Schools and teachers are expected to raise young people ready to tackle today’s challenges, yet teachers’ education fails to prepare them for this role. Robert Greve educates a new generation of teachers, and is broadly redefining the role of teachers, empowering them and their schools to open up to and make use of the wealth of external expertise and offers available in their surroundings to shape truly multi-professional schools advancing students’ education.
Die neue Idee
With the background of his own upbringing and teacher training, Robert Greve has realized the largest lever to systemic change in education lies in changing the teacher’s role. Schools and teachers are expected to raise young people ready to tackle the challenges of our complex world. But the idea that “it takes a village to raise a child” has never been more true.
For Robert, the answer to the challenge of enabling a holistic, up-to-date and high quality education is to build strong multi-professional schools. These are schools that do not exist in closed silos but whose teachers become facilitators with easy access to the wealth of external expertise and resources around them: professionals, companies, citizen sector organizations, universities or public institutions. Key to allow this development is both the paradigm shift in teacher education as well as the systematization of how schools are enabled to make use of external resources. Through this, schools grow to be places for diversified and practical learning, lower the burden on often overwhelmed teachers and raise students’ performance, as well as being enabled to react flexibly and quickly to new developments in what students need to learn.
First, Robert has successfully introduced his program “students make school” in which teachers-to-be collect teaching experience by giving skills and method courses to students. Even more important, Robert’s teachers learn about team-teaching and realize the benefits of a redefined teachers’ role being a very broad-minded one. Beyond scaling this program, he decided to build an online market place for all offers of this kind. With both school administration and a closely knit net of stakeholders on board, he developed and launched “SchulePlus”, the first online hub with an integrated web of trust to systematically match available external expertise and resources and teachers’ needs for their school. With a combination of imbuing a new generation of teachers with a collaborative attitude, developing and implementing needs-based tools and fostering a network among schools and teachers, Robert can be seen as a serial entrepreneur working step by step towards empowering modern schools in Germany and far beyond as multi-professional schools ready to tackle today’s educational challenges.
According to studies, nowadays 70% of all learning needs are covered through informal learning processes rather than traditional school lessons. In addition, today´s challenges call for an education which allows young students to unfold their potential and critical thinking abilities alongside learning about current issues such as climate change, digital evolution, and technological development, to name a couple.
Teachers, however, are not prepared for their resulting new role. Teacher education in Germany still focuses heavily on teachers as being the experts in their subjects rather than a more flexible role appropriate for an ever-changing world, namely a mixture of expert and facilitator, of coach and street worker – all in order to meet the various educational needs of today’s students. In addition, most educational programs do not include actual teaching experiences throughout their course, which leads to a “reality shock” for many teachers once they enter schools after graduation. Far too late, a large number of teachers realize this is not the job they are made for.
What adds to this challenge is that school cultures often still reflect a closed-shop attitude, resulting in many teachers feeling they have to manage it all by themselves. A culture of empowerment and sharing of experiences is often missing. This leads to severe consequences; according to a widely discussed study, 60% of all teachers in Germany are at high risk of burnout, the highest rate across all professions. They are motivated to do a great job, especially at the beginning, but are also overwhelmed by the expectations they feel are set on them.
Looking at schools as ecosystems, there are a variety of different types. There are already many schools collaborating with external partners, but simultaneously, cooperation is left to chance. There is no structured for formal offers, efficient matchmaking mechanisms, institutionalization or internalization. Schools receive many offers for students from external stakeholders such as sports clubs, companies or cultural institutions, but often do not have internal mechanisms to sufficiently deal with them (recognize them, sort them, evaluate them and have them handy just at the time when needed by one teacher or another). At the same time, the need for schools to extend their portfolio grows with the rising trend towards all-day schools (9am to 3/5pm) – a challenge, but also an immense opportunity to open school ecosystems up for more cooperation.
During his teacher training, Robert became convinced that teachers needed to redefine their role – and that this had to happen already during their education. That is why, as a first step, he introduced a program leading to a paradigm change in teacher education in 2008, “Studenten machen Schule” (Students Make School). It aims at educating a generation of teachers that follows a different self-image and is thus prepared for the new flexibility needed in their job.
The key concept is simple: teachers-to-be get the chance to gain practical teaching experience and shape their role and self-understanding through holding workshops at schools. These do not focus on traditional subjects, but on methods and soft skills such as “how to give a presentation” or “how to do research” – a real win-win situation, which also leads to higher acceptance among the existing group of teachers in a school. There are several aspects to Robert’s work that make it unique and deeply impactful. First, involved students drive the content development themselves within an innovation committee of SWiM Bildung, the organization Robert built to implement his programs. In this, students develop content in a very pragmatic way based on feedback and actual needs collected from students in different age groups and school types. Additionally, an accompanying program coaches the teachers-to-be before they enter school and also during the course of at least one full school year, in which an average of one or two workshops a month are given per student. This way the reflection and learning transfer is supported and participants grow into their new role.
Since the program started in 2008, it has reached 60,000 students at 765 schools in 6,500 workshops and involved 860 teachers-to-be at the locations of Berlin, Brandenburg, Hamburg and Munich (starting in August 2013). Key to this programs’ success is its set-up and the scaling strategy. What is always necessary is a university interested in actively supporting the program through advertisement and pro bono infrastructure. Schools involved usually pay for these workshops out of their flexible budgets for staff. This allows Robert to pay students for their work so they can engage fully instead of having another side job. Because he knows that especially in the education sector it is central to have all stakeholders on board – schools, universities and school administration – Robert takes time to put these networks in place before starting at a new location.
In order not to limit the program to participating teachers-to-be, Robert and his team initiated the “Studenten machen Schule Academy.” It integrates both teachers at cooperating schools as well as students at cooperating universities that have not (yet) decided to be part of the program. This is important in order to raise broader awareness and acceptance. Up to date, more than 300 free-of-cost trainings have been held with more than 1,700 teachers reached.
An evaluation among 5,000 students shows that students feel they have learned new competencies (a score of 1.83 ), liked the methodology (1.71) and value the capability of the teachers-to-be (1.4). Teachers, on the other hand, appreciate the high professionalism of cooperating with SWiM, the workshop contents and the methods the teachers-to-be apply (95%, 86%, 89% good/very good). 89% of partnering schools continue the cooperation after the first school year.
Through scaling this bottom-up program, Robert has learned a lot about how to successfully include high quality and needs-based external expertise into school life. He knows that the only approaches that succeed are not top-down initiatives sending the message that schools today do an insufficient job. Thus, it is important that Robert rather extends an invitation; he points out unused resources such as qualified teachers in training and highlights that it is in everyone’s interest to unleash them today and in the future. This way he is able to raise identification with his programs and motivates all stakeholders to cooperate.
Building on this experience, Robert has now – after a three year preparation period – launched “SchulePlus”, an innovative matching and inspirational online-platform serving also as a web of trust connecting school-internal stakeholders with external resources. It allows external stakeholders like sports clubs, thematic experts i.e. in finance of climate protection, NGOs or cultural institutions to post their cooperation offers for schools (no product advertising, however). On the other side, teachers as well as other stakeholders at schools are able to find the offers for their needs very easily due to a tagging and matching mechanism. In addition, inspirational “topic areas” such as “field day”, “sustainability education” or “job orientation” invite teachers to explore offers. Quality control and verification lies within the network. Whenever an offer is taken, a rating with reference to the user is published, so that other users can easily evaluate offers. This way, SchulePlus builds the basis for an overarching infrastructure and network, which schools are currently missing and do not have the resources to build themselves. Within the first two months, more than 30% of Berlin schools have registered and use the platform, there are 900 active users with 600 offers and needs on the platform and 50 successful matches so far.
After the initial one year pilot in select areas, the roll-out to all of Germany is planned in fall 2014. Central to the successful spreading of SchulePlus is to make its benefits visible and tangible, and get traffic on the platform. That is why in addition to the online launch, SWiM offers a range of courses for teachers to build on their new role – and actively involves all schools already in his network through “Studenten machen Schule.” Furthermore, Robert mobilized high level media partners (Zeit, most reknown weekly newspaper in Germany), and also all major stakeholders in education to be active partners for the platform in either offering or spreading the word, ranging from the Senate of Berlin, the Berlin universities to trade associations, NGOs working in schools and, of course, schools and teachers.
Financially, SchulePlus is organized as a freemium-model, in which the basic functions will stay free of charge. External offerers will be offered professional or premium-accounts from 2014 on, which gradually allow more functions in exchange for moderate fees. Up to today, all initiating costs for SchulePlus have been covered by SWiM Bildung through profits from their other programs – a proof that Robert has built a financially sustainable model in the education sector.
Besides these two key programs – “Studenten machen Schule” and “Schule Plus” – SWiM Bildung has set up a couple of other programs that support the network building and overall vision. The organization is set up as a for-profit that reinvests profits into the development of new programs and innovative initiatives. At the moment, the team consists of 25 employees (full time and part time) in Berlin and Hamburg, plus a network of almost 200 trainers and freelancers. Within the organization, Robert lays focus on further training and best practice exchange through “SWiMinars“ and building tandems between executives and starters. SWiM’s total annual budget is about 600,000 Euro, made up of four main sources: (1) state funds in form of schools paying for the workshops (50%), (2) federal funds for a coaching program SWiM offers to schools, (3) EU-funds from the European Social Fund, which are used for the development of new programs and (4) private funds mainly from school booster clubs or parent initiatives. Throughout the past years, SWiM was able to achieve about 3% profits, which are not distributed but instead are reinvested.
Next major steps for the development of SWiM Bildung and its programs are the further scaling of “Studenten machen Schule” to new cities and federal states – two are in preparation at the moment – and the implementation, further development and roll-out of SchulePlus based on the school and partner network they have already built and are still expanding.
Robert Greve, born in 1984, has been passionate about education and very engaged all his life. His first entrepreneurial experience was to found Sophie’s Company of Trading Youngsters, a student company that distributed Irish soft drinks of a partner school in Ireland. He also actively shaped school life as elected representative of the students of his school. In this role, he not only organized an overall renovation of his school, but also events with keynotes by Stephen Spielberg, Hans Eichel (a high-class German politician) and others. He wanted to become a teacher himself and pursued his Bachelors degree, but soon noticed the lack of practical experience in teacher education, which led to both high dropout rates and “reality-shocks.” This motivated him to found “Studenten machen Schule” in his 3rd semester and to start to build SWiM Bildung.
Robert‘s father is a passionate teacher at a school facing difficult circumstances in Berlin and his mother is a social worker. Throughout his childhood, he spent a lot of time with his parents at the school and within the foster homes his mother worked in – experiences which left their mark on Robert as a person and his believe that education as a basis for equal life chances is something society has to collectively strive for. On his mission, this background supports his authentic appearance. At the same time, as references in private, public and political sector outline, Robert brings the professional and empathetic skills needed to introduce and successfully spread new approaches to the very complex field of education in an inviting and integrated way. This also led Ashoka Fellow Katja Urbatsch of “arbeiterkind.de” (“Workers` Child”) to nominate him for the Fellowship.