While many educators share a similar love for teaching, each educator brings a personalised and very unique approach to the job.

Whether it is an unwavering sense of commitment to making a difference or nding creative ways to ensure that students learn – there is no denying the impact of a good teacher on children’s education.

For Liz Redhead, her career choice was inevitable, after her love for teaching emerged at an early age.

She recalls role-playing with her teddy bears in her playhouse at the bottom of the garden at her family home in Berkshire, England. This was just one of the early signs that she was destined to teach.

Liz would ‘call out’ the register, read them stories and use her chalkboard to give them ‘lessons’. These days, Liz gets down to business educating young minds and takes great pleasure in seeing her students accomplish their goals in her classroom.

Since moving to the UAE in 2004, Liz has taught in three different schools and Emirates.

She is currently a Year 6 teacher at Ajman Academy, where her classroom is constantly abuzz with the hum of students creating, collaborating and producing work that reflects their enjoyment of learning.

Below Liz shares a bit about her innovative teaching methods and the impact they have on her students.

Who inspires you most?

The children I teach inspire me the most! I believe in teaching children, not subjects, and it is essential to listen to the children, so that we can learn and grow together. They have such incredible imaginations and simply don’t see the barriers that adults seem to see. They are a rich source of ideas when we are co-constructing the learning journey together.

What are some of the steps that you are taking to advance your career?

I have held leadership positions before, but there’s nothing more rewarding on a professional level than being with the children. For me, advancing my career means constantly striving to become a better teacher, so that my children become better learners. By working in partnership with the children and through extensive use of social media, I am always looking for innovative and creative ways to improve experiences and outcomes for all learners. I believe it’s important to take ownership of my professional development, as that’s the only way to ensure it is personalised and meets my needs, rather than waiting for the next course to come up. I like to think I’m learning every day!

Name two ways in which you and your colleagues have sustained outstanding attainment in the Primary stage in teaching and learning.

I find that empowering students to demonstrate mastery in variety of creative ways, and of their own choosing, helps to promote higher levels of engagement and deeper learning. When we construct our assessment rubrics, we ensure that the children are given the freedom to meet the required outcomes in their own ways. Recently, some of my children sent me time-lapse videos and photos they had made at home. This demonstrated their thought processes and mastery of long division using Lego, desert sand and even Shopkins figures!

Children should always be learning at the edge of their capabilities, pushing themselves and others to achieve things they never thought possible. There are times of quiet reflection and individual work, of course, but we spend most of our time learning together, challenging and supporting each other to be the best we can be in all we do. Another good example is the fractions and decimals challenge we recently undertook. The children referred to the ‘Maths Antics’ channel on YouTube, via QR codes, as they worked together to consider the most effective ways to convert fractions and decimals. They worked in groups, writing on the floor, bouncing ideas around, making and correcting mistakes, checking with calculators, trying different tricks, criticising and suggesting, and generally learning far more effectively than if I had tried to teach the ‘one best way’ directly. They all figured out what worked best for them, not for me!

Describe two ways in which you and your colleagues promote independent learning through critical thinking and enquiry at the Primary stage.

Requiring children to identify and solve real world problems guarantees they will have to think critically and employ higher order thinking skills. By definition, if a real problem hasn’t already been solved, then it is going to require an innovative solution that will involve key elements of research, evaluation, collaboration, creation, design thinking, community engagement and publishing. Solving real life problems requires the development and application of real life skills.

Using the children’s own questions to fuel their learning is really important. Intrinsic motivation is key to great learning, so I take great care to ensure that not one question is lost in space. I encourage children to record their learning, questions and thought processes in a variety of formats, from written notes on the windows to QR coded links, Padlet walls, Post-it notes, in each other’s books and so on. We like to think that our classroom is a ‘Visible Thinking’ space and that any visitor would be able to walk in and say, ‘Ah, I see where they’re going with that!’

Share two ways that you use assessment data to plan the next steps of learning for your students.

Everything the children do, say, write and create, every observation, every piece of work and every interaction all provide a massive amount of data every minute of every day. Feedback has to be timely. I find that the first and most important method of ensuring that my students take appropriate next steps is to empower them to take ownership of their learning. My role then becomes more of a mentor, ensuring they are making the right decisions, and moving in the right direction at the right time. This happens in real time, both face-to-face and online in a continuous, blended process. We have come a long way from the days of asking a few questions, hands up in class and marking books to be handed back the next day or even next week. All rather pointless! Of course, we regularly track progress and attainment. We record these electronically, as well as employing a range of diagnostic assessments. However, the really effective use of data is as close to real time as possible and personal to the student. Making a conscious and sustained effort to know our children well and to mentor them every day is far more effective than any published, multiple choice, computerised test!

What’s your must have teaching resource? Why?

The most important resource I have is any innovative space that we decide to create. In our class, we write and record anywhere and everywhere – on iPads, on huge sheets of paper, on Post- it notes, on tables, on the windows and even on the floor (using dry-wipe pens)! In this way, the children are active as they think, and they never miss an opportunity to record their thought processes. The freedom this creates ensures that learning is continuous. The children are both empowered and accountable for their own actions, learning processes, progress and achievement.

What is the best advice that you have received?

The best advice I’ve ever received, not surprisingly, came from a student, who said, “I just wish we did real life stuff at school, rather than just school stuff.” This has stuck with me ever since and is always at the forefront of my mind when planning for my children. This is why we co-construct every Unit of Inquiry and work together every day to ensure the content; aims, tools and learning processes are relevant and effective. Solving real world problems requires real world skills!

By Carolyn Lee

Carolyn is the editor at Teach Middle East Magazine.