I recently attended a teacher development day at which an enthusiastic coordinator insisted on initiating proceedings with an ice-breaker. Predictably, the suggestion provoked a collective groan. The activity involved each teacher divulging one thing about him- or herself which others in the group would find surprising. It turned out to be a right eye-opener.
One colleague revealed he had fought in the Falklands and was on board a ship that was struck by an Argentine missile. Another said she was a karate champion. By contrast, a depute head admitted he attended calligraphy classes to help him unwind after a stressful day at school. Another depute head confessed that he enjoyed reading cowboy stories. One of our newer teachers told us he had been a car mechanic before returning to education and earning his teaching qualification - rather foolishly, I thought, because I suspect the poor fellow will now be the first port of call for teachers with car problems.
I asked the coordinator what hidden talents had come out at other workshops. He gave a long list of accomplishments including playing in rock bands, working for the Samaritans and representing the country in various sports. There must be quite a number of teachers with skills, hobbies and travel experiences that remain hidden from their colleagues. Yet many of these talents could and should be exploited for the benefit of everyone, particularly our students.
Indeed, this has been the case in my school. The former soldier, for example, now gives talks to assemblies and classes undertaking projects in history and religious education. He can provide insights into the horrors of war that are far more vivid than any book.
Our schools are communities of talent. There are, for example, some very eloquent speakers who rarely have opportunity to deliver outwith their classrooms. Why pay a professional to provide a motivational talk when someone within the school is more than competent at delivering it? Those school leaders who provide bland monthly newsletters for parents might consider exploiting the talents of staff who are competent at writing and laying out pages. Some of our maths teachers are geniuses at the kind of intricate thinking required to draw up timetables, yet convention dictates that such tasks are often the remit of senior management or costly external consultants. Making use of staff expertise will often involve setting aside egos. But let's be critical of those who would opt for second best rather than call on the talents of an unpromoted member of the team.
Failing to develop a student's full potential is something we, as educators, should always endeavour to avoid. The same principle should be applied to our staff, even if it means more ice-breakers and collective groans to uncover all those hidden talents.
John Greenlees is a secondary school teacher in Scotland