• Stewart Knights

An Interview with Sir John Jones - A Magic Weaver

Updated: Feb 1, 2020

This is part 1 of a 2 part interview with the brilliant Sir John Jones. You can find his website here

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Sir John Jones on a rainy Monday morning and asking him a range of questions about his life and career. The wealth of knowledge and experience we were able to touch on in this conversation made it one of the most fulfilling rainy Monday mornings I have had in a long time; and I am so grateful for the time he was able to spend with me, and the fact I can now write about it to be read by others.

Sir John Jones had traditional origins as a teacher, gradually moving up the hierarchy to become a headteacher. However, there was nothing inherently ‘traditional’ about his life outside of his schools, as he spent a significant portion of his life entertaining on-stage as part of a band. Whilst part of this band, Sir John reflected that whilst the medium may not have been traditional, the progression from playing in pubs to entertaining at larger gigs was - and had significant parallels to his progression as a teacher. Most importantly, both offered great scope for his progression as a public speaker and, more simply, a great story-teller.

As a result of seizing opportunity after opportunity, Sir John went from speaking to a room of 10 people all sat on reception-sized chairs in Liverpool on a rainy Tuesday, to speaking to a conference of police officers, to a conference in Dubai with a vast audience of international teachers and then “finally”, all over the world. At this point, Sir Johns’ work took on real energy and dynamism and the phone started ringing all around the world. This wasn’t luck, however, but instead was a combination of being good; involving the ability to inform, entertain and inspire with the most important being the ability to entertain, and the right type of serendipity (which we will discuss later in the article).

What is the biggest obstacle education faces in overcoming box-ticking methods of teaching?

The answer is three-fold. Firstly, “The Assessment Beast” has to be wrestled to the ground as it has grown to be central to the business of education. By this, Sir John suggested that there was an over-reliance on assessments as quantifying a child’s abilities. Furthermore, he also suggested that this is widely known in the education sector - but few know what to do about it or want to deal with it due to the size and ferocity of the beast.

Secondly, Sir John asked me when I thought the curriculum for schools was developed. I was shocked to hear that it was in the Victorian era with only one change, wifery and husbandry have morphed into design technology. So what is the solution to this? Well, Sir John suggested that the curriculum should be based around the individual passions of young people. A simple, yet effective solve.

Thirdly and most importantly, we need to change our mindset about performance. The Greeks and Romans saw ‘genius’ as separate from the individual, a muse or force that would come down to ‘visit’ someone before leaving. They talked of ‘having the genius’ not ‘being a genius’. It was during the renaissance that rational humanistic thinking placed the person at the centre of of the universe and the genius was resident in a small few - notions such as academic and non-academic were born of this thinking. You either had it or you didn’t. The fixed notion of being a genius entered our thinking and haunts us to today. Carol Dwecck’s work on Growth Mindset has broadened our thinking and, far more inclusively, sees great potential in everyone. Our ability is not fixed we can all improve, develop and grow.

In conclusion, the education field needs to slay the three beasts and open the way for more free-thinking.

How have you found that public speaking has enhanced your career?

Sir John mentioned that he had a traditional route through education, which in turn gave him a lot of practice with public-speaking. It was during his second headship that someone came up to him and asked him if he would like to be heard again on a larger scale. From here, his bookings exploded and he was asked to talk about his experiences to larger audiences, on a larger scale in further out places.

In which case, public speaking didn’t enhance his career - but instead changed it (for the better). However, this wasn’t a blind jump and he didn’t jump off the edge randomly - Sir John had a safety net in the form of consistent work with the University of Manchester and various think- tanks. Put another way, transitions can be daunting but even career changing ones can be navigated with minimal/managed risk. It was here that we touched again on the different types of serendipity and Sir John conveyed that there were three main types; Columbian, Newtonian and Galilean, all with distinct differences.

Firstly, Columbian serendipity is named after the serially lucky Christopher Columbus in his tumultuous quest to find new land. Simply, Columbian serendipity can be described as being down to simple luck.

Secondly, there exists Newtonian serendipity after a man who certainly had the genius more often than others, Isaac Newton. This flavour differs in the fact that there is active effort to achieve some goal, and it is the constant thought that gives you that “lucky” moment. For Mr Newton, this was his quest to decipher how to measure objects with irregular volume which saw him taking one of the more memorable baths of his life.

Thirdly, we have Galilean serendipity relating to the star-gazer Galileo Galilei. This type of serendipity is about conviction. The practice of doing all the research, dotting all your i’s and crossing all your t’s and, as a result, knowing you’re right. This doesn’t mean such a person doesn’t have an open-mind, however. Rather, this serves to illustrate a practice of really “making your own luck”.

You can find a more attractive version of these images on our instagram here.

In the next installment of this incredible interview, we will be going over Sir Johns' responses to the following questions:

  • Where do you feel your passion comes from and how have you made it accessible for other people?

  • How important are public speaking skills for teachers?

  • What is the biggest event hosted/attended by yourself and how did you prepare?

  • How do you typically prepare for a presentation and what would you define your “style” as?

Once again, thank you much to Sir John for the valuable insight that he was able to give on his extensively successful career and the nuance of public speaking and the education field.

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