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Designing a toolbox: how will we address the needs of teachers?

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

Composing an inspiring and relevant toolbox for teachers is a difficult job. While we have a good understanding of the European educational goals and how design thinking fits into these frameworks, we were not sure what are the thoughts of those most important to us – the primary school teachers.

To find out more about their needs, we asked primary school teachers in Spain, Romania, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Belgium, using an online questionnaire (48 teachers) and in-depth interviews (12 teachers). In this article, we present the main findings, and the full report can be found here.

Cover of the reasearch paper "Addressing the gaps & needs of primary school teachers when designing the D-TIPS toolbox"

What are the teachers already doing?

In this research, the specific target audience we were trying to approach was innovative teachers. From the insights we gathered, it seems that our respondents were indeed already implementing several innovative practices, the main ones being:

  • student-centred learning

  • facilitating

  • technology

  • cross-disciplinary and integrated learning

  • emotions intelligence

  • active citizenship

When asked about design thinking, many of those who participated in the online questionnaire stated that they were not familiar with this practice. Here lies a need to provide the basic knowledge on design-thinking methods, provide concrete examples of how it could enhance their teaching process and give them necessary tools to get familiar with it.

And then, even though the majority of teachers knew what design thinking was, not all of them were regularly implementing it in their classrooms: part of them stated that although they were familiar with design thinking, they were not using it and several said they only used it occasionally. So it is essential to understand what are the reasons for low usage of design thinking in their classroom and develop D-TIPS toolbox so it would support and empower them.

What slows down the process?

For the teachers that participated in our research, one of the biggest challenges they face is time constraints – the majority said that this was an obstacle. Teachers reported that the lack of time often made them feel like their “plates were full”. Their abilities to be curious, explore and test new methods were limited.

“I’m enthusiastic, so I would sometimes sacrifice my weekend to take a look at a new method and develop some exercises or lessons around it. But I also understand when other colleagues are really strict in saying “I don’t work for free,” a teacher explains.

The second group of concerns came from the culture within the school with many of participants stating that the attitude of other teachers, heads of staff or decision-makers were significant obstacles as well. Initially, teachers felt that with little or no support from their colleagues, it was challenging to implement new methods in their schools.

On the other side, even with plenty of help from school administration and other teachers, the participants of research stated they face difficulties with the flexibility of the curriculum and how much they are allowed to interpret and change. According to one of the teachers: “I would love to be able to update the curriculum, but it takes the whole school, not just one person to do so.”

The final obstacles that stood out were about access to relevant materials and technology. Although most teachers are striving towards many similar goals in best and innovative practices, most teachers must try to work around many different barriers that prevent or slow-down innovation in their schools.

Data from the reasearch paper "Addressing the gaps & needs of primary school teachers when designing the D-TIPS toolbox"
External obstacles that teachers face when implementing new methods or practices in school.

How will the D-TIPS toolbox help?

Teachers face many different challenges when trying to do something new. However, it is possible to make the process easier with well-tailored tools. Right from the beginning, we wanted to create a tool that enhances the teaching and learning process without disrupting it.

From the insights we gathered, we can conclude that a tool best suited for the needs of primary school teachers should have these attributes:

  • Easy to start using;

  • Scalable for different sized classes, age groups and projects;

  • Works smoothly across subject areas and individual learning abilities;

  • Fosters collaboration;

  • Is linked to national curricula;

  • Translated to national languages and relevant to the national context;

  • Provides development and training opportunities for teachers;

  • Offers a diverse range of online and offline materials.

With this in mind, we are moving forward with the initial sketch of the toolbox. To be sure we are on the right track, with the help of primary school teachers, we will test the toolbox twice, until we are confident that the D-TIPS toolbox checks all of your requirement!

As Helen Rogers, Community Manager, Research Partner & Learning Designer at Newschool and the primary author of the research paper, states “Teachers work hard to make everyone’s needs met. Let’s do the same for them!”


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