Close article 12th August 2022

School’s out – learning’s in

12 August 2022 – We don’t need a summer makeover, we need a mindset makeover: How existing and aspiring leaders can move from being summer-ready for a short-term break to being impact-ready for long-term change.

In Europe, and some other parts of the world, a few more weeks of summer still stretch ahead. These are the so-called halcyon days of ‘school’s out for summer’ when we reap the rewards of running around getting ready for the holidays and hopefully find time to rest, recharge, and regroup; to take stock of what will be required when we return to work.

As we take stock, maybe we will consider the myriad of macro challenges we face. For example, the climate crisis, the effects of the continuing war in Ukraine, migration, political leadership battles, and, in some countries, recent restrictions of access to education and reproductive rights. And maybe, for a moment, we will consider the positive impact we can have as individuals leading in our context.

Many of our challenges are, at their core, crises of leadership requiring us to deepen and expand our leadership capabilities at all levels – personal, organisational, and systemic. Given this, what if we shifted our thinking from ‘school’s out’ to ‘learnings in’? What if we moved our focus from being summer-ready for a short-term break to becoming impact-ready for long-term change?

The University of Cambridge has a long tradition of leaning into summer learning going back over 100 years. The first international summer school took place in 1923. One Summer School debate topic in the 1920s was ‘that the world is better than it used to be’. I wonder who would be on the winning side of that one today? Summer in Europe was also a time for ‘grand tours’, a tradition made popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, when it became fashionable for wealthy young men (and later women too) to experience new sights, cultures and people – and to learn about the world experientially.

Thankfully, with technology, we can democratise learning and move beyond those who can physically get to Cambridge for summer school or afford a grand tour, to reach life-long learners everywhere. The pandemic has changed education systems across the world. Now, we can expand our horizons, our global network, and our leadership capabilities through online learning platforms, including CISL’s portfolio of short courses.

If learning can expand our thinking, values, and practice to make the world better, what leadership capabilities are required? To seed and cede change, we would do well to start with the ‘Cs’ and organise our capabilities around courage, curiosity, culture-building, communication, collaboration, and co-creation. The leadership mindset shift we need to create the future we want starts with commitment. There are glimmers of hope as we saw in the recent victory by England’s women football team in Euro 2022. Considered leadership from the coach, a collective team – rather than individual hero leaders – built on a culture where they can safely support and challenge each other to achieve an end goal; and followers who showed a sense of joyful inclusion, and the absence of polarising tribalism and jingoism.

Thinking beyond August, how might we build the lasting, positive change captured by the ‘Cs’? Aelfrida Tillyard, one enthusiastic contributor to the Cambridge Summer Schools in the 1920s, suggested summer schools should happen all year round. With our online courses, she has got her wish. Existing and aspiring leaders from all sectors and from around the globe can participate in tutor-led learning environments, build their leadership knowledge, skills, and behaviours. Writing in her journal, Aelfrida recalls a debate from 3 August 1928 titled: ‘That woman’s sphere is the home’. She wrote, “The men, on the whole, were more enlightened than I had expected, and the women not anti-male at all.” I’d like to think Aelfrida would be an enthusiastic contributor to our Women Leading Change online short course.

For reference

History on Cambridge summer schools is taken from the booklet entitled International Summer Schools 90th Anniversary 1923 – 2013 from the Institute of Continuing Education, downloadable as a pdf, which features extracts from Aelfrida Tilyard’s diary (original copyright diaries in Girton College Library and Archive).


Learn more about our short course Women Leading Change: Shaping Our Future.

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