The 7 Biggest Challenges to Daily Classroom Innovation

… and lots of ways one simple solution addresses them.

March 6th 2014, a wet, gloomy evening in the Dublin mountains. Inside the bright, colourful Rachel Murphy Hall of St. Patrick’s NS Glencullen, a buzz of anticipation & excitement bubbled. This was the first ever Teachmeet to be held for primary educators in the Republic of Ireland.

A Teachmeet is an organised (but informal) meeting where participants are offered a variety of nano (2 minute) or macro (7 minute) presentations on any aspect of education in this case, primary education. Participants can be actively involved as presenters, or can simply relax and listen to all that’s on offer! All presentations are delivered by those currently working in education – teachers, principals, SNAs, language specialists, librarians, student teachers, 3rd level coordinators.

With 21 presenters and over 80 participants, this inaugural Teachmeet was a roaring success. Digital topics ranged from Technology in the Infant classroom, the Flipped Classroom & Makey-makey Boards to classroom topics such as spellings, vocabulary & tables memorisation.

New programmes such as Mata sa Rang, Roots of Empathy & Rolling Chants were introduced while projects such as the Intel Mini Scientist, Irish Aid Our World Awards & Favourite Painting Project inspired the audience. Expertise from a local Speech Therapist, EAL researcher & advocate for Gifted & Talented children were shared while resources such as Tumblebooks, Class Dojos, Tarsias, Clic News & many more.

Despite the pressures facing educators in today’s climate of recession recovery, this night was a celebration of innovation, inspiration & dedication in Irish primary education and hopefully the first of many more across Ireland!

We’ve teamed up with ChangeX to help more educators around the country host their own Teachmeets.

Looking at some of the biggest challenges teachers are facing, I find Teachmeets can be the gateway to more innovation in teaching. Here are seven challenges Irish teachers currently face in their profession, where a solution can be found in the collaborative nature of a Teachmeet.

1. Integrating our content driven curriculum with 21st century learning skills

It may be the 21st Century but many schools have yet to make the shift to the new millennium’s styles of teaching and learning. An overloaded curriculum bound by standardised tests, a CAO points system and WSE reports can leave teachers overwhelmed when trying to develop critical thinking, problem solving skills, curiosity, entrepreneurship and digital analysis.

Participation at a Teachmeet allows teachers to discuss and share ideas that are already proven and working in classrooms around Ireland. These include many thematic, project-based, cross-curricular suggestions which engage multiple intelligences and higher-order thinking skills. Often these ideas encourage self-directed, independent learning facilitated by the teacher using a wide variety of 21st century resources.

2. Keeping up with the fast pace of development and growth in ICT in society and subsequently education

The pupils in our classrooms are true digital natives, spending most of their personal time using digital devices for entertainment and communication purposes. Often they are more knowledgeable than the adults in their lives of various social media apps, electronic games and multimedia entertainment – and all this from an extraordinarily young age!

However this does not mean our students are necessarily digitally literate. Our role as educators is to facilitate and guide our pupils safely through this online digital environment. Teachmeets encourage peer learning among participants as well as the sharing of resources like websites, apps, programmess and tech skills. With short snappy presentations of digital tools and resources, teachers can leave their Teachmeet with a virtual smorgasbord of delights!

3. Teacher isolation

The very nature of our job can be isolating, with many teachers struggling to find time in the school day to confer with colleagues and engage in pedagogical professional conversations.

Teachmeets facilitate networking with colleagues and fellow educators face-to-face, and later via email. The refreshments at the end of each event are a vital component for new people to meet and discuss ideas, and to create new networking circles that will carry on long after everyone has gone home.

4. Sorting the ‘wheat from the chaff’: so many ideas available via the internet, but which ones are effective?

This is a common problem for many teachers who can be overwhelmed by an almost infinite amount of ideas, resources and tools available online.

The voluntary nature of Teachmeets mean people only share ideas they are passionate and enthusiastic about. All lessons, ideas, resources and tools have been trialled and used successfully in real Irish classrooms. Subsequent professional conversations at the end of the meet allow individuals to sound out any concerns they have with such lessons with the presenters.

5. Curriculum overload

Schools have become the ‘go-to place’ for many social ills and issues, with continuous demands from government to implement new programmes. Adding this to a primary curriculum of 12 subject areas, it’s natural and understandable for teachers to feel overwhelmed and overloaded.

Teachmeets have long been a source of thematic projects and lessons using a variety of skills and resources. In presenting such skills through thematic presentations, pupils can cover multiple curriculum areas and strands in one lesson. At teachmeets, colleagues not only share ideas for such integrated lessons but also strategies & methodologies to maximise time management.

6. Time is a scarce resource

Any analysis of a school’s strengths and challenges will identify time as the biggest challenge facing a school and its staff – who often don’t have time to converse, time to plan, time to research, and sometimes even time to breathe!

Teachmeets allow time and space for educational discourse in a nurturing school environment with no pressure of paperwork or regulatory demands. The atmosphere is relaxed, the conversation vibrant and the speakers passionate. The short time period of each presentation also allows very little time to be wasted – if you are not interested in the topic, the speaker might be finished within two minutes!

7. There are more children needing SEN support, but with fewer resources

Diagnosis of learning needs is more prevalent now than it ever was, with more and more children with specific special educational needs integrated in our classes. The ESRI estimates that a quarter of all children in Ireland have special educational needs. At the same time, the government has cut resoures: SNA posts have been capped since 2011 and the total number of resource hours has been cut by 15% since 2010.

Hosting a Teachmeet in your local area invites participants from a wide variety of schools and areas of expertise. Not only might there be many SEN, Resource, Learning Support, Speech & Language, Specialist and EAL teachers at each event, but also many mainstream teachers with lots of expertise differentiating for the multiple needs of all their pupils. Ideas, resources, support structures are all there for the taking!

So what are you waiting for? Now is the time to leverate the passion, enthusiasm and teaching excellence that exists in every school. Are you willing to give up a few hours in your month to organise a Teachmeet in your area? Or are you interested in attending a Teachmeet in your area to exchange ideas and get inspired?