NQT Special: Pedagogy and innovation

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Education continues to change at a pace and it will be today’s NQTs who are leading tomorrow’s schools. Phil Parker on how you can prepare for this challenge.

This article was triggered after meeting up with someone I mentored as an NQT 20 years ago. He is now an experienced, well-established headteacher. I mentioned this article and asked what advice he would give to his younger self. What follows is his response. By the end of his NQT year we knew this guy was destined for big things. We talked about long-term career goals, and how he’d reach them. He believes that early intervention was crucial to his development.

Tip 1: Career goals

Identify precise career goals. Not in general terms, make them specific. They aren’t written in stone, they can be changed, but be clear about what your future will be. Several heads on Twitter are busy encouraging young teachers to aim for headships. It is the best way to shape education for the future because you get to apply the beliefs you have formed during years of classroom practice.

It is where this former colleague’s advice to his younger self comes into play. He wishes he’d been more innovative in his own pedagogy. He and I worked for a boss who had encouraged innovation, our department was like a laboratory for new ideas. It wasn’t an environment every NQT could cope with to be honest, but those who could cope, thrived. He wishes now he’d pushed the boundaries more than he did.

Tip 2: Pedagogy

Keep one pedagogical eye on the future. Later in your career you may well teach in a world very different to one we are in now. Be ready to lead in that brave new world, and to lead you need to be familiar with its landscape.

My former mentee and I discussed a recent event in Canada, where educationalists from around the world identified “Seven Ways to Transform Education by 2030”. Both of us agreed the “seven ways” offered a CPD agenda for the ambitious young teacher. None of these seven are particularly original, but taken together they lead to two points that need making here:

First, how can you make them work? It’s about turning this theory into practice. Second, predict how school leaders of the future will use this theory and have the methods you have developed, tried and tested, ready for that future (see my final paragraph). Here are the “Seven Ways”:

  1. Change the focus from memory/rote-learning to problem-solving and critical-thinking.

  2. Develop learning which is collaborative and ignores artificial subject boundaries.

  3. Create fluid learning environments that don’t focus on age, ability – but interest and need.

  4. Shift teaching from oration to curation, reduce chalk-and-talk, increase facilitation of knowledge and 21st century skills.

  5. Progress needs to focus more on processes than outcomes because this is happening in our “global knowledge economy”.

  6. Enable all stakeholders to be part of developing learning in the school – parents, employers, community leaders.

  7. Empower risk-taking and experimentation on the macro (school) and micro (student) level.

Tip 3: The seven ways

Work your way through the seven ways. Some of these points can be addressed quite easily now, in your classroom. Others need you in positions that influence policy, as a middle/senior leader. Which points can be achieved now? Focus them into goals to form your performance management objectives and CPD needs (perhaps School Improvement Partner objectives too when the time comes?). 

Some of these points are ambitious and need a gradual approach. Let me illustrate. Many teachers say they use problem-solving and critical-thinking. Truly innovative teachers use them as the foundation of learning in their classrooms. The entire lesson will hinge on them, these are not conventional lessons.

Tip 4: Innovative practice

Identify innovative practice, absorb and develop it further. This can be done by getting innovative practitioners to coach or mentor you. Find them if they are not in your school. Read their blogs, follow their Twitter feeds.

You will develop your own innovative practice that is successful. It enhances promotion prospects because you innovative – and get the results too. Don’t think of results as exam data, consider improved student engagement, raised aspirations, and improved conduct from students too.

Tip 5: Project-based learning

Find a focus to bring all these points together. Find and create the means within your school and its curriculum to build on these points. Which brings me to how I met up with this former colleague. We were at a conference on project-based learning (PBL). 

The seven ways mentioned earlier feed into PBL brilliantly. Research (UK and US) shows how results (like those listed above) improve via PBL. This is the way the world is going – look at what the US, Singapore, and Canada are doing.

The two of us agreed it is the future. We believe NQTs need to develop innovative practice to lead schools of the future that will have PBL at their foundation. So start creating those goals folks!

  • Phil Parker, an ex-senior leader, is now a director of Student Coaching Ltd which works with schools eager to develop rounded young people by transforming the way teachers and students learn. Visit www.studentcoaching.co.uk or tweet him @PhilPfromSC


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