I am not the only one who can remember how they felt the first time they heard Sir Ken Robinson speak at an event.
I knew of Ken and the report he had produced for the UK Government in 1999, All Our Futures, but I had never heard him speak. In fact, I don’t think I even knew what he looked like. This was before he became TED Ken and certainly before the power of social media.
The day I saw him speak, I stood at the back of the vast hall as he climbed to the stage, walking stick in hand. I wasn’t really sure what to expect and I was a little caught up in my own thoughts. I was a new Headteacher dealing with the dawning realities of the job, then he opened his mouth and began…
One of his most famous books, The Element, had an original working title of Epiphany and in that moment, stood at the back of that hall, that is what I had. I had an epiphany. Everything he said was not only brilliantly and hysterically communicated but made complete sense. He was putting into words, everything I believed as an educator. Actually, in that moment, and I know I’m not the only one, I had to choke back a tear.
He spoke with such passion, precision and intelligence about our children, the challenges they would face and what we need to do about it. He did so with eloquence and humility. It took seconds to realise that on that day, in that room, we were in the presence of greatness.
What I didn’t know was that by the end of the day, I would have found a mentor, a friend, a professional father who would change my life.
People often say beware of meeting your heroes, they will so often disappoint you in person. Anyone lucky enough to have met Ken and spend time in his company will say that he was everything and more. He was the most generous, authentic and humble genius I have ever known and am ever likely to.
His total commitment to education, creativity, the arts and human potential were carved from his own life and the challenges he had experienced and overcome from childhood. We are all so lucky that his epiphany, his element, was to work with us and all our children for their futures.
I owe Ken so, so much… his mentorship helped as we evolved the philosophy that drove Grange, my school, and later, helping me to transition into a new career, to share my story, my passion and my experiences. Ken was never blinded by ego or fear but was driven by an abundance of hope and belief in the power and potential of people.
He was a relentless pursuer of excellence in both his own work and in the work of others. As my mentor, I will never forget the moment when, having read the first draft of my first book, he called me and told me that it wasn’t good enough and needed rewriting. He helped of course and took the time to teach me the craft of an author. It also meant that when the praise came, you knew it wasn’t superficial but deep, sincere and earned.
Ken had time for everyone, he loved meeting people, learning about them and their stories. He was relentlessly curious and deeply reflective.
Of course, one of his greatest gifts was his ability to communicate and like all of the greats, he had the incredible skill of being able to take highly complex and challenging concepts and make them simple to understand; he was a master educator.
Ken was unique. A wonderfully special soul, a man who brought light and laughter to so many. His intellect and insight challenged, transformed and enlightened us all but most importantly, he was kind, authentic and steeped in integrity.
I will be one of many millions who will miss him deeply.
There were many times we talked of legacy, it was something so very important to him.
His legacy in many ways is us and the best we can do now, is through our behaviours, our commitment to each other, our children and the future, do what we can to live by his principles and endeavour to make him proud.