Expert teachers share insight into innovative teaching

With NEXT Expert teacher awards in their last year, we asked 2019’s finalists to weigh in on their experience at The Mind Lab and what they’re excited about in education.

What does innovative teaching mean to you?

“It’s about being open, curious and excited about what’s next. It’s about connecting to your learners with a genuine interest in their journey and success. It means constantly reflecting on what makes exceptional learning both relevant and contextual. Then recognising when it happens and meshing it with appropriate digital tools to enhance the whole process. Everyone needs to understand WHY they’re learning, and it should be exciting, interesting and meaningful,” said Senga White of Southland Boys’ High School.

“Being adaptable and flexible in your teaching, learning and thinking so that you are more able to cater to students’ needs and the changes in education. To continually help students identify and develop their strengths throughout their learning journey,” said Rauhina Cooper of Te Kopuku High School.

“Innovative teaching means using electronic means to streamline learning and to remove the busy work. It also means students focus on a shared journey with a tangible authentic outcome, so it is about collaboration and working creatively. The ‘hard skills’ will be embedded with the soft skills and they will empower learners to be engaged, passionate learners,” said Shelley Gilman of Rathkeale College.

“Teachers and students working together to solve problems, share successes; constantly collaborating and learning together. I see an innovative teacher as inquisitive and adaptable in their practice; always evolving and keeping pace with new pedagogy. Teachers are genuinely reflective in their practice and discuss problems or share solutions with professional colleagues. Also, innovative teachers constantly continue their learning journey to improve learning opportunities for students,” said Anna Wilton of St Matthew’s Collegiate.

What excites you about the future of education?

“I want to be contributing to the world we live in and the one we leave behind by being prepared to embrace new ways of supporting education,” said Senga. “There are so many directions that this and the next few generations will move into that will have a major impact on our world in a way that feels more crucial and urgent.”

“The future of education is both exciting and terrifying. It’s exciting because the changes that are coming are invigorating for teachers and learners alike and terrifying because it will demand a lot of adapting and rethinking of our day to day practice,” said Shelley. “My fear is it won’t be fast enough for the students and too fast for teachers.”

“I’m excited that tamariki will be recognised through the development of localised curriculum, thus recognising identity as a crucial factor in a students’ learning and education. I’m also incredibly excited for the recognition of the importance of te reo Māori for all New Zealanders,” said Rauhina.

“As technology continues to change and become more ingrained in our lives, it is important to keep pace with these changes and be able to implement into our classroom practice. For many students, new technology holds the promise and opportunity of helping them succeed both in and out of the classroom. I believe it will become increasingly important in classrooms and workplaces in the future,” said Anna.

What was the highlight of The Mind Lab’s Postgraduate Certificate in Digital & Collaborative Learning 

“Learning about leadership,” said Shelley. “The discussions we had, lead by our wonderful facilitators, were key to our learning. We sometimes really struggled to move on as we were digging deep into the topic under investigation. These were the best professional discussions I have had the privilege to participate in.”

“The highlight was learning from very talented tutors and also working and learning alongside a diverse group of fellow Mindlabbers,” said Rauhina.

“If I had been able to construct the perfect course of study for myself, I couldn’t have designed one better,” said Senga. “Participating alongside teachers from both primary and secondary schools allowed me to expand my thinking on my place in education. It provided a further opportunity to “walk the talk” in terms of my collaborative practice. Everything I learnt was relevant, but if I had to identify one highlight, it would be exploring the role of leadership within my context. Evaluating where I have come from and considering my growth in leadership that could expand beyond my current position.”

“I made some fantastic connections with fellow students that have enhanced my network of colleagues. I also enjoyed the hands-on opportunity to use new technology and discover new apps, programs, and learning about leadership styles was a revelation,” Anna said.

Why did you begin your journey with The Mind Lab?

“I had just reached the 20-year mark of my teaching career and was very conscious of ensuring my pedagogy and classroom practice was evolving to meet the needs of students in the 21st Century. I spoke to a few people who told me [The Mind Lab] had revolutionised their teaching practice and totally inspired them to continue teaching for another 30 years, upon hearing that I knew I was in!” Anna said.

“My motivation for attending the local information session was to see whether The Mind Lab was another way to connect with teachers. I was delighted to discover that even though I wasn’t a teacher, I was eligible to apply. I’ve enjoyed this course so much; I have applied to continue with the Master of Contemporary Education programme,” Senga said

“I was initially interested in The Mind Lab because of the digital content, as I am not digitally proficient I saw it as a way to become more familiar in the use digital technologies to help kaiako, tamariki and myself in teaching and learning. As a PLD facilitator, it is important to stay relevant to provide support for the teachers. Also, three of my colleagues had just completed the course and recommended it,” Rauhina said.

“I have always been proactive and open to change in my pedagogy, but up until The Mind Lab I had not had an opportunity to bring all modern pedagogical styles together in a supportive and stimulating course. The plan for me was to improve my practice and to support the practice of my colleagues,” Shelley said.

Have you got an example of changes you’ve made in the classroom since graduating with The Mind Lab?

“The Mind Lab has given me more confidence to support others and to engage with my practice and the practice of others using current evidence. I have a particular interest in developing better feedback systems, including peer to peer feedback, to support an Agile classroom and collaborative group work,” Shelley said. “My teaching has changed in many ways. My focus for students to be involved in a collaborative team to develop an artefact, of some sort. For my subject, this is either a food product to market or a food-related service (my food bag style), I am blending business practice with food. Peer to peer feedback has been successful, and I use electronic means to get feedback from my students. Feedback is frequent and enables me to adapt and for the next unit of learning.”

“I do not have a “classroom” in the traditional sense, but this course has served to provide me with new ideas of working directly with students and becoming more involved in the assessment of information literacy skills apparent in student work,” Senga said. “I had become adept at recognising where information/digital literacy and critical thinking skills could be drawn out of an NCEA achievement standard or a research assignment set in the junior levels of the school, but now I understand the importance of recognising, highlighting and grading these skills in the student work submitted.”

“My students have particularly enjoyed trying out new apps/programs that have allowed them to show their learning/understanding in different ways (Screencast, Canva, Prezzie) or apps such as Action Bound, and Trello that have really helped with student engagement and student agency. I have also focussed on increasing the level of collaboration between my students,” Anna said.

2019 Expert Teacher Finalists, Judges comments:

Anna Wilton and Shelley Gilman were nominated as being exemplars of the collaborative learning that’s strongly encouraged at The Mind Lab. Both Anna and Shelley were also consistent contributors in the sessions, often driving the discussion and offering interesting perspectives.

Rauhina Cooper was a regular contributor to online discussions and also took full advantage of the opportunity to submit her assignments in te reo Māori, another option in the assessment process that we strongly encourage.

Senga White, as a librarian, faced some unique challenges in applying a teaching-focused programme to her own practice. The fact that she achieved so highly is a tribute to her commitment, as was her willingness to interact with others not just in the face to face sessions but regularly online.


The NEXT foundation nominated Rauhina Cooper for the overall award to recognise her extensive work in te reo Māori. Further,  Rauhina utilised learnings from The Mind Lab in her role as a Professional Learning and Development facilitator and managed to share new learnings with other educators. 

Rauhina worked alongside Robyn Hata-Gage and Hinekahukura Te Kanawa. The Mind Lab and NEXT recognises all three educators for their achievement and for the work done by the Kia Ata Mai Trust

Spread the knowledge