ trips; children and young people. The common feature for us was the love you must have for the children primarily but for all the people you encounter in leading a school- and the challenges when adults working with young people found that difficult. And we laughed and laughed and laughed… In summary we found a colleague spirit that believed in the innate goodness of young people and the staff who invest their time in giving them the best experience possible. He was unafraid of expressing emotion and, critically, saw this as essential in making a difference- something most teachers say drives them in their work with young people but can be eroded at times.
When John spoke to the audience in Earlston High School, people couldn’t even speak at the end..including me, who was meant to give the thanks.
‘Inspirational speakers’ get a hard hit sometimes in terms of the actual impact of the investment. Our audience left the hall energised, enthusiastic, challenged and motivated to make a difference to young people’s lives. Sometimes we need a space to listen, hear, think and reflect, to laugh and reminisce …
What a great idea for a Friday afternoon in an asymmetric week arrangement!!
For me…I remembered again why I came I into teaching; that I am a teacher, despite being in local authority management for a long period; that my strength of belief in young people and the intentions of a fantastic teaching profession are not just right but essential. In one word… WOW