8 questions with Richard Gerver


Richard Gerver is the author of the bestselling ‘Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today’ and an expert on leadership and change. As a former school principle he knows what challenges our education system is facing and how these challenges affect the whole of society. We had the opportunity to talk to him three weeks ahead of ‘Reinvent the way we work and learn’ on November 23rd in Rotterdam, where he will give a keynote speech.

– You’ve said that “The 21st century is done, in terms of education. We’re educating for the 22nd.” Are we?
Two things are important here. The first is that we keep talking about the 21st century like it’s the future. It is happening right now. Kids that are born now will be living in the 22nd century. We’ve got to stop meeting and talking about how we have to educate our children for the future. We have to build capacity in our education system to allow us to continuously change, evolve and develop.

– If we have to stop meeting and talking, then why are you coming to Rotterdam on the 23rd?
Haha, because I was invited! No, in all seriousness, my comment is a wish, really. We’re not there yet, because we are still having to meet. We have to stop looking for the quick answer or a neat package of policy and structure. Policies and structures change nothing, people do. We haven’t worked hard enough to develop the capacity of people to allow us to enter this realm where we are working on continuous evolution and transformation. An environment where that continuous change and action-research is possible.

– One of the things we’re trying to accomplish on the 23rd is to move beyond the talk, with workshops, roundtable discussions and by creating a practical guide for change in the form of a Manifest, thus empowering those who work in education. You’ve stated that teachers feel frustrated and left out of the debate. How do we bring the debate back to them?
We have to have a greater level of confidence in ourselves, in our knowledge, in our experience and the value in the things we do and the things we say. When I look at the medical profession they seem to have a far greater degree of self-confidence in terms of standing up for their beliefs or expertise when politicians try to intervene and therefore politicians try to intervene less. By nature I think many teachers tend to be very giving, empathetic people who don’t like making a fuss. We need to have greater confidence and this is why I think the event on the 23rd is so important, where likeminded people from within and around education will get together and galvanize their opinions and beliefs into something tangible. Then we’re in a very strong position to present an alternative and not just comment on the state of things.

– Comparing it to the medical profession: do we need to give teachers more respect?
We can’t just wait for people to give us respect. Teachers work incredibly hard and are very committed and we need to have the confidence to use that strength and passion outwardly too. Traditionally we have been too passive and accepting, sometimes angrily. We need to be more pro-active and that’s how you change culture. Events like the 23rd allow us to build that momentum.

– Is this why you as a former school principle decided to speak up?
Absolutely. Those years I worked with a team achieving extraordinary things. I felt the need to share those experiences and galvanize others to bring about the same kind of work.

– One of the main themes discussed by educational change makers is moving from a formal and uniform way of teaching to customized learning. How do we bring about this change on such a large scale?
There is no easy answer to this question. It has to begin with a shift in philosophical content, a shift in culture. Our current system was designed perfectly for the culture and society of that time, which was to train people for certainty. There was one narrative in education, if you got on board with that, you would ensure your future. The key issue is not so much teaching children about the change in the world, but about moving away from an education system that is predicated around control to one that is predicated around empowerment. Part of that process means that we have to stop believing that we need to present a system to our children. Children themselves need to be involved as co-creators of their education.

– The word revolution is used often in regard to the educational change that is needed. Do you agree that we need to revolt?
Its historic context deems it right. The start of a revolution is always a couple of people who feel passionately about something. They start meeting, talking and then it gathers momentum. It builds and shift begins to happen. We’ve been meeting for many years now and we need to turn conversation and opinion into action. That’s where the strength of the agenda of the 23rd comes from. The analogy with revolution is a good one in demanding that something happen. It’s about the process of ideas moving to action.

– The central question during ‘Reinvent the way we work and learn’ is: ‘What is the purpose of education?’ What is?
The purpose has never been different. There is a moral obligation to help young people prepare for the challenges of their future. That has never changed. I think we need to do better at creating a system that does it.

Reinvent the way we work and learn, November 23rd, Maassilo Rotterdam

For more information and tickets click here