“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” Pericles
Legacy is an interesting concept, especially for a teacher; for many of us, we never see what happens in the long term for our students. As a primary school teacher, the young people I taught, left at eleven years old and remained frozen in time in my head, but every so often, I would hear stories about where they had gone and what they had done. Occasionally, I see pictures of them on social media with families of their own, with careers and lives carved out of their childhood experiences. You also, occasionally hear about the young people who left your school and found tragedy, disappointment or failure. We cannot control our children’s futures and we shouldn’t seek to, but we do contribute to the chances they will have and the tools they’ll need in order to make the most of them. Our impact in the long term may be abstract but we must have faith in its long-term importance.
I often say to teachers, trainers, and education leaders that they may never see the full effect of their decisions, but they must trust that their impact will be felt. It is for that reason, that we need to remember that our core focus cannot be on grades and end of year outcomes, it needs to be on something much bigger, the longer game. We may only touch a young person’s life for a brief moment in time, but we must ensure that we contribute to a far longer journey.
If as educators, we want to have an impact on the future then we need to have an idea of what we want that future to be. I want to share my own, personal aspiration for what I hope we can all contribute to:
All human beings want to be of value, all human beings want to believe that they can lead lives where they have choices and some control. Some human beings realise early, the power and potential of a life lived and of purpose, some realise late and some… too late.
For society to thrive, to reconnect and to be better, we need people to reconnect with each other and most importantly with themselves. People need to feel valued and of value; they need to know that they have a purpose.
We know that in many ways, a growing number of people feel undervalued and some helpless. The growing issues around mental health and the anger and resentment showing itself in society, through the increasing polarisation and the resurgence in extremism, benefits no one but does serve to destabilise and disrupt both the individual and society.
Educators are, like it or not, some of the most important people in changing the future. It has to be our aim to help to bring the best of our society together; the people and the organisations that best exemplify and champion the role of active citizenship; of values and of purpose, people and organisations who believe and evidence that we; you and I, can change the world for the better. Education establishments should be that gathering point; the foundation stone of learning and of collaboration on which ideas, philosophies and the future are built.
This is not meant to be a grandiose vision but a granular one, it is Gandhi’s “Be the change.”
I believe that our wider legacy should be to help to create a simple catalyst for what I see as the five core themes of a life.
We need to explore, how as educators, we can play our role in supporting the five phases of life: both as organisations and as collaborative partners. We need to influence:
Emergence: Before birth, supporting young families so that they can create nurturing environments that best prepare and provide for children in the first phases of life; to help to make the early links between the five core themes.
Education: We must focus on how we use formal education to ensure that our emerging young citizens are prepared for the world they are going to inherit. That their knowledge, skills, attributes and behaviours empower them and inspire them to head confidently into the next phase of life.
Activism: As organisations, educators, employers and institutions we must work together to ensure that our young people feel that they have a place and a purpose as emerging adult citizens in society, so that they feel that they have opportunity to make their mark. Moving on, how we help them understand the growing of their responsibility as they move on to phase four.
Leadership: How do we ensure that the gained experience, vision and actions of their activism is not wasted and are utilised in order to take on leadership and responsibility for developing the phases further and for evolving the narratives and sense of empowerment for the next generation?
Legacy: How do we ensure that our elders continue to thrive; to be supported and most importantly continue to feel valued? How do we capture and use their wisdom to inform and educate future cohorts?
This kind of connected future will rely on all of us all coming together to share ideas, debates and collaborations and having the confidence and belief that as an educators, employers, parents and carers involved in the lives of young people, we are special; and that the responsibilities we bare can be turned in to a legacy for which society will eternally be thankful.
Go forward, good luck; change the world.
Richard Gerver is a former headteacher and award-winning speaker, bestselling author and world-renowned thought leader. He has advised governments and major corporations such as Google, Microsoft and Harrods. His debut book, Change, tells the story of how he transformed his first school from failing, to one of the most acclaimed learning environments in the world. He tweets @richardgerver.