Innovation in the classroom should begin with teachers, yet are they truly empowered to take control and introduce new methods and techniques into their teaching?
Too often, it can feel as though change and development are actions taken against teachers rather than action taken by them to improve classroom practices.
Every decision might be designed to improve teaching, but if staff aren’t empowered to introduce their own ideas, schools are missing out on a key source of knowledge and expertise.
So, where to start?
Benefits of Empowering Staff
When schools empower teachers and other staff to introduce fresh teaching methods, it has benefits beyond simply the introduction of these new methods.
Certainly, the innovations brought into the classroom might be a fantastic addition to the school’s teaching excellence, but it’s also true that these innovations won’t work for everyone all the time. In that sense, empowerment can seem like a risk, but it has other benefits besides the new methods themselves.
If schools don’t allow teachers to take the lead in the development of fresh teaching practices, they risk sending a signal that their input is not required in anything beyond turning up and teaching in just the way it’s always been done.
This isn’t only demoralising, it might have knock-on effects for teachers at the beginning of their careers learning how to take charge of their own growth and professional development. It could also drive them elsewhere if they don’t feel their ideas are valued.
Getting Them Involved
Teachers and students aren’t that different in one respect – they are more invested in decisions when they’ve had a hand in them. So, in the same way that schools take on board the sensible suggestions pupils make regarding their education, getting teachers involved in decisions which affect them can be worthwhile.
As Angela Watson explains in an article on innovative school cultures, getting teachers involved in purchasing decisions for new teaching tools and equipment helps schools to bring in tools that teachers want to use. It could potentially save money for the school at the same time as empowering teachers to become involved in the purchasing process.
Equally, the direction of their professional development should involve teachers as much as possible and include options for collaborative development.
Institutional resistance was cited in a wide-ranging research paper on teacher empowerment published by the IOSR Journal of Research & Method in Education as a barrier for teachers’ development to overcome.
So, teachers must feel empowered to make decisions about their own development before they can be empowered to innovate in the classroom.
It’s true that time (or lack thereof) might be a key concern to schools, teachers and staff looking for time to develop these skills and promote new teaching methods. This is often a barrier to schools involving teachers in any process and why many new technologies and techniques are imposed on teachers rather than introduced in conjunction with them.
To put it only in monetary terms, it pays for schools to ensure that the tools they’re providing teachers with are both worth the outlay and are being utilised to their full potential.
Involving teachers in these decisions will help to ensure the money isn’t wasted on tools that a purchasing officer might think are brilliant but only serve as a distraction in the classroom. If selling the idea to a school board or reluctant headteacher is an issue, remember to argue the money angle as well as the overall benefits of empowering teachers in the classroom and beyond.