Time To Be Awkward

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Does education need maverick teachers?

If you don’t have at least one maverick in your school then it is an average place to be. Who wants to be educated in a run-of-the-mill school?

Refuse To Be Branded

Firstly, how do we define ‘a maverick’? Is it a ​person who ​thinks and ​acts in an unorthodox and ​independent way, often ​behaving ​differently from the ​expected? Or, is a maverick a spanner in the works, a pain in the neck, a loose canon playing jazz?

The term appears to originate from the mid-19th century from the name of Samuel A. Maverick (1803–70), a Texas rancher who did not brand his cattle. He refused. Paul Woodward defines a maverick “as a person who shows independence of thought and action, especially by refusing to adhere to the policies of a group to which he or she belongs.”

However we choose to define a maverick teacher, whether risk-taking, a creative, or orthodox, I am certain we can all remember someone in our school who has ‘broken the mould’. I am confident that ‘some readers’ may also considers themselves, somewhat maverick. As Phil Beadle reminds us in his book, Rules for Mavericks: A manifesto for dissident creatives:

“Maverick, you see, is not a title you award yourself.”

Every profession has mavericks, but they are rarer than hen’s teeth and like gold dust in the classroom and in the headteacher’s office.


Creativity or Compliance?

We desperately need mavericks in teaching according to one former OfSTED chief. Spielman recently asked for English schools be more creative in their curriculum approach rather than begin GCSE study in year 9 (14 years old) and reduce the opportunities for students to study a broad and balanced curriculum. Sir Michael Wilshaw once said:

“A pretty ordinary education system – unfortunately we still have one – needs people who are flamboyant, colourful and yes, downright strange. In other words, we need extraordinary people. We need our awkward squad. The independent sector has always had them – our state system needs more of them.”

Schools need maverick and punk teachers a-la Tait Coles to inspire children. Are there far too many teachers playing it safe in the classroom and the staffroom? Are we afraid to be anarchic, eccentric and unconventional?

Where Is The Eric Cantona Teacher?

Teaching might not have many of them but the world is full of mavericks, especially the sporting world and there is one or two in football who now have legendary status.Former Nottingham Forest boss, Brian Clough is the number one maverick manager, still cited today and revered by many. He was different, talented, a genius and awkward. Brian Clough’s style wasn’t forced or manufactured, but natural. He oozed charisma, had presence and an aura.

Eric Cantona is another example of maverick. The Manchester United footballer of the 1990s, a talented footballer, famous for being larger-than-life, physically strong, hard-working, and a tenacious forward; he combined technical skill with creativity, power and goalscoring ability. Take a moment to look at his some of his playing highlights.

Where are our Brian Cloughs and Eric Cantonas in teaching? Do we have any with maverick charm? Does maverick teaching still exist in your school? In what form? And more importantly, is it encouraged or is it stifled?

Take A Risk

Maverick teaching does not mean over-creativity or deliberately behaving eccentrically. It is more about risk-taking in the classroom within a defined set of boundaries and expectations. Many will argue that OfSTED and poor school leadership has stifled teachers’ creativity, and that risk-taking versus our ability to enjoy our subject and develop a love of learningis a greater challenge in our current education system.

One approach will not suit everyone.

Are you given the freedom to teach in a way that suits your students? Beadle says that “maverick teaching” has one sole focus: student achievement. Nothing else. Everything else is a distraction and quite a bit of a waste of time. If it doesn’t move students forward, pay lip-service to it if the societal pressures in the environment are such that you must, but do so as you are surreptitiously chucking it in the bin.”

I have observed ‘teachers breaking away from the mould’ in different guises. Some colleagues will fit the bill in terms of school characteristics, or in terms of the teaching methodology required for a subject and/or student, but how may this work in all of our schools? Accountability damages our maverick teachers according to the NAHT. Maybe we all need to be more punk and more awkward, but perhaps headteacher Colin Harris is right when he says

…it’s not maverick school leadership that we need, but a maverick approach to curriculum development instead. We need a curriculum based totally on the needs of our children, which engages with pupils and shows them love – not one solely aimed at preparing them for SATs and the end of the key stages.

In a sausage-system standardised testing culture, where have all the Michael Kidson’s gone?


This blog has been written with the help of John Dabell

3 thoughts on “Time To Be Awkward

  1. I couldn’t agree more that teachers should be encouraged, if not expected to break the ‘mould’ – the strengths of a teaching team should be explored to see how a curriculum could be best developed or steered to help provide an engaging period of study. The element of risk is interesting – risk to go against the grain, yes … being free to express yourself as a teacher can engage students so much more than teaching to a standard lesson. At the heart should be the expectation that teacher’s are role models – they should be someone to look up to, they should be diverse in their manner and delivery and they should appeal and be engaging to a wide range of children. One size does not fit all!

  2. Mr. HArry Wong…That was all I could remember right through the entire read…We need more of Mr.Wong in our classrooms…ultimate inspiration….Eccentricities are essential..students need individuals who are genuine and unique and who make their normally boring lessons…fun and magically.A timely read..Thanks.

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