Mission Possible: Taking a risk and being spontaneous in the classroom

Alex Fairlamb
Alex is an Associate Assistant Headteacher (T&L) and a History SLE. She’s the National Coordinator for @TMHistoryIcons, Lead Teacher for Girl Kind and an EdNorth Lead Advocate. She co-runs @EduBookClub1. She’s passionate about gender equality and diversity within the curriculum.

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Spontaneity and risk-taking are qualities that we actively encourage students to develop when learning. It’s a meme that can be an exciting element in the classroom, and can heighten engagement. It enables students to think differently and instantly, altering pre-conceived perceptions about how to tackle a challenge and develops thinking skills. However, as one of the key influencers in the classroom, do we always practice what we preach? If we want students to be savvy in spur-of-the-moment situations, we should try to explore opportunities which dare us to do the same and model this trait.

Exciting teaching and learning happens in situations that we least expect; when we respond instantly to the moments in front of us or the light bulb moment that strikes us on the final hour. If given the same challenge, would you take on this ‘Mission Possible’?

What is it?

The beauty of the Mission Possible is the simplicity of it. A mystery box is delivered to a volunteer’s door unannounced, often delivered by a student who is keen to see the teacher’s response to their delivery. Inside the box is either a pedagogical tool, a teaching task / idea, a piece of research to inform a teaching task idea or whatever random item I can find that might be interesting to incorporate into a lesson.

How did it emerge as idea?

"During a conversation we discussed a technique involving ‘responsible risks’."

It was the result of two realisations. The first occurring during an INSET day when we were discussing Claxton’s four Building Learning Power muscles and the need to encourage students to be more resilient when faced with a challenge and to be resourceful enough to overcome it. During a conversation we discussed a technique involving ‘responsible risks’, whereby children hypothesis and try to make educated guesses, without fear of the answer being wrong. It’s more the willingness to give it a go, than knowing the immediate right answer.

Having read a little bit more about this idea, including F.A.I.L. (First Attempt in Learning), I wondered when the last time was that I had done the same. Harvard Business School state that ‘courage is a skill’, so why had this particular aptitude slipped from my teacher tool belt? In my teacher-training year, once confident, I was actively encouraged by mentors to try riskier lessons and strategies with the understanding that outstanding teaching and learning is organic, and that while ‘safe’ lessons can generally guarantee the desired learning outcomes, a different approach could lead to outstanding learning outcomes. Additionally, trying something new, creative or bold can be exciting!

How does it work?

Think Poundland Pedagogy delivered to your classroom door! When the box arrives at a classroom door, teachers must then try to incorporate the mystery box item into one of their lessons. Ideally, this should be instant to capitalise upon inventiveness, but the opportunity is given to instead incorporate it into a lesson within the week."Many departments have opted to embrace the instant nature of Mission Possible." This is to ensure that the integration of the tool is meaningful, while still allowing for creativity, by encouraging you to rethink how you might deliver an upcoming lesson to meet the challenge. Many departments have opted to embrace the instant nature of it, immediately opting to step away from the pre-determined lesson plan and devise (or rediscover) a new way to meet objectives. Once completed, staff are then asked to forward photos of their tool in action, with photographs if possible, so that we can share best practice and to further contribute to an ethos of innovation.

What has happened as a result?

A great wealth of exciting teaching and learning has taken place! It has been wonderful to see teachers embrace the challenge and devise new techniques – or fall back in love with long lost strategies that they had not thought to use in a while. More interestingly, the students have benefitted from seeing it in action! They enjoy being the ‘pedagogical post person’ tasked with dropping a cheeky challenge at a teacher’s door and they also take pleasure in the spontaneity that they see. Strategies have included using a hula hoop to put children into the ‘spotlight’ to answer key questions and the use of play-doh by students to model how they approach

Final thoughts

I have really enjoyed leading the Mission Possible, not only because it makes it more interesting when I go shopping (!), but also because it spurs me on myself to think how I might use the item and then gain another strategy from a colleague who may have used it another way. It encourages me to think differently, to not always rely on my safe, standard lesson and think of other ways students might learn the content or skill better. I’ve also learned the joys that a simple ball of string could bring to a lesson (cue cat’s cradle questioning, revision mobiles and instant continuum lines).

More importantly, it makes teaching and learning interesting and organic, helping to engender a feeling of courage and innovation. Often we’re told that the best teaching and learning happens in the moments that we least expect. I’ve learned to embrace challenges, continue to try new things and welcome an atmosphere where risk can lead to good things. After all, the Wright brothers did not succeed in their first flight, without risking a fall.

Do you use similar methods on your school? Let us know below!

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