Paul Wright is innovation lead at Aureus School in Oxfordshire and founder of TIPS4TEACHING. He is the author of Teach, Reflect, Doodle…, which was published by Bloomsbury, and hosts the tips4teaching podcast.
‘Innovation’ is an interesting word to me; not just because I’m ‘innovation lead’ at Aureus School, but because I think it is a word which (in education) seems to carry many preconceived images. If I say to you “Oh they’re an innovative teacher”, all too often the perception seems to be of a teacher who’s at home using the latest technology, whose classroom is awash with the latest teaching trends, and who leads CPD on “how to use your interactive whiteboard more effectively”.
This article on innovation covers none of that! I’m not dismissing edtech nor the associated innovations therein, but I am going to talk about the innovator's mindset.
The innovator's mindset is the true way every teacher can innovate in any setting! As I see it, said mindset comprises of four component parts:
If you can adopt the innovator’s mindset (and truly anyone can) you can make this academic year, and in fact every academic year, one in which you innovate in a meaningful way!
This is about you the teacher, the subject specialist, and the pedagogical perfectionist. Take a moment or two to review your last academic year or even the last few. I suggest reviewing on two fronts:
Your subject. The content you’ve taught, the way it was received, and the impact it had. Make note of what went well, and what you think you could improve.
Your pedagogy. Review the way you taught your subject. Did you deliver content in a variety of ways? Did you adapt work for learners who were struggling? How good was your differentiation? Did you really stretch and challenge all your students? As part of this review, take to the internet and the educational bookstores, choose something on which you’d like to read up and refresh your knowledge. For example, spend an hour or so reading up on stretch and challenge ideas, and make some notes on things you could try to freshen up content you deliver in the new term.
Teach. Get into your class and teach your stuff using the ideas you have read about. Adapt your technique based on both what worked last year and what could have been done better. Invite others into your class to watch you! Ask others if you can observe them teaching too.
This time, don’t wait til the end of the academic year to review what is working in your class and what can be refined. My suggestion to support your most innovative year is that you make time in the first weekend of every half term break to pause and review what is going well, what can be done better, and choose a topic to brush up on. Look again at your subject and your pedagogy. Think about what you did in your classroom, what discussions you had with those who have observed you and what you’ve seen in others.
If you read up on stretch and challenge six weeks ago, then choose questioning this time and spend an hour reading up on ideas to better question in your classroom. Use these to develop new strategies that will help you deliver your content in the next term.
Get back into your classroom with refined focus, content ready to be taught using techniques you have reviewed yourself and with colleagues, and perspective on your pedagogy you’ve refreshed.
It really is as easy as those four steps to keep your mindset innovative throughout an academic year!
...and 5! Sharing what you do to keep you on the innovative path
One extra tip to keep yourself innovating: Share! Sharing what you are doing with others is a great way to keep your mindset innovative! Consider creating your own blog, or even a shared blog with colleagues who agree to share your innovator's mindset this year. At the end of each half term, take it in turns to post about your term, what has gone well, what you’re considering changing, and what areas of your pedagogy you are reading up on. Innovation does not happen inside a bubble. Real innovation happens when you look outside yourself, your organisation, and even your sector to draw in inspiration for afar. To do this well you have to be sharing what you do.
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Digital literacy: I’m sure you’ve been told this is important for students in the 21st Century. But did anyone mention it’s also important for teachers too? Believe me, it is! Digital literacy is about digital skills, skills which help you use tech, create with tech and be safe using tech. So obviously as students increase in their use of technology we have to support them in how to use it wisely, correctly and safely. The same applies to teachers.