Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today, Author Richard Gerver talks organisational communication via Disneyland

IT’S TIME TO TAKE THE MICKEY!

A few years ago, after much scrimping and saving, my wife and I were able to take our children to Disney. I am not sure who was more excited; I know that I didn’t sleep the night before we left! I also remember the feeling each day as Cinderella’s castle came into view; a fast beating heart and the sense that something special was about to happen; every day was like a new adventure!
I have often been laughed at when I tell people that upon taking up my Headship in 2001, I asked the staff one question; how do we turn our school into Disneyland? I realise that this may appear to be a daft enquiry to some; somewhat trivial, almost naïve to others, but I was serious. I am a committed and I hope, highly professional, educator who chose teaching as most do, because I wanted to make a difference to children’s lives; to help to prepare them for the challenges and opportunities in their futures; the moral imperative. In no way did the asking of that question seek to devalue or make light of the incredible responsibilities we carry as teachers, it was a symbolic way of underlining to my new colleagues that during my tenure as Head our job was to focus on our primary customers; our children.
As educators we know that successful learning can only occur in schools filled with happy people; staff, parents, governors but most importantly, children. We know that learning is most successful when our students are engaged, excited, intrigued and we know that teachers are at their best when they demonstrate passion and enthusiasm. When I was given the extraordinary privilege of taking on my Headship, I wanted to help create a school where people arrived in the morning with their hearts beating faster; it’s why I asked the Disney question. I knew that we would be on the way to success, when on a cold February morning, in the middle of the winter virus season, if our pupils woke up with a sore throat and they would still want to come to school, in the same way that if they were waking up in Paris on that same cold morning, with the same condition, nothing would stop them on their trip to Walt’s world.
As a profession, we know more about learning, brain and emotional development and the links between them, than we ever have. Every Child Matters gave us the political mandate to do what we have always known was right; to educate the whole child. There is rightly still huge concern around the issues of inclusion and achievement, but the solutions do not come in the shape of targets, or in rows of desks and more prescriptive approaches to teaching and learning, the solutions lie in refocusing the agenda. We have to make learning matter to our kids, for some, for the first time, for others to ensure that they can rediscover that joy. For that to happen learning must be rich in context and purpose; children must be able to see the links to their own lives and how by engaging in education, it makes things better and can make their hearts beat a little faster.
Although I blame the advertising industry for many, many things; including the rows I have with my teenage daughter over shopping and pocket money! I am fascinated by the science of their craft; after all, if we could convince our children to buy in to school as a brand in the same way they do certain technologies or clothing lines we’d be on to a winner, wouldn’t we? Interestingly, there are two questions that branding experts ask of new clients when taking on a brief, the first is;
What do you want to stand for in the eyes of your customer?
And the second is:
How are you going to shape your behaviours, as an organisation, so that you support the response to the first question?
Whether we like it or not, our children are incredibly sophisticated consumers; they are the first truly ‘on demand’ generation. The future of education does not lie in how we control them but how we sell to them; a great education is one of the foundations of a successful society; it is of more value than any computer game, pair of trainers or music download and we need to ensure that children feel that. At its best learning stirs the senses, quickens the pulse and fires the imagination; much like Disney.
Education is a serious business, so is the Disney Corporation, it after all, one of the world’s most successful organisations. At the heart of the Disney ethos are the concepts of education and entertainment and as a result they captivate generation after generation, it strikes me that great schools follow exactly the same formula.

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