Inovació, si us plau!

I attended for the very first time the amazing InnovateELT conference in Barcelona. I was honored to speak for 30 minutes about the Mind, Brain, and Education science to a full house in room 10 at Oxford TEFL, the incredibly charming venue with a lovely garden, wonderful people, great talks, and craft beer (yes, this part is important).

The name of the conference is quite catchy, I admit. InnovateELT caught my attention since the first time I heard about it. Innovation is something we never stop chasing, isn’t it? It seems to me that innovation is still and may always be l’ordre du jour. Digging a little bit about the meaning of this word, innovation, made me think about why we want to go after it. A quick look in most dictionaries will tell us that innovation is about new ways, methods of doing things or new ideas, products. It’s all about the word NEW.

New ways of doing things or thinking about things were definitely present at the InnovateELT conference. I myself proposed to integrate the news of cognitive neuroscience, and cognitive psychology with the tradition of pedagogy to teach our students in more “brain-friendly” ways. Many of the presenters discussed new ways to do things we’ve been doing for a long time. The whole conference was about new ways to teach, metacognitive teaching, native-speakerism, storytelling, videomaking, etc.

Then it struck me.


I noticed that I could read most of the signs written in Catalan everywhere in the lovely city of Barcelona. I remember thinking how weird it was to understand that language that I had almost no contact with except for Netflix series Merlí. Merlí was a rebellious philosophy teacher who provoked his students to think harder about things. He was a nonconformist. The series was shot in Barcelona and they used the Escola Mare de Déu de Montesserat as one of the shooting locations.

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I instantly fell in love with the series because it made me realize that what is new is still quite old. You see, Merlí is the embodiment of Socrates, a man who challenged paradigms, who proposed different things, who urged for innovation, one might say. Socrates’ methods, as described in my blog post, asked students to get to the bottom of things, to question their own assertions. Isn’t that the foundation of innovation?

The funniest thing is that, the way I see it, the innovation we want might not be a new idea at all. Sure, it might be a new way of doing something but it might as well keep its core, its original source so vividly that it’s hardly anything that new. That explains why I understood the signs in the subway:

Atenció – Attention – Attention – Atenção

Tren – Train – Train – Trem

Plataforma – Plateforme – Platform – Plataforma

They are new ways of writing Latin or Greek.


Inovació. Not that hard to understand when you know a little French, lots of English, and even more Portuguese. It’s really the same thing being written slightly differently. In every conference I attend or present at, the same ideas are repeated again and again but slightly differently. It made me come to a realization. Do you want to know what the biggest innovation in the classroom is? To me, it is still what Socrates taught us more than two thousand years ago: it’s us, the teachers. But not just that. It’s our relationship with our students and what we can make of it.

If you had 10 thousand dollars to invest in your school, what would you do? Buy iPads, computers, interactive whiteboards, a 3D printer? Those are all great things, but what really makes the difference according to the Education Endowment Foundation and John Hattie’s comprehensive research put together in his Visible Learning book is the teacher. And great teachers respond to students’ needs. Maybe, a wiser decision would be to put most of that money into teacher training, into CPD.

The next time you think about making a positive impact on your school or classroom, why don’t you try this:

  1. invest in your teacher;
  2. attend conferences and learn new ideas;
  3. embrace the old critical pedagogy;
  4. use technology as an ally, not as the main player;
  5. welcome mistakes and promote creativity;

Innovating is a process. It requires a lot of looking back rather than looking forward. I think Scott Thornbury’s talk about Innovation and his question if it would be the death of us explained well what I feel about the future. No matter what technology we create, be it simultaneous translating earpods, robot teachers, holograms, virtual reality, many of the things that are already here, innovation, no matter how it is spelled, is rooted in human creativity.

As long as we have inventive people making decisions and being allowed to make mistakes, we’ll be able to innovate and make progress. Bet on the human resources and conquer the world. That’s what I say, anyway.

Speaking of CPD, why don’t you give one of my online courses a try? Click on the button below for me to send you more information about them. I promise you won’t regret.

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