We’re delighted to announce that Ejike Agubor will be joining the Teacher Development Trust as Head of Partnerships from late January 2022. In this blog, he reflects on the way he’s seen schools react to the unprecedented challenges of the last two years.

“Fall forward”. Why does this unconventional mantra I first heard the actor Denzel Washington use in a speech to University graduates resonate with me so much? Thinking about it as I write this blog in the run up to joining the exceptional TDT team, maybe it’s because it perfectly encapsulates what schools have always done – take risks and sometimes stumble, but ultimately grow and move forward.

The pandemic changed education almost overnight. Teachers isolated at home from their peers and support networks had no choice but to ‘fall forward’ – to leap into an unknown future and make things work. Pressure, yes, but also an opportunity.

The power of risk taking

The teachers I often meet tell me they are creatures of habit; that they build their foundations on familiarity. However, this was tested to the limit when lockdown closed schools and the only option was teaching through online platforms. Despite a mix of anxiety about the unknown and the nervous anticipation of change, schools responded by developing new pedagogical approaches based on previously unexplored areas such as metacognition and capitalising on changes to how students learn. Another positive is the student/teacher relationships, and also those with colleagues to grow and flourish.

Over the years I have been fortunate enough to meet hundreds of inspirational school leaders and teachers, and one key quality they have shared is a thirst for knowledge. Risk taking might not typically be part of the DNA of some schools. What they all agree on however, is that creating strong networks to explore best practice, share resources and sound out ideas, is crucial to their development and in helping them to push the boundaries. Perhaps it sounds like an oxymoron, but schools have had to be proactively reactive. The need to focus on today whilst also anticipating tomorrow has led to growth; the magnitude of which is only just being realised.

Explore. Learn. Share.

Like any ecosystem, schools are only as strong as the sum of their parts, and I have always been a strong believer in the impact collaboration can have when integrated with a growth mindset and wellbeing. Providing opportunities for staff to develop professionally and – just as importantly – personally, cannot be underestimated. You don’t need to search far to understand the scope of pressure that has been put on teachers to learn new skills while dealing with other daily responsibilities, so simply having a peer they can connect with to share ideas with or just to download has been just as important as the classroom resources they use.

One of the most rewarding things for me has been hearing from Headteachers how connections I made for them with another school has led to measurable change. In one case this was a Sixth Form that for the first time in its history achieved an Outstanding Ofsted rating!

Failure is the new success.

So, failure is sometimes the best way to figure out where we’re going. Life is never a straight path. In the same way that we don’t focus on the 1000 attempts of Thomas Edison before he successfully created the lightbulb, I think that when we look back on this period we’ll have an even greater appreciation of schools’ success and the inspirational communities behind them. In the words of one Head’s message to her students: ‘Be brave, not perfect’.

And it’s this message that I personally try to carry with me; the power of coming out of my comfort zone, to take a plunge, even if it’s into the unknown, and to test out new possibilities. To not stand still, but to fall forward, towards the future and new possibilities. I look forward to the challenge of joining TDT in late January and further supporting schools’ growth.