“Many teachers feel confined by state examinations and the content that needs to be taught for students to be prepared for them. It is easy to be consumed by this pressure and not too risk innovative practices that may be perceived by some to undermine a students progress towards this destination on the map.” – Steve Martin, New Zealand

Whose map are you a servant to?’- I heard this phrase quite recently and thought it encapsulated the strains teachers face when trying to be innovative in their teaching.  It raised questions like: Who controls the path taken on the map? What should the most important features be on the map? How could the map be redrawn?

Many teachers feel confined by state examinations and the content that needs to be taught for students to be prepared for them. It is easy to be consumed by this pressure and not too risk innovative practices that may be perceived by some to undermine a students progress towards this destination on the map.

Fortunately being part of the Microsoft Innovative Expert Educator network has exposed me to a group of educators who, in their own way, are trying to redraw the ‘map’. One that not only recognizes the importance of mastering content but also the enduring skills that a student will need to be successful in life. These include global citizenship, communication, critical thinking and collaboration. They are: rethinking assessment practices that allow for the measurement and development of these 21st century skills; looking to provide real purpose and meaning to a students learning; and how to show students that they can have an impact on communities either  locally, nationally or internationally.

One of the proudest moments of my teaching career came recently when with a colleague we redesigned a unit of work which had been based purely on content related to the science of food. In the redrawing of the ‘map’ the unit was now focused on the enduring skills of citizenship and collaboration. Inspiration for the change came after a visit to a local food bank where I was informed that over 50 families came for support each week and worryingly their stores were almost empty. Ruby, my colleague, and I set about challenging the students to work collaboratively to design and source a food parcel that would feed a family of four for a week. They needed to know all the science concepts they did before but had a meaningful purpose to engage with the information as they knew they could have a real impact on families that needed their support.

When the students were presented with this idea their first question was ‘Are we actually going to do this or just plan it?’ When they realized they were going to actually design and deliver food parcels they visibly sat up and engaged with the task and it remained like this for the next three weeks. Ruby and I learnt from this that the risk of redrawing the ‘map’ was more than worth it.

If you want to start drawing your own ‘map’ then start by applying to be a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.

Steve Martin

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