Thought leadership has a number of definitions, though it ultimately revolves around having a comprehensive knowledge of your sector, and the insight to make informed suggestions about where your industry is heading, and why. Beyond that, it also means putting your money where your mouth is, and delivering the goods to prove why your predictions were worth listening to in the first place.
But what is it about working in further education that can give you a voice and a perspective that’s worth listening to?
This one is something of a no-brainer, but if you work in further education, particularly at a senior executive level, you will have a wealth of experience to draw upon. College directors or principals see how the FE landscape has shifted on a macro level over time and can use these observations to make predictions about how that landscape could change in the future—the very definition of thought leadership.
The foresight to see these changes before they happen within the wider FE sector is one which is not often held by those who deal in pure academia. Subject teachers, while intensely knowledgeable in their fields of study, may not be as aware of the wider patterns within further education itself. And while a director may not know the ins and outs of every subject taught within their institution, they will be able to intuitively interpret broader educational trends and apply them to individual subject disciplines.
You might not have thought of it in this capacity before but working in FE is, in itself, considered leadership. As the head of the class, a teacher is already someone who leads lessons and imparts knowledge; meanwhile, experienced teachers often note how a class responds to a previous year’s lesson plan, and make amendments to make the subject more interesting for future students.
These are, in their way, no different from the skills which encapsulate thought leadership at a wider level; a teacher makes their lessons as interesting as possible by combining their personal skill set with their experience. Coupled with knowledge of your subject area, this awareness of what students respond to is the perfect breeding ground for thought leadership. This is especially true for those teaching vocational courses, who will not only know about the basic tenets of the career in question, but the broader state of the industry.
Further education teaching roles are part-time posts, dictated around term times; however, many FE roles are also sessional, organised through agencies. This allows workers in the FE sector to supplement their income through private tuition, running evening classes, and other academic pursuits related to their field of study, which can further broaden your experience of the field. It also gives FE teachers the opportunity to work for multiple institutions in different capacities, giving them additional opportunities to broaden their knowledge of the FE sector at last.
The part time nature of further education work means that staff have the time to focus on developing their own brand as a thought leader; that is to say, they can hone in on their areas of expertise, taking what they have learned in the field as the basis for independent writing about the industry. FE teachers can also use this time to use platforms such as Medium or LinkedIn to articulate their views and opinions, as well as to engage with others in the sector. This can build your name recognition, further enhancing your reputation in the industry, and set you up as a thought leader in your chosen subject area.