Maddison Cooper, Early Years Teacher at Australian International School, Singapore explains what it means to be an ‘adaptive teacher’ and why the ability to think on your feet is vital in today’s discussion-rich classrooms.

I have been thinking lots lately about what it means to be what I am calling ‘an adaptive teacher’. A quick Google search of the word ‘adaptive’ will give you this definition from the Cambridge Dictionary “having an ability to change to suit different conditions”. I also saw a post on social media that, according to data, the average teacher makes 1,500 decisions per day (that’s four decisions per minute!). To me, being an adaptive teacher is almost as if you were to make these decisions before the time has come to even make the decision. Let me explain a little further.

Adaptive teaching and inquiry teaching go hand in hand. As an inquiry teacher, you need to already have anticipated what your children will present to you during a discussion and have thought further forward to what your questions and next steps might be before this happens. To me, it comes down to knowing your children well, knowing about their prior experiences, their family values, their skills and knowledge in order to make somewhat of an educated guess as to where they might lead you. It does, however, mean you also need to be prepared for this to not happen at all and at that point you need to think on your feet!

A few examples:

  • The power goes out and you can’t show the video you’d planned to show. What do you do?
  • You get to the playground to go on a hunt for things outside and it starts to pour with rain. What do you do?
  • You have planned a learning experience to run for 30 minutes and it’s done in 15 minutes. What do you do now?
  • It’s time for your specialist class and the specialist teacher is away. Where does this leave you?

All of these moments require you to think on your feet and make several of those 1,500 decisions made every day. I believe it is your response to these things that makes you an adaptive teacher. Maybe you act out the video for your children, maybe you hunt inside and then return outside when the sun shines and extend this lesson further by making connections between the experiences. Maybe you even abandon the experience and incorporate it later in the week.

Regardless of the situation, being an adaptive teacher to me means being five steps ahead. Being organised and prepared goes a long way towards helping adaptability, as does flexibility and initiative.