I started my teaching career in an economically-deprived area of North London, at a school which had just achieved the third worst GCSE results in the UK. Students weren’t being given the same chances as the vast majority of their peers, and I spent three years thinking about why that was, and what I could do about it.

As an English teacher, I was most concerned about the low levels of literacy. The vast majority of these kids didn’t own books, let alone read them. I was also worried about their attitude to learning itself: it seemed that battle really lay in a) trying to get the students to want to learn, and b) in believing they could. Big changes needed to happen.

Three years later I sat searching for jobs on the other side of the world, totally disheartened by how hard making things better had proven to be. The day-to-day running of the school was overwhelming, and I got the distinct impression that most of my exhausted colleagues just found me really annoying when I suggested we try new things.

When I began my first year teaching in an international school, I expected things to be better. After all, we had access to computers, a theatre, sports pitches, and even a swimming pool! But there were countless assessments to run, and mark, and give feedback on. One every two weeks for each class. Never have I spent so much time staring at spreadsheets. 

When I returned to the UK, a colleague from my first school approached me with a proposition. Catriona was setting up the Hackney Pirates (now renamed the Literacy Pirates due to expansion) and asked me to join her. Our aim was to develop literacy, confidence, and perseverance in young people identified as disadvantaged, and then referred to us, by local schools.

Suddenly we were working outside of the confines of the classroom. There were no school bells, uniforms, lanyards, or detentions. We had no rules to follow. Finally we could focus all our energy on helping students overcome challenges. We were able to innovate without having to ask permission. In the space of a few years, we built relationships with fourteen local schools, developed a learning programme which has now doubled in size, and built a pirate ship inside a shop.*

So, how can we cultivate this sense of possibility within schools? How can we as teachers find the space and energy to innovate successfully? To take ideas out of our heads and into practice? As I stand on the brink of returning to teaching full time, I don’t want to lose my entrepreneurial spirit.

This is why I am considering signing up for some training sessions run by Innovation Hub.School, and why you might do too.

The organisation aims to help teachers innovate by giving them three things: a community, a toolbox, and guidance. They run online courses for teachers which are reasonably priced, and accessible to all.

The idea behind it is to give teachers the space and framework to initiate innovation journeys in their school. To help them cultivate ideas, and then make a plan to implement them: something that is really challenging to do on your own between period 2 and 3 on a Wednesday morning when all you want is for the Grade 8s to stop playing football against your classroom door.

I had a chat to Ollie and Till who run the programmes, and they think the two options which would be most useful to teachers within the Teacher Horizons community are:

  • (Re)School Sprint: sessions are spread over two days in which participants from around the world connect to articulate their development needs, learn more about the innovation process, and develop a concrete innovation plan.
  • Agile School Innovation Training: a 6-week programme to learn how to facilitate an innovation process and connect with like-minded colleagues from around the world.

You can find out more about both on the website.

Better still, the team at Innovation Hub.School are offering a discount to all Teacher Horizons members this year, which will make claiming from your PD budget much easier.

Teams of 2-3 can join the (Re)School Sprint for 500 Euros, with teams of 4-5 enjoying an even bigger discount to 800 Euros. Individual training places are reduced by 25% to just 300 Euros. Pre-register here without commitment and secure your special Teacher Horizons discount. You can even join an information session to decide what’s best for you and your school.

It’s a new year, and just the right time to harness your entrepreneurial energy to make your school a better place. I hope to see some of you on a course soon!

*It turns out that a truly excellent pirate ship also needs lots of red tape to run successfully. We wrote a lot of policies, we did a lot of due diligence, we collected lots of data, but it was our red tape which made it a bit more like the red tape you get on Christmas presents.

photo of author
Written by Camilla Cook
Camilla has been working in education for the past sixteen years, teaching English in the UK, El Salvador, Thailand, and Tanzania. She participated in the Teach First Programme in 2005, and went on to support another Teach First teacher in her efforts to set up The Literacy Pirates, an education charity working to develop the literacy, confidence, and perseverance of young people referred for extra support by their teachers. As their first Director of Learning, she was responsible for planning, leading, and evaluating the learning programmes. She has worked as the Head of Language and Literature in international schools for the past five years, and is now living in Brighton with her husband and two children, attempting to reacclimatise to the weather by cycling around as much as possible and eating lots of ice cream.
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