Do we need heroes?

Two of my edu heroes have recently blogged about being viewed as heroes: Bianca Hewes and Alice Leung, both in response to an ‘encounter’ with Valerie Hannon, Director of Innovation Unit and founding faculty member of the Global Education Leaders Program (GELP).

The incident revolve around Alice being called a hero teacher and Bianca being stumped as to what sort of support she needed to sustain the [amazing] work that she does. I encourage you to read their blogposts for their responses.

I’m posting to present another perspective and perhaps, in response to some of the negative reactions towards Hannon – a lady I’ve never met or heard of until now.

See, when I first saw the word ‘hero’ in this whole thing, my first thought was the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) levels – something I came across when still working in software development (my career prior to teaching) in the process of effecting business process change (yes, in the era of Business Process Re-engineering…geez, I feel old). That’s when I first heard of an organisation being predominantly of hero-mentality and that this wasn’t good because successes depended on individuals who can not be with the company forever (people move, people die). So then, it was important to capture expertise (think Knowledge Management) and roll out ‘best practices’ (think Process Management).

Business Process Re-engineering meant Change Management which meant having change agents, across all levels of the organisations – a combination of top-down and grassroots change. I worked as an IT Process Manager, I knew that without grassroots support, none of my “peddled” best practices would’ve been implemented, let alone managed or optimised.

Back then, we were in Level 1 – chaotic, ad hoc, hero mentality and aiming for Level 2 – Repeatable processes….and the holy grail: Level 5 – Optimising.

I think Hannon may be coming from this perspective, i.e. for good change to be sustainable, it’s got to be more than grassroots level – her response to Bianca suggested as much (you’ve read Bianca’s post by now, right?). One cannot be behind GELP and not push for the value of leadership as necessary in effecting sustainable change.

I agree.

It’s not that being a hero is undesirable as such. We need heroes. I certainly do.  Really, it’s just that heroes are not  enough.

I love that Bianca and Alice blog because they actually document and share their work so others can do them, too (think Level 2 – repeatable). They blog and tweet about their successes and questions and doubts ….altogether painting a very human picture; these are the type of heroes I love. I’m not a hero nor do I aspire to be. That’s not really the point, because I am a teacher, grassroots level in the educational hierarchy. I am dancing with the lone nut, awkwardly, but dancing nonetheless. I blog even, in the hope that some of the stuff I do can be repeated (OR AVOIDED).

BUT, I also believe that heroes are not enough.  Change has to happen at many levels. I see hope because I know people like Cameron PatersonJohn GohEdna SacksonMatt Esterman– and many many more who are trying to effect sustainable change in different ways, at different levels of the organisation. Of course, I would MUCH prefer that we actually worked in the same school!

As for CMM, check out the critique. In an environment where there are so many variables, even heroes doing exactly the same thing can get different ‘results’. We are dealing with people, individuals – not programmable software with predictable results. By the way, this is an insight to my critique of applying corporate practices into education, e.g. performance pay, but that is subject of another post…if I get ”round to it.

Change is afoot. I am part of it. Are you?




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

3 thoughts on “Do we need heroes?

  1. Britt Gow says:

    Hi Malyn,
    Thanks for this timely post and your comparison of education and the business model. I agree that we should be very wary of applying corporate practises to education and I think you and I would have many of the same reservations about performance pay and ‘productivity gains’!
    I am not sure that ‘hero’ is the right word for teachers, when the focus should be on the learners and their achievements and when it is never just one teacher that helps a student to realize their dreams. Sure, there are teachers who achieve great results with many students and hopefully these teachers share their ideas and strategies for the benefit of education as a whole.
    Keep up the great work and thanks for prompting me to reflect on these ideas.
    Best Regards, Britt Gow.

    • malyn says:

      Thanks for your comment. I think that sometimes the need for affirmation prevents us from seeking other perspectives and that was one of my objectives for this post, i.e. present another point-of-view. And there are more.

      Another objective was as you picked up yourself (and built on). Maybe hero is not a good term; I mentioned I don’t want to be a hero myself. I don’t like ‘change agent’ either. Not so sure about champion (as in to champion a cause) either. Or leader. Or lone nut. What is that elusive term? I don’t know.

      You are one of my early heroes (until I think of a better term) and I’m glad we’re still in touch. It takes two, doesn’t it? I’m truly grateful for your continued support.


  2. Britt Gow says:

    My pleasure Malyn – I have fond memories of the blogging challenge too!
    I am so glad an intelligent and reflective person like you switched careers into education – keep up the great work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *