Maverick Pupils

When I say Maverick, I’m not talking about Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun, although elements of that personality will be evident in what I will go on to discuss. I’ve heard a lot recently about maverick teachers being ones that innovate and don’t follow the same traditions as the “average teacher”, (although I believe there’s no such thing as an average teacher). Well, what about the maverick student?

If the former Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw is saying we need more maverick teachers to breathe life into the education system, why are we so afraid of those pupils who embody that? These are the ones who drive you crazy at times. Their unorthodox ways can often result in them being sanctioned or labelled as “challenging” or “disobedient”.

I’m challenging teachers to pay more attention to those types of pupils. I’m not talking about the “naughty” attention-seeking ones who just do something silly for a laugh or who can’t be bothered to complete class or homework. I’m talking about the ones who challenge the norm, come up with ideas that may not necessarily be what you want or expect, but are, nonetheless, smart… clever…entertaining, outside the box thinkers.

How to spot and deal with Mavericks

Maverick pupils are a bit more difficult to spot than maverick teachers; there are a whole mix of personalities in any one class. How do you distinguish between the maverick pupil and the disobedient one?

Let me give you an example; a pupil in a class about acids and alkalis takes out some bottled water to test against tap water or takes out some of their lunch. Normally that would be frowned upon; health and safety, but look at what they’re doing. They’ve taken what you’ve told them and extended it. Testing something else and contrasting, working further up Bloom’s thinking.

Another example would be in electricity, the pupil who doesn’t make that 2-bulb parallel circuit, but instead constructs a huge and complicated circuit that still, by some miracle, works. They may not be able to explain it yet but give them some time and maybe they will; or the pupil who, instead of making a poster about Hooke’s law, has actually made a video presentation and wants to present it. That’s a Maverick; unorthodox, unafraid to challenge the work they’ve been given and extend it, or change elements of it. They may even change the outcomes of the task. This is in contrast to pupils who aren’t learning or engaging with the content in any meaningful way.

We, as teachers, shouldn’t be afraid of maverick students. To me, they show higher level thinking and may even be gifted and talented. It shows a passion for a subject. Don’t get me wrong, the pupils who do everything by the book, can produce some amazing work and make excellent progress. I’m not knocking them, as they’re brilliant! I just think there is scope to look at pupils who are a bit unorthodox, not view them as trouble makers, but encourage and nurture their talents within the boundaries of your time and lesson.

Engage with such pupils, ask them to explain, use Socratic questioning techniques to probe out their thinking behind what they’ve done. Ask them to question themselves! Foster an atmosphere of engagement and those ‘Eureka’ moments by letting them have a bit more freedom to explore those thought processes themselves.

Final thoughts

We as teachers can be cuckolded into thinking all our students must be silently learning and engaged all the time, when all we need to do is look at a an end of day staff meeting or inset day and watch us transform into children. It’s natural human behaviour to want to talk and interact, test boundaries and explore things we’re curious about. I don’t believe in silent learning for a whole lesson (parts of it, yes, but not a whole lesson). We need to move away from the fear, discipline and classroom management is easier when pupils know what they’re doing and feel comfortable. We also need to feel comfortable enough to let them breathe a little more than perhaps we do sometimes. Test our boundaries too, if something doesn’t work, come back to the drawing board.

So if we are now encouraging maverick teachers then we should also welcome maverick pupils. Surely at the end of the day they help us improve our practice, and hey, if they shake up pedagogy and make us better teachers, even better!

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 UKEd Magazine.

Aaliya Khan is a science teacher at St Anne’s Catholic School for Girls, after graduating from Imperial College London, she embarked into a teaching career. She loves bringing fresh ideas into the classroom and has presented at #TMEnfield. @Miss_Khan868

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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