“It felt as if the entire school community supported my progress, and I shall always be grateful to the head teacher for creating a culture where innovation and creativity were nurtured, and where colleagues inspired one another to be the best they could be”
Winner Of The Teacher Of The Year In A Secondary School 2008
Now Head Of Faculty: Languages And Project Director: School Of Innovation At Kelvinside Academy
Winning the UK Teacher of the Year Award in 2008 was a life-changing event. So much good has come from the accolade, professionally and personally.
2008 was a significant year for me. An inspiring teacher I first met at St Ninian’s High School in 2002, nominated me for the Scottish Teacher of the Year. Christine Bovill was more than an inspiring teacher, she was an inspirational mentor, and the nomination couldn’t have come from a more admired and cherished colleague. Four months later, I found myself on the stage of the London Palladium as winner of the UK Teacher of the Year Award. The journey between the two awards was motivating and galvanising, both for me and for the school. It felt as if the entire school community supported my progress, and I shall always be grateful to St Ninian’s and its Head Teacher, Mr McLaughlin, for creating a culture where innovation and creativity were nurtured, and where colleagues inspired one another to be the best they could be. I was honoured to be accompanied to London by five pupils, shining examples of a kind and engaged learning community, each one of whom played their part in evolving the teacher I became.
The months that followed…
The following months passed in a flurry of positive press and kind acknowledgements. It’s hard to quantify the impact of an award beyond the actual win, but it certainly felt as if the ripples travelled far. The first positive was an invitation to work with Independent Thinking, a stable of top-notch thinkers, educators and gurus based in Wales. While still working at St Ninian’s, I was given time to travel up and down the UK working with schools and local authorities to demonstrate and share innovative practice using a variety of Web 2.0 collaborative technologies. This was a marvellous learning experience; it gave a real insight into how important leadership is in creating a culture in school where teachers feel encouraged to experiment, and enhance their competencies and pedagogies using emerging technologies.
The years that followed…
In late 2011, a chance meeting in London lead to an invitation to become a founding member and Chief Learning Officer of a fascinating start-up – Kuato Studios. The company’s vision was to create digital games that combined beautiful immersive environments, Artificial Intelligence and powerful learning design. The experience brought a whole new dimension to my career. Although it took me out of the classroom for five years, it enriched my own learning in so many ways. Among many projects, we developed a game to teach children to code with robots – Code Warriors – which was recognised by President Obama in his final Science Fair in 2016. We also developed a range of literacy and storytelling games for which we designed a unique game engine whereby a child’s gaming action generated a digital storybook. In developing the game, I became a named inventor on a US patent. We also developed an assistive technology deploying AI technologies featuring a clever talking Dinosaur answering children’s questions in game! Through the five years at Kuato I was never far from the classroom; spending time in UK and US schools testing the games, and building communities of teachers, learners and organisations interested in exploring new forms of skills-based learning.
Towards the end of my time at Kuato, I was invited to contribute a chapter to the Routledge publication, Creating the Coding Generation in Primary Schools. Researching and writing this chapter re-focused my thinking on the key roles that creativity, innovation and creating play in the learning process. The book was published in 2017 and is a wide-ranging and practical guide to the cross-curricular teaching of computer science and coding.
Family circumstances brought me home to Scotland in 2016, but serendipity played a role in the next stage of my journey as a teacher/learner. Kelvinside Academy is one of Scotland’s oldest independent schools. When I arrived here, plans were afoot to build Scotland’s first School of Innovation –a visionary proposal of Rector, Mr Ian Munro. A partnership had recently been struck with NuVu Studio, a full-time innovation school based in Cambridge Massachusetts, where creativity is at the heart of a child’s learning experience. Students are encouraged to address large-scale problems and create solutions that have an impact in the world. Fuelled by a similar urge to disrupt the current curricular model of education and create a studio model based around learning by doing, Kelvinside is now on track to open its own Innovation School in 2019. It promises to be a unique learning environment built around creativity, innovation and enterprise. It’s wonderful to be part of the team leading this game-changing initiative.
But to return to where we began, that afternoon in October 2008… The Teaching Award was certainly one of the proudest moments of my life, acknowledging everyone involved in making me the teacher I was. And as to the doors that opened, I have always been happy to push on an open door.
Advice for young teachers starting out: stay authentic, never become formulaic or predictable either in the way you teach, or in your interactions with the young people in front of you. And above all, stay a curious learner!