If you have been teaching for enough years to have knowledge, expertise, advice and guidance to share with other schools, you might want to consider becoming an adviser. As part of a blended career, being an adviser either full or part time is a powerful way of helping to shape the education on offer to children in this country, as well as contribute to the quality of experience that teachers and other staff have in a school.
As a head of department, I cherished the days when my adviser came into school. We had time to talk about pedagogy, resources and direction of travel, as well as exploring pupil progress. It was invigorating to have such professional dialogues and helped me to feel as though the task of running the department was being supported through the work I did with my adviser.
Éamonn Whelan is the Founding Partner at Yearwood Education and a Senior Adviser at The Association of Education Advisers. He feels that it is important to distinguish between the skills required to be an adviser and those required to be a leader. He explained, “At their best, the adviser will enable, challenge, listen, persuade and influence. They bring credibility and reassurance, with a professional presence, creating and sustaining mutual respect. I undertook excellent training with the Association of Education Advisers, which I highly recommend.”
Schools and their staff can derive great benefits from working with advisers. “An adviser can mobilise the knowledge of the academy or school, by applying a thorough knowledge of current and emerging policy and strategy. The School and Trust Governance Investigative Report found that academy governance was at risk of being “too insular”. A fresh and informed pair of eyes can be critical,” Whelan explained. “A well-trained adviser can address system-wide and deep-rooted issues, in groups of schools or organisations, that require a complete rethink and/or an iterative programme of intervention.”
Specialist Advisor Mike Armiger (@MikeArmiger) has derived great satisfaction and joy from being an adviser to schools. “It’s an honour to be trusted with advising an organisation,” he said. “You’re not part of the organisation and that’s important because it means you retain independence of thought, judgement and systems. But it comes with great responsibility. That doesn’t mean you don’t get the opportunity to forge some pretty special relationships. Relationships are crucial in this role. But it’s not for the faint hearted.”
Whelan suggests that being an adviser can fit effectively into a blended career in education. He explained, “COVID-19 has taught us that face-to-face and virtual support dovetails perfectly with a blended career in education. Remote access creates opportunities for flexible advisory support.” This enhanced flexibility can mean that advisory work fits into your working week more easily and to great effect.
Whelan also suggests that the skills of integrity and a strong ability to create a professional rapport are key for advisers in the world of education when addressing sensitive and complex issues. “These skills are underpinned by commitment, resilience, fortitude, self-reliance and personal organisation,” he explained. “They use these highly developed interpersonal skills to understand the people dynamics within an organisation.”
This rings true for Armiger. He said, “You are tasked with advising school leadership. They are entrusting you and your advice impacts the whole school community. It’s pretty big stuff. But this is where the job satisfaction and importance of independence comes in for me. Because you have been asked to advise, the chances of your thoughts and experiences being taken seriously are high. It’s a different relationship when you’re independent. You’re not in the politics or the history. Although those are important, it allows you to maintain a sense of purpose. You are there purely to do the best thing by the school community. The best relationships I have are where I am not just tasked with finding the problems, but also being part of the solution. Developing policy, systems, training and much more, is where my role often feels like I’ve won the best job in the world competition. It also makes us accountable for the work we do, when we have a responsibility to do something about the issues we may uncover. Advisers are at their best when they have those relationships. Relationships full of ideas, honesty, guidance and care.”
Have things changed over time for the adviser in education? Whelan suspects they have. “The school adviser must move with the times. Schools are asking for less unintelligent over accountability and more support for wellbeing, through coaching and mentoring.”
If you are considering working as an adviser as part of a blended career in education, these case studies may offer inspiration:
“The biggest highlight of being an adviser is being invited to be part of a school community”
Alison Kriel (@AlisonKriel) is the founder of Above and Beyond Education which is an online community for people in education, harnessing the power of positivity and helping people to connect, share and support each other. She is also an adviser, mentor and public speaker. Here she explains what being an adviser means to her:
“I have the privilege of working as an adviser in education, in a broad range of settings, nationally and internationally. It’s an amazing role and every day is different. The initial part of being an adviser is developing a trusting relationship with the school leadership team and then ensuring time is given to understanding the school context so that the support given is appropriate. For me, my work begins with a long conversation with the headteacher, getting their perspective on what is working well in the school, and where the areas for development may be; what is and can be celebrated, and how you can build on that to address the aspects of the curriculum which are not okay. It is then critical to go and take a close look at the school, not to find holes but to understand the context with fresh eyes. I much prefer being guided round the school by a group of pupils as it’s important to understand the context from all aspects. Every school has its own uniqueness.
“My role varies. Sometimes I'm there specifically to support the headteacher who might be having a challenge or may be new to the role. They often simply want support in knowing that their school vision and values are in line with the strategic development. Reassurance is important. I also go in and support experienced leaders who maybe want fresh eyes, or someone to bounce their ideas off, or sometimes it's because there's an area for development that they don't have enough expertise in. Over the past year or so most headteachers have been reaching out to me to ask for support in developing a whole community plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion. And of course, because of Covid, schools have been more acutely aware of the need for a wellbeing strategy.
“The biggest highlight of being an adviser is being invited to be part of a school community. Close to that privilege is that, if like me you work everywhere, you have a window into the landscape of education and you get to witness the similarities, the trends, the patterns, the innovation, the sheer hard work and talent of our workforce nationally. I never fail to be proud and humbled by what I see.
“The benefits of working with schools as an adviser is that I then act as a conduit between each school and all the other schools. They each get a chance to gain from that experience and to know they are not alone in their challenges. It’s great to be able to share what I’ve seen but also to connect headteachers with each other, if they're doing similar things, because it's so much better to collaborate.
“Added to the mix is sharing my three decades of school experience. As an adviser I draw on the best of my experience as a headteacher, what I see with fresh eyes and an open mind. It always feels like a privilege to have people believing and trusting me to support them in their journey as a school leader and it’s a perfect route out of headship.”
“It's an honour to share my experience and expertise with the wider communities within schools”
Kelly Hannaghan (@mindworkmatters) is a mental health and wellbeing consultant. Here she explains how being an adviser helps her to support schools:
“Being a Mental Health and Wellbeing adviser in education has provided me with the opportunity to connect with many professionals within education and has helped me to stay connected to the differing landscapes within schools and settings.
“I build strong connections and cohesive relationships with professionals to help them develop a safe and nurturing space for young people to learn about themselves and the world they live in.
“My work allows me to explore the unique needs for school staff, young people and their families, whilst supporting the development of a whole school approach for mental health and wellbeing.
“I feel it's an honour to share my experience and expertise with the wider communities within schools and have seen first-hand the difference this collaborative journey has had on the people in education.”
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.