Plenary session by Adrian Underhill

This plenary talk looks at the connections between three fields – systems thinking, post-heroic leadership and learning at the organisational and individual level.

About the session

Mess and progress

ELT has been characteristically open to influences and feeder fields. I would like to draw attention to two emerging and connected fields which, though perhaps less discussed, already impact on our profession.

  1. Systems thinking and action – developed in the last few decades to enable us to see and talk about the complex 'messes' we find ourselves in, and to act in the midst of them.
  2. Post-heroic leadership practices (emerging out of the failure of traditional forms of leadership to deal adequately with 'messes') which resonate well with the activity of teaching.

These two fields can embrace almost any human activity, and they also connect with a third more familiar field, that of learning at organisational and individual levels. I will highlight some ways in which these fields taken together afford us different perspectives on our work in education, and offer some suggestions from the systemic perspective.

About the speaker

I work as a consultant with schools wishing to develop their organizational intelligence, and as a trainer conducting programmes on facilitation and leadership skills. Current positions include educational consultant to Study Group UK, principal tutor on the Oxford University summer seminar for EL teachers, and trainer on Pilgrims teacher programmes. Prior to 1999 I was Director of the International Teacher Training Institute at IH Hastings. Outside ELT I am an Associate of the National School of Government, and spent six years as tutor for Leaders UK, a Cabinet Office initiative to develop connected up leadership across UK public services. I also tutored on leadership development programmes for the Bath University MBA. I have enjoyed a long association with IATEFL, starting the Teacher Development SIG in 1984, and serving as IATEFL President. I am series editor of the Macmillan Books for Teachers, author of Sound Foundations: Learning and Teaching Pronunciation, and recently brought out SOUNDS: The Pronunciation App. Current interests include applications of action inquiry and reflective practices in professional learning, and the role of improvisation in teaching.

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