I 'heart' maverick teachers

Paul Woodward
6th May 2016 at 16:07

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, I 'heart' maverick teachers

I read a great article in the TES late last year about the importance of maverick teachers. It was a fascinating read but one particular line struck a chord with me (it was C minor 7 for the musicians out there):

“Maverick teachers, you have to love them. Often a pain to work with and a nightmare to manage but they often got the best results and, when at their best often going off at a tangent while holding a classroom enraptured, they were a joy to watch”.

That last bit is very similar to a reference I received from a former deputy head and it was then that I admitted to myself a secret that I had kept for many years. I am a maverick teacher! There, I said it.

Well, I used to be anyway (sad face).

A maverick is defined 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. Sounds a bit dangerous.

That about sums up my attitude to teaching in the past when I had the freedom to teach in ways that, well, just seemed to work. They didn’t follow a particular paradigm or system; I just know that the students enjoyed the subject, learnt and made progress with many opting for the subject at examination level to produce excellent results. Work featured in magazines and on internet sites and ‘prodigies’ were inspired to study product design, furniture design architecture and more; many of whom I still remain in contact with through social media in order to share in their creative adventures.

I remember leading the class into the field on a summer's day to search out hardwood trees or changing the lesson plan on a whim to discuss a new idea or concept. I felt comfortable enough in my surroundings to sing (badly) to the class while the radio played in the classroom was fun and inspiring back then.

Times have certainly changed and I now find myself a little more ‘difficult’ to assess, not particularly Ofsted friendly but with a history of getting on well with students and staff and getting results; often in the face of adversity and financial constraints.

So do I regret any of my ‘maverick’ actions? Not at all. Those were the most productive and inspiring years of my teaching career. I used to wake early and head into work to see if last night’s construction experiment had worked and I stayed until late evening just so a student didn’t have to lose the momentum they had gathered that day, not just because targets demanded I did so. Opening the workshop at weekends and in holidays wasn’t a last resort but a chance to push the standard of work to new levels and to experiment with a new idea, material or construction method. The old adage ‘do a job you love and you will never work a day in your life’ was never truer.

This subject used to be unpredictable and exciting with no two days, or projects, the same. Only in the face of increasing pressure to achieve successful results have I noticed a decline in creativity into what could be more appropriately described as ‘production line D&T’ where a tried and tested format (and design task) is rehashed year after year to ensure the appropriate levels of progress are achieved.

The world needs maverick teachers and I am proud to have been one…hopefully I will have the opportunity to be one again. If there is one subject that thrives on spontaneity and ‘eureka’ moments, it’s D&T and the best teachers I have worked with or watched know how to nurture creativity and encourage creative risk taking. Those of you who feel that ‘production line D&T’ is not a fair representation of your departments work have either got a touch of the maverick spirit yourself or are lucky enough to have a talented team of teachers and technicians who are still able to support true creativity in your subject area.

If that is the case, I salute you. For those who, for one reason or another, feel restricted or challenged and unable to be as creative or ‘maverick’ as they would like then I hope at some point you get to truly experience the creative process without institutional restrictions. Perhaps the new rules that Ofsted will no longer judge lessons only outcomes will allow the freedom to be more ‘maverick’ in your approach to teaching design and make it a little easier to relax in the classroom in order to teach in a way that inspires and invigorates. Of course, we shouldn’t confuse maverick with ‘wacky’ or unmanageable. I am sure we have all worked with examples of both types of teacher (or manager!) and they are not always ‘maverick’ for the best reasons.

If nothing else, I hope this has given you an insight into how creative design education used to be and occasionally still can be. This is a great subject area with a lot to offer schools and their students. Being a maverick teacher isn’t for everybody but I would like to think that there are still a few out there in schools who still go off at a tangent and are a joy to watch when they do; inspiring students and demonstrating just how unpredictable, fascinating and enjoyable this subject can really be!


Paul has taught design and technology for 23 years in a range of schools with stints as HOD and Head of a Creative Arts Faculty. He is currently taking a short break from DT to teach photography and media studies.

His Subject Genius blog is shortlisted for the 2016 TES Awards.