Rob Houben is an educational leader, change-maker, change creator, and public speaker. He started teaching in the year 2000. Specialized in using technology within education. In the year 2010, he took the initiative to transition the school where he was teaching from a school with 200 pc’s into a school with Wi-Fi and Chromebooks for everybody. One of the first schools in The Netherlands who started working with Chromebooks.

Meanwhile, he was involved in building new courses for the Dutch National Curriculum. He specialized in personalizing education using the best parts of regular education. He believes learning should start with building motivation, self-esteem, and becoming a social networker.

In 2015, he got involved with Agora, a secondary school that just started. With 5 colleagues and 60 students, they started working on a government-funded secondary school without using timetables, courses, or age groups. They learn students to manage their own learning process, starting with a simple question: What do you want to make, do or learn? And whatever the answer is, they go from there. At the moment there are 20 Agora schools in The Netherlands, Belgium by their example.

Rob has experience as a teacher, policymaker, project leader, team leader, manager, coach, facilitator, and public speaker. With his strong analytical skills, practical approach, open mind, and infectious enthusiasm he’s able to observe, give feedback, give you new ideas and solutions, and help you to deploy them.

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Speaking & advise

Rob is an enthusiastic speaker, workshop leader, presenter and advisor, who tells his stories in an amusing way and of course with some self-mockery. He promises his audience a smile on the face, catchy examples that will stick with them, but also a large dose of self-reflection and the ambition to change things starting tomorrow.

He encourages his audience to start with what we know about learning instead of just starting to teach (/preach to) students. Focus on growth instead of grading, and really start with the learner (student or co-worker). He also speaks about creating a playful school, the role of technology, and transitioning education from a managerial perspective. He believes that if you don’t treat your employees the way you want them to treat the students, they will never be successful. Furthermore, he is open and honest about all the ups and downs you will face if you have the courage to do the same.

View one of his speeches:

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Media

Articles & blogs

Radio & podcasts

BBC Radio
Blog by Andrew Web
Blog by Jon Neale

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Agora

In 2013, Sjef Drummen, Jan Fasen, Bert Martens and Bert Sterken, all principals in the Roermond area got together to write Agora’s vision document. In August 2014 a small group of teachers got the chance to start Agora in the city of Roermond (The Netherlands) with 30 students. In May 2015 Rob got a short phone call: Hi Rob, this is Sjef speaking. Can we talk about working for Agora? He surprised Rob, but Rob said yes. And Sjef responded: okay tomorrow at noon and hung up on him. They had never spoken before, but knew each other. Rob found out where his office was and went over there the day after. Sjef talked for about 5 minutes. Rob answered two questions, and Sjef told him: within I couple of years, I’m going to retire, you must be my successor. Rob told him that one of the biggest reasons he wanted to come over is to get out of the office and be part of a team that really wants to make their hands dirty. Working with children, not managing. And that’s how Rob became one of the five team members (teachers, coaches, Agorian Masters, whatever you want to call it) at Agora in 2015.

In July 2018, when Agora grew, someone had to represent the Agora students and staff during management meetings. The outside world was looking for hierarchy: a team leader. Rob accepted the job under one condition: the goal should be making the role of a team leader redundant. Since then, Rob is responsible for the development of Agora according to its vision and helping his colleagues to grow as a self-organized team.

Do you need information in English about Agora?
Check out Agora at Hundred.org

Leadership

Who knows best is in the lead

The team member (student, parent, teacher, intern, or volunteer) that knows best should be in the lead. This varies depending on the subject.

Freedom to play

Everybody (staff, students etcetera) should have the freedom to play, study, experiment, fail and reflect with others. Rob believes that learning is an iterative process. Playing, studying, experimenting, failing (and being honest about that) is not only a great way to learn when you’re reflecting with others on a regular basis, it is also the only way to become a successful lifelong learner. Because lifelong learning is an iterative process.
If you don’t treat your co-workers this way, how can they help students to grow up as lifelong learners?

Don’t talk about doing something new, do it!

When a co-worker asks Rob if she can try something with her coach group, his response is: Don’t spend a lot of time talking and preparing. Spend that time afterwards during reflection, and adept. Work agile. Have faith in yourself, you’re a professional. Try first, be kind and honest about it to your students, reflect on it together and share what you’ve learned (with your co-workers).

Quote Johan Cruijff:

You should never do as I say.
You should listen to what I have to say and make your own decision.

Panic

The difference between 2015, when Rob started at Agora, and now? In 2015 he and the team panicked every other week, and it lasted a week. Now they panic every three months, and they accepted that. They learned that this is part of growing into the next phase. It’s an iterative process: it’s reflection time.