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Creating solutions for Danish teachers - the time and quality dilemma

In August 2014, elementary school reforms were launched aimed at improving the skills of all students in Denmark. The reforms, which required changes to the way lessons were planned and delivered, came at the same time as a change of law to teachers’ working hours - requiring more time in class and in school.

Against these competing demands, teachers found they no longer had time to prepare classes, read student papers and give feedback - all of which thwarted the reforms’ aim of improving students’ skills. The poor results of a teacher satisfaction survey during the period communicated the negative impact these changes were having on the working environment. Urgent action was needed.

Tasked with implementing the reforms in the Municipality of Odense, Lene Nygaard, a Programme Director at the Child and Youth Unit describes how she set out to find a way of overcoming teachers’ time and quality dilemma.

The most straightforward solution - reducing hours spent delivering lessons so teachers could provide pupils with more feedback - lacked political support. So, with the municipal director and the head of MindLab, it was agreed that a user-centred innovation approach, that would take into account the different perspectives and roles of teachers, principals, and central administration, would work well.

An initial project outline for the principal of three schools, who each responded positively, and soon another school came on board. The project aimed to:

  • Develop new ways of working and methods for teaching
  • Support a good working environment
  • Strengthen the support of the elementary school reform and the new law of working hours for teachers

The process

For 5 months, 8 teachers, administration consultants, and MindLab worked iteratively selecting, developing, and refining initiatives to improve teachers’ work balance. Teachers had significant input selecting the initiatives the central administration would later invest in and implement. While a number of initiatives through the process, focus below is on Speed sharing - the most developed of all the initiatives:

Iteration 1: Inspiration from other industries

To inspire the 8 teachers, they were presented with ideas from different industries. One such idea was a lunchbox that families can subscribe to. Delivered to their home, it contains fresh ingredients and varied recipes - and frees parents to simply assemble their kids’ lunches. The lunchbox inspired teachers to explore sharing lessons where the best teaching materials were assembled in "boxes" that other teachers could use. 

Inspiration from other industries - the family lunchbox. Image courtesy of Lene Nygaard, Munipality of Odense.

Iteration 2: Co-creation

MindLab created simple prototypes for 7 ideas from the first iteration. Facilitated by MindLab, teachers were given the opportunity to co-create prototypes in their schools. Physical “lessons boxes” were then prototyped, and teachers were asked to describe their ideal content and how they would use it.  The exercise led teachers to conclude they were not looking to copy an entire lesson, but rather find inspiration when developing their own lessons. The lunch box idea was thus replaced with the idea of speed sharing, where a group of teachers meet to share tips in a structured way.

Teachers protyping the physical “lessons boxes”. Image courtesy of Lene Nygaard, Munipality of Odense.

Iteration 3 and 4: Future scenarios and pilot testing

Iteration 3 involved the teachers drawing up concrete scenarios that highlighted the role of teachers and management, and described how they envisaged the tool would work. In the next iteration, MindLab and the administration turned video scenarios into a concept of speed sharing that was specific enough to be tested in practice. The concept of speed sharing was tested at 2 schools, allowing teachers who had not been involved in the co-creation process to participate [Picture 4]. Only minor details were adjusted after the pilot test, and teachers were enthusiastic about speed sharing. Based on this, the schools began to offer speed sharing facilitated by the municipal administration.

Testing speed sharing with teachers. Image courtesy of Lene Nygaard, Munipality of Odense.

Some concluding thoughts

The project has demonstrated the passion and commitment of teachers, and has helped them recognise that the challenges they experience are taken seriously by administration. Though administrators, management and teachers have different tasks and roles - this has been a useful exercise in demonstrating that each share the same goal - improving the learning and wellbeing of all students.

The next phase of the project will focus on upscaling speed sharing across several schools, and helping to convert knowledge sharing into actual teaching. The process has also had other benefits. It has inspired the municipality to further explore how it can work to pollinate the ideas and knowledge from one school to another, instead of just facilitating meetings with schools. And at a conference next spring, all teachers will be involved in a major cross-school speed-sharing process.


Lene Nygaard

Lene Nygaard is a Programme Director at the Child and Youth Unit, Municipality of Odense, where she has been responsible for the roll out of new school reforms.

Sophie Reynolds

Sophie Reynolds

Sophie Reynolds

Former Senior Researcher - Public and Social Innovation

Sophie was a Senior Researcher in Nesta’s Policy and Research unit. She is now Director of Sophie Reynolds Research & Consultancy.

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