Professor Kate Reynolds' career is nothing short of illustrious. As well as being Professor of Education Policy and Executive Dean of the Institute for Education at Bath Spa University, she's a member of the Global Learning Network, Global Scholars Network and the Administrative Council for the Association for Teacher Education in Europe (ATEE).
We caught up with Kate recently to chat about her current projects, using social media to empower a profession and how we can go about wrapping our heads around teaching with technology in the 21st century. Here's what we discovered...
What does a typical work day look like for you, if there is such a thing!
Well, for me there is no such thing as a typical work day, but I’ll use today as an example of just how atypical it gets!
I arrived at the university at about half past 7 this morning, after which I checked various emails and read the newspapers to see what’s going on in the world of policy and higher education. We have a workplace nursery which I’m responsible for as part of the Institute for Education, so I went down to the children to read to them -- we encourage all of our senior managers to do to this on a regular basis.
How it works is I get to choose a book, read it to the children and leave it with them. It also enables me to channel my inner grandma! (You’ll be shocked to know that my badger voice wasn’t good enough so I’ll have to work on that for next time...)
In a short while I’ll be having a meeting with the Student Union President who I’m supporting. I’m also chair of a multi-academy trust so we’ll be discussing issues around how to chair board meetings and what the important issues to look for are - that sort of thing.
This afternoon I have a catch up scheduled in with my Professor of Education who’s responsible for the Research for Excellence Framework. I also have a meeting with marketing around how we can work more closely with our schools as partners.
Then from 5 o'clock into the evening I’ve got a meeting on curriculum development and 21st century education. The things that fascinates me most at the moment is trying to get my head around education in today’s world and what that means for teacher education.
Do your discussions about 21st century education tend to centre around technology?
They do. We’re asking ourselves questions like: What is the fourth industrial revolution? What is the role of AI? And how do I make sure that our teachers, when they’re in schools, are equipping young people to have the collaborative and creative skills that they need to be in the right place for jobs; jobs that we don’t even know will exist yet!
It seems like a lot of education professionals know they need to do more technology-wise, but aren’t quite sure how to go about it…
I go back and forth on this one, I have to say. Look at it this way: before there was an iPhone, there wasn’t an iPhone, so Jonathan Ive who studied at Newcastle Poly became a designer for Apple and together with the engineering geniuses’ and Steve Jobs’ leadership, they created an IPhone.
So, in some ways, part of me thinks good teaching means we’ve already got these ‘21st century’ skills of collaboration, innovation and creativity embedded in our curriculum. That the seeds of tomorrow are already with us today. I think it’s about reshaping and focusing these slightly by using all those wonderful tools that technology gives us.
I sometimes think that the moral panic we see around whether or not kids should have iPhones is remarkably like what people might have said when the book was invented and the folks could read them. It’s just the context that’s changed: now, everyone can search on Google search and we freak out about it!
You were named as one of the top 50 HE social media influencers by JiSC a few years ago for your #beacreativebeateacher campaign. Can you tell us a bit more about this project and its objective?
I joined Bath Spa University in January 2014, and what I initially did was try to transform what was a traditional School of Education and rebrand it into an Institute for Education. In part this was done in an attempt to move away from the hierarchical mindset that pervades the education sector.
"...Part of me thinks good teaching means we’ve already got these ‘21st century’ skills of collaboration, innovation and creativity embedded in our curriculum."
I wanted to create a team culture for all of my staff that is about education for change and social justice and promoting education. At the time there was also a bit of a culture of not engaging with technology, and I wanted to show people how social media could support us in creating, in a sense, a brand.
That’s why we’re an institute for education looking outwards not an institution of education looking inwards - that’s very important to us.
I believe teaching is one of the most creative professions in the world, so we came up with the #becreativebeateacher hashtag. I built a Twitter brand around it and that’s the brand for the whole institute; all our publicity and content has the hashtag on it. Five years on, we’re thinking about changing it to #beexceptionalbeateacher though we may not for readability purposes! (It’s a bit long winded!)
What does creativity in teaching mean to you?
In my opinion, every single interaction you have with a student or another human being is a creative one. To get the very best for their students, teachers have to be extremely creative because they’re constantly having to deal with what’s that child thinking about. The main element of creativity is actually the human interaction -- and that’s where we get the very best teaching, I would argue.
What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of your job (if you were to pick one for each)?
Now this one is both challenging and rewarding. I like being at the intersection between government policy and its implementation. Teacher education is always in the spotlight in the UK -- not a week goes by that we don’t panic about the supply of teachers etc. I like to be in that space, but it’s also hugely challenging because I don’t control the leaders who shape what happens, the decisions or the policy makers.
Working with my staff is totally rewarding, as is the service that we give to children, young people and their communities which is what motivates me, ultimately. I have an excellent team full of creative, enthusiastic, forward looking and curious people keen to do our very best for students.
Politicians are always coming up with strategies of how to tackle the teacher shortage in the UK. The Times recently reported that secondary schools are being encouraged to share teachers in subjects where there are shortages of trained staff, for instance. What do you think the long-term solution is?
I think we should improve teachers’ terms and conditions; I think they’re underpaid and possibly overworked. (I know the government is currently looking at the workload issue.) We’ve also had 10 or even 20 years of bad mouthing teachers in the media and blaming them for society’s ills. If you do that to a profession, it has a knock effect and influences people’s decision to pursue it as a career.
Because, as society, we’ve all been to school, we think we know about teaching. Now if I told you that I’d had a heart operation and just by virtue of having had the operation I knew how to perform heart surgery, you’d think I was mad! But in education just because we’ve gone to school we feel we have the right to say what education should be like.
We allow people, when it comes to education and teaching, to make statements that we wouldn’t with any other profession. That’s partly because of the media but it’s partly a societal thing, I think. So I’d increase the value of the profession and the respect that we give it, while accepting that it’s a hugely complicated job which people do extremely well at in very difficult circumstances.
There is some research which suggests that if you stay five years as a teacher you’ll stay for the rest of your career -- so it’s those early years where people get very tired and some demotivated. So we need to think about what we could do to intervene during that period terms of CPD and professional activities. Perhaps it’s following in the footsteps of other professions by giving people the opportunity to go back to a university to reflect on their practice and re-skill themselves ready to go back into the classroom.
I also think we need to consider flexibility so that people can have personal lives as well, particularly at senior leadership level. With the 21st century being what it is, I think it’s time to rethink leadership roles -- but that’s a bigger, broader question!
"I’d increase the value of the [teacher] profession and the respect that we give it, while accepting that it’s a hugely complicated job which people do extremely well at in very difficult circumstances."
I think we should also make teaching in a challenging school the gold standard to aspire to. And I think we should do all we can to raise the profile of the profession - it’s a great job! We’re the South West hub for the Chartered College of Teaching so we’re very keen on working with other organisations that value teachers and teaching.
You’re also a visiting professor at University of Pretoria in South Africa. How does the UK teacher education system compare to others?
The English teacher education system is different compared with the rest of the world, as is the education system itself. In most other countries there’s a link between the local community and their schools. For instance, the US has school boards with elected members. In Australia, where I also do a bit of work, there’s a relationship between the universities that are training and developing teachers and their local policy makers with local politicians keen to use education research to shape the practice in schools and classrooms. So there’s a tighter link between research outcomes and policy changes.
We don’t have that sort of link anymore in England -- we used to when we had local education authorities. We’re now quite fragmented and atomised in many ways, and I think that makes some of those broader things that you might want to do around teacher supply and demand quite difficult. It also makes it more difficult to share excellent practice and research outcomes.
Decisions are made at a much lower level, be it by multi-academy trusts or at individual academy level. That makes some of the strategies the government comes up with very difficult to implement in England because in reality you can’t tell schools what to do anymore. We’ve broken the relationship between the policy makers and the local democracy.
What does your visiting professor role entail?
I do a little bit of teaching with the students and staff, a bit of lecturing. One of things I’m involved in through the University of Pretoria and my work at Bath Spa is the Global Learning Equity Network which is hosted by Newcastle University in Australia. It’s a big research project that I’m involved in around rethinking teacher education for the 21st century, exploring precisely the issues we spoke about earlier.
Of course there’s also research potential between Bath Spa and Pretoria and I’ve done a bit of work with my colleagues over there around the possibility of research into student wellbeing and comparisons between students in South Africa and students in England.
What are some of the things you’ve been discussing with the Global Learning Equity Network and what changes do you see happening in teacher education over the next few years?
We’ve approached it by asking the following question: if you were going to reinvent teacher education now from a blank piece of paper, what would you do? As a result we’ve been talking about AI, the fourth industrial revolution and in particular personalised learning. In an age where you can get information about anything from the internet, how do you equip people with the skills to distinguish between knowledge that is sound and that which is for want of a better phrase, ‘fake news’. I believe we already have those skills, but again, it’s about re-honing them.
One of the things we’re exploring is whether we should move towards project-based learning. John Fischetti who is my equivalent over at Newcastle University does a wonderful speech with an Alexa. It’ll respond to questions that require a factual answer but when you ask it, for example, ‘how do you solve climate change’, it can’t provide a response. The global issues that we’re all facing need far more sophisticated skills which I don’t think we’ll ever get from computers.
It really comes down to the question of how do you build a curriculum that enables young people to use the knowledge they can get from the internet and apply it to those big questions that, in a sense, AI will never be able to solve. Human nuance is much more sophisticated. That’s what enables someone, for instance, to get a reluctant child to read. It’s also why I think teaching and education in its broader sense is so fundamentally important.
Could you tell us a little bit more about the equality and diversity steering group and your work with them?
Yes. I chair it on behalf of the Vice Chancellor at Bath Spa. It includes representation from four faculties and is about driving forward on our equality and diversity agenda. There’s a great temptation with things like this to draw up an action plan and then do very little about it.
"In an age where you can get information about anything from the internet, how do you equip people with the skills to distinguish between knowledge that is sound and that which is for want of a better phrase, ‘fake news’."
I wanted to shift the culture and focus more on ‘celebration work’. We have an annual equalities week where we get external speakers to come in as well as our own staff to discuss big issues around topics like underrepresentation, the attainment gap for black students and the institutional neglect of black women professors (see Nicola Rollock’s report).
For us, it’s about acknowledging that we already do some things really well while thinking about how we can use and expand on those to make sure that we’re truly inclusive and supportive.
...Last question! With so much going on professionally, what do you do to relax?
My husband and I see a lot of theatre, we listen to music and go out and about - all those wonderful things that I’m lucky enough to be able to do. I’m just as happy binge watching The Wire as I would be going to the local cinema to see Green Book!
My Job in Higher Ed is a monthly series. Take a look at our other interviews.