Success Against the Odds, Brett Wigdortz

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I’ve known about Teach First for a long time, and I’ve always known that when I did eventually do my teachers training, it would be with Teach First. There’s just something about it. Simon Sinek’s ‘The Golden Circle’ basically sums it up for me… ‘People don’t buy what you do, but why you do it’. Teach First has a clear vision and passion – that no child’s educational success would be defined by their socio-economic background. This is something I can get on board with, something that I have always felt passionately about. So, her I am in April, starting the Teach First summer institute in just 3 months, and I decided that reading Brett’s book about how he came to found Teach First, why it looks like it does and what, exactly, his vision is, would be a great stepping stone into the training. This is especially poignant as I am aware that I am a part of the last cohort to go through Teach First with Brett as CEO, as he has decided to step down to follow another venture. What he has created, though, will stand firm even in his absence, because people didn’t so much buy into Brett himself as the concept he had – he is no longer the only one passionate enough to hold Teach First together, and I’m really excited to start my journey with them at this time of transition.

Starting Teach First

Brett is a great example of the idea that you can have no idea about something, but if you feel passionate enough, you are able to make a difference. Whilst his family were educators, Brett himself worked in marketing, had the majority of his experiences in business in South East Asia, and is an American. How he came to run the leading teacher’s training in England, then, seems a little improbable. But Brett saw a problem, developed, as part of his role, a way to begin to address it, and because he was the one with the vision and the drive for his project, remained in the UK to see it through. 15 years later, I am about to commence on the training that he developed! This isn’t just a book for teachers, educational professionals or those with a special interest in Teach First. It’s an inspirational tale of a man who decided to make a difference, and did.

The layout

I actually really enjoyed the layout of the novel. I am not an entrepreneur. I have no desire to start my own business or charity, and I am in this to be the best teacher that I can possibly be. But Brett’s book isn’t as exclusive as that. There are helpful parts throughout in which he takes his practical experiences of Teach First and morphs them into a guide which can be applied to anyone starting anywhere, in any sector. Whilst for me, the tales of teachers and pupils were the highlight, I would recommend that anyone who has a vision for a charity take a look at the book as it contains some really handy entrepreneurial tips.

The motivation

The tagline of Success Against the Odds is ‘five lessons in how to achieve the impossible’. It’s hard to believe that 15 years ago, the vision that Brett had was laughed at, or dismissed out of hand, by so many, when now it is a force to be reckoned with throughout the UK, and places thousands of participants in schools every single year.

In some ways, I feel like Wigdortz wrote this to be studied by Teach First members. Each chapter very clearly relates to an aspect of the 5 key elements of leadership: Commitment; Integrity; Excellence; Leadership; Collaboration. He writes it almost like an A Level essay, trying to hit the correct number of times in relating the story or point back to the original question, or in this context, element. It was, in many ways, really helpful as an incoming participant to see how Brett had to both learn about and learn how to apply these skills in his development of Teach First, and also to come to understand the high expectations of leadership that Teach First has. They can preach at us as much as they want, but seeing their expectations in practice by the man who developed their model, is a far more effective way of helping them to sink in. I wonder whether this will become compulsory reading once I begin my course, as I do feel it offers insights that they simply won’t have time to give us in the 5 weeks of training before we begin our careers as teachers.

Conclusion

I was doubtful as to how much use Success Against the Odds would be for me, having already been accepted on the course and knowing that I want to be a teacher, but actually, I have come away feeling that I know far more about Teach First than I did initially, and with a far greater understanding of the fight they had to make the route in teacher’s training as successful as it is today.

However, the wider reach of the book ensures that it is useful not only for those of us embarking on Teach First, but for anyone who is starting a business or charity, and needs to learn the value of positive and effective leadership. I strongly recommend this book, as it is quite light and easy to read, but certainly provides interesting perspectives.

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