As a teacher, there is nothing liberating or thrilling about being in the school building at 6:00am to make photocopies. Perhaps quiet, peaceful and free of interruptions, but underneath that moment is a rushing current of to-do’s and questions that they have been chasing since the previous evening.
How do educators continue to innovate and personalise learning with that kind of time constraint? All teachers have felt that tension at one point or another: the pull towards innovative and transformational teaching and the push of their task list rushing up behind them.
We could address this problem from any number of valuable angles. For me, school leaders made a world of difference by intentionally creating a school culture and environment that encouraged teachers to innovate in the classroom. They placed equal emphasis on habits as well as having the right tools in order to innovate while also freeing up time.
I want to share with you a few reflections from this experience and provide some insight on how leaders can help teachers to be the best they can be for your students.
Easily accessible resources
Where is that trip permission form? I am pretty sure it is in the shared drive in last year’s folder within the “Policies and Forms” document. Wait, was there an update to that form for this year? I think I remember seeing an email about that, but I can’t find it in my inbox. I’ll pop down to the front office during my free period.
Most likely you have had this headache or one similar. To avoid the wasted time searching for forms or documents, I eventually adopted the practice of keeping a hard copy in a physical folder at my desk. I would print a new one at the beginning of each year if there were any changes and thereby avoid the undesired adventure of navigating a school shared drive that cycled between order and disorder throughout the academic year.
My life was made a lot simpler when my school leaders introduced an “essentials” dashboard. The dashboard our leadership team put together wasn’t chic; it was a Google Doc with links to important tools and resources organised by category. I am sure you can imagine it: nothing fancy. Our IT department installed a desktop icon that linked straight to it. It was “low tech”.
How are you centralising and simplifying access to critical tools and resources your staff use on a regular basis? A Google Doc with hyperlinked text is not a particularly purpose-built solution. Plenty of options have emerged in the last several years that could be a better fit. A modern learning experience for teachers means that these tools can be seamlessly integrated with the rest of their teaching day - curriculum materials, markbook, etc. I encourage you to find a system that centralises all of these tools for your teachers.
There are a host of ways Firefly can take you a bit further towards this goal. Here are a few I commonly see in my work with schools these days:
- The power of recommended bookmarks and following pages for sharing important information
- The value of dashboard news feeds for weekly bulletin news stories
For current Firefly schools, see the community site: the ease of setting and taking cover on Firefly. (The post includes a template you can use!)
Time saving tools for innovation in the classroom
I think the browser tab next to the register is that online mind mapping tool I found last night. That’s right — it’s the one next to the YouTube video for the next class. OK, I guess I have to log in again and… wait for it to load.
Organisation is more than just pragmatic; it also frees teachers to innovate. I have a bent towards experimenting with new tools, techniques and the like. Having to switch between various physical and digital tools can be inefficient though. In my previous school, I did a lot of hyperlinking resources to an online lesson plan in order to streamline this process. Then, I uploaded these lessons to our learning platform for students and parents to access. I also used that learning platform to mark and provide feedback as well. The goal was to collate the entire learning journey in one place. Everyone involved could follow the learning journey from the first lesson through to summative assessment.
Do your school’s digital learning platforms allow for innovative teaching practices? My process was a step in the right direction, but it had its limitations. A truly modern learning experience allows for interactive content embedded right into lesson resources not just hyperlinks. It allows students and parents to access homework tasks and learning resources from a range of devices. It also gives teachers flexibility when assessing and guiding students in their learning. Beyond the practical benefit of organisation, look for edtech that frees up teachers to incorporate a host of tools into every step of the learning process.
Here are some ways Firefly can provide this:
- The efficiency of hosting a variety of learning content on a single page to use during a lesson or to assign to students for homework
- The possibilities for dynamic interaction and collaboration through forum pages and embedded Google Docs
Your school’s vision for your teachers
How are you encouraging your teachers to innovate? How are you modelling that liberation in your own approach?
Your staff need to know that they are encouraged to innovate and experiment in the name of your students’ learning. My teaching style evolved significantly in the right conditions. The leadership modelled a curiosity and innovative mindset towards every aspect of school life. I was expected to take an analytical, data-driven mindset towards my teaching and adapt my curriculum accordingly. High expectations with the right tools meant that I could take the leap.
Based on prior experience, it took me the majority of that first year to feel comfortable with the freedom. Experimentation is not always welcome in an era of lean budgets and high stakes testing. My teaching grew (and my students learned!) at a greater pace once I leaned fully into that freedom.
With the right approach, your teachers can go a little further each day with the resources and time they have to work with the children in your care.