My special guest on Voices from the North last night was Alison Collett. For 41 years Alison has been involved with education and she’s not finished yet. She’s been a teacher, a teacher of teachers, a principal (for 12 years) and is now retired working fulltime for the Ministry of Education helping schools, teachers and principals around the Far North. Obviously, Alison’s definition of retirement is different from its usual meaning!

Alison is one of those rare individuals who has known from very early on what she wanted to do and she’s done it. She’s one of those lucky people who does what she loves and is rewarded for it.

Her primary focus is and has been from her first year of teaching, student-centred-learning. Not all people learn in the same way. There are primarily visual, auditory and kinaesthetically oriented learners. The teacher needs to discover the leanings of each student and apply methods of teaching that meld with the individual’s skills. Teachers do this to varying degrees and, as Alison says, are not necessarily supported by a standards-based system.

I urge you to listen to this interview  to gain insight into the mind of a compassionate, committed educator. We can all learn from this.

Below are a few paraphrased quotes from Alison:

You are not a good teacher unless you are continuing to learn yourself.

 You cannot teach someone. You can only motivate them to learn.

 The top down authoritative approach, whether applied in the home, the workplace or the school only gets compliance. It doesn’t get internalised commitment.

 The teacher is the servant of the pupils.

 The goal of the teacher is to help students find and follow their passions and their dreams.

Our discussion covered the work of deep thinkers in the educational arena. People like Jim Collins and his “Hedgehog Concept” (as enunciated in his huge bestseller Good to Great) were recommended by Alison for those wishing to delve in more depth into the education of today and tomorrow.

In essence Collins says great companies tend to be hedgehogs; companies that know one thing and stick to it almost like a religion. Good companies, or worse, are characterized as foxes, companies that know many things yet lack consistency. This sounds like, “The jack of all trades and the master of none.”

The Hedgehog Concept is about asking three seemingly simple but really difficult interrelated questions – what are you deeply passionate about? What can you be the best in the world at? What drives your economic engine? The nexus is your Hedgehog Concept – the one big thing.

This concept can apply to so much more than companies. Look at Alison Collett. She has continued to focus almost entirely on finding ways to help students learn. This moves her from a good to a great educator. Again, we can all think about this one. Everyone knows how uncomfortable it feels to be spread too thin and to wear too many hats.

Alison mentioned the wonderful work of Terry Crooks at Otago University and Charles Handy (‘The world by and large has to be reinvented’) and Stephen Covey (The Eighth Habit).

The complete interview can be found here:

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John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.