On a secret education mission with a growth mindset

December 11, 2017

An interview with Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé and Walter Emberger

Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé, Managing Director of the WU Executive Academy, and Walter Emberger, Founder of Teach for Austria, pursue the same mission, at different levels: They strive to help individuals unlock their potential. In the following interview, they share their views on new leadership, broad-based learning and today's performance-driven society.

An interview with Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé and Walter Emberger
An interview with Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé and Walter Emberger

Opening up avenues of education for children from disadvantaged backgrounds in an effort to help them succeed—that is Walter Emberger's mission. In 2011, the former consultant founded “Teach for Austria." In this social business, young and committed university graduates work for two years as full-fledged teachers, called “fellows”, at schools after they have completed a leadership training course. Their job is to inspire students and instill the joy of learning.

This year, the WU Executive Club chose to collect money during the traditional Alumni Christmas Charity Party to support this organization, which is part of the global “Teach for All” initiative. Students, alumni, WU faculty and partner organizations of the WU Executive Academy helped the good cause and donated gifts and financial contributions. As a new aspect, WU professors donated copies of their books complete with a personal autograph. All in all, the charity was successful; the proceeds of this year's event totaled EUR 2,930.

In light of this recent event, we interviewed Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé, Managing Director of the WU Executive Academy, and Walter Emberger, Founder of Teach for Austria, asking them for their views on education, potential and leadership in the 21st century.

Ms. Kleinhanns-Rollé, why has Teach for Austria been chosen as this year's Christmas charity project?

Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé: Each year, our Alumni Christmas Charity Party supports an international or national education project. Teach for Austria has been on our radar for quite some time. I am a huge fan of the initiative because it targets the school system. It's a good example of an innovative approach that has not previously existed in this form in Austria's education system. It also involves support for teachers, co-teaching, coaching and a lively interaction with parents and students – inside and outside the classroom. These types of best practices are needed in our school system.

Walter Emberger: The WU Executive Academy's support is a great Christmas present for us.

Mr. Emberger, you founded Teach for Austria in 2011. What motivated you to take this step?

Emberger: Several factors led to this decision. I was tired of the debate about education that was going on at the time. I felt that people were not talking about the right things. In the corporate world, it is people who make the difference - and the same is true when it comes to schools. We all know what a difference teachers can make.

Teach for Austria trains young committed university graduates to become innovative teachers with leadership skills.

Emberger: We have built a brand name in order to attract the right people, namely, individuals who have not had it easy, educationally speaking, and therefore know what it feels like to be in this situation. We have a “growth mindset”: We believe that each and every child has potential. But there needs to be someone who helps the children realize this and unlock their potential. Someone who believes in them but also expects them to perform. I think it is important to prepare children for life in a performance-driven society so that, later on, they can succeed in the corporate world.

Kleinhanns-Rollé: Role models like these fellows are extremely important for children. There is research that shows role models can change educational careers for the better. And I guess this is why we both work in education: We enjoy supporting people in their development.

What are the benefits for the fellows?

Emberger: Our fellows learn an awful lot. The feedback we get most frequently is that these two years were the hardest of their lives—but also the best. The fellows learn not only to motivate an unmotivated group but also to hold their own and assert themselves. They develop intercultural skills and leadership qualities that will be an invaluable asset to them in their later careers.

Kleinhanns-Rollé: The fellows are extremely competent university graduates who have successfully completed a tough selection process. They acquire leadership experience, commit themselves to a social cause and gain experience in addressing diversity. Some of them say that they want to stay in teaching. They instill the joy of learning in the children and show them that going to school is something good—without this groundwork, it would not be possible for us to provide people with further training later on in their lives. Given that the future will be uncertain and complex, it makes sense to prepare for new things—and here, learning is necessary. Every executive has to be an agile learner. We provide people with the tools and skills they need in order to be able to respond to the changing realities of the world of work.

Emberger: Our target groups may be different—children and adults—, but we both strive to ignite people's passion for learning. You have to be willing to learn, even if you are no longer required to attend school.

Kleinhanns-Rollé: I think that when it comes to schooling and further training, greater emphasis should be placed on what we call learning for life. We see that apart from bringing functional know-how to their jobs, executives need to develop as individuals. To this end, it is necessary to make room for self-reflection, discussion and communication. There needs to be new approaches that take account of the personalities of participants. And this requires us to rethink learning and make it more fun.

Emberger: The leadership program for our fellows is based on a three things: leading systems, leading classrooms, and leading yourself.

Kleinhanns-Rollé: We pursue a very similar strategy as far as our MBA programs are concerned. Leading organizations, leading teams, and leading yourself. What I particularly like about Teach for Austria is that you have a broad concept of learning and take a holistic view of students. Your approach is much broader in scope than the things you want to teach students.

Emberger: That is true. We teach students about nutrition, for instance. One in three children is not just overweight but obese, meaning he or she runs the risk of developing diabetes. This issue is very close to the hearts of our fellows. Take sugar, for example. You can raise awareness among students no matter what subject you teach. During math lessons, you can calculate calories or sugar content. As a geography teacher, you can tell them about sugar exports. There are so many ways to make classes really exciting, and, fortunately, there is plenty of room for flexibility in Austria. You can organize interdisciplinary project weeks. What is more: We do not write lengthy papers. Instead, we simply go into schools and get to work—with people who fill students with enthusiasm. I really wanted to open up the school system.

Kleinhanns-Rollé: It is also exciting to see how great an emphasis the initiative puts on networking. In the U.S.A., Teach for America has developed an important network. Many of the leading figures of the business community used to be fellows. They work together to help each other progress to the next level. At the WU Executive Academy, we have the same philosophy: The WU Executive Club and the recently launched WU EA Connect online career platform make it possible for people to network with like-minded community members and come forward to offer their assistance as mentors.

Emberger: As a result of the powerful experience they share and the huge challenges they tackle together over a two-year period, the fellows become a close-knit team. Usually, they stay in touch with one another and go on to be really successful. In the second year, we bring our fellows together with mentors from the business world. By the way, one such of these mentors is sitting here at this table.

Kleinhanns-Rollé: Mentor-mentee relationships are very beneficial for both sides. I found the experience extremely rewarding. As a mentor, you get input that is hardly available in your usual environment. These people want to make a difference, and they are incredibly energetic. After his fellowship, my Teach for Austria mentee went on to co-found Refugees Code (editor's note: This NGO helps refugees develop their IT skills).

Mr. Emberger, you once said the purpose of education was to promote the development of both individuals and society. This philosophy is something that the two of you have in common, isn't it?

Emberger: Absolutely.

Kleinhanns-Rollé: Considering how many people out there suffer or feel uneasy because of their jobs … It goes without saying that people's job satisfaction has an influence on society. Just hammering knowledge and skills into 30 heads is old school. If this is your approach, people will develop in ways that are not right for them. What we are eager to do is to help them identify and develop their individual potential so that they capitalize on it at work. That's why we place a lot of emphasis not only on exchanging views and ideas with others but also on receiving and giving feedback. And it is also for this reason that I would like to urge businesses to make further training available to their people. We also assist companies in developing training programs.

Mr. Emberger, what are the next goals Teach for Austria hopes to achieve?

Emberger: We will be expanding our regional activities, initially in Upper Austria and later on also in Styria. In the future, we intend to teach in kindergartens as well. In the U.K. or the U.S.A., this has been common practice for ten years. We have already begun recruiting fellows for 2018: Our aim is to get 60 new people on board. The next intermediate deadline will be at the end of January. Our experience in collaborating with WU Vienna and business graduates— who have a holistic way of thinking — has been very positive. We have lifted age restrictions and are now looking forward to welcoming career changers, that is experienced professionals who want to help our cause.

What awaits the career changers?

Emberger: Provided you love children, there will be plenty of new challenges for you to tackle. Instead of working on a computer, you get to teach a class that brings together 19 nationalities and includes some students who are less motivated. This challenge is completely different from, say, working on a difficult spreadsheet. If you sit at your computer and mull over what to do for three minutes, nothing much will happen. However, if you are in class and ponder your next move for three minutes, you will be in serious trouble.

The logos of the sponsors of 2017

Many thanks to the donations from our alumni, WU faculty and partners! You can learn more about Teach for Austria here: www.teachforaustria.at

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