Teaching for Tomorrow: Brett Kent Doesn’t Focus on the “Right” Answers

This Australian educator pushes students to work through complex issues and come up with their own creative solutions.

Artwork by Monica Acedo.

by Clara Galán

posted on 09-05-2018

Test scores, large class sizes, short attention spans — these are all challenges educators face. Add in an increased focus on measurable outcomes and testing, and it’s not hard to see why today’s students engage in fewer creative learning projects.

Brett Kent’s classroom, though, is an exception. As a STEM specialist and information and communications technology (ICT) teacher at Hilltop Road primary school in Merrylands, Australia, and Adobe Education Leader, Brett is laser focused on creating unique learning opportunities — opportunities that lean on creativity, creative problem-solving, and treating all first-time learners equally, no matter if they’re 6 or 60.

“I allow students to drive the outcome and let them guide me toward the end,” Brett says of his lesson planning approach. “My job is to help them and support them. The learning will happen around the experience.”

Experience-driven learning

Those experiences, he says, are anchored in ongoing encouragement, support, and confidence-building, with an eye on helping young learners develop skills they’ll need today and tomorrow. Year to year he mixes new and old lessons based on what’s working, what’s in demand, and what’s trending. “If the lesson rocked then I will redo it…especially the ‘bangers,’” he says of his “best-of” lessons. “I’ll also retry a rubbish lesson and see if it can become what I thought it was in the first place.”

No matter if the lesson is a “banger” or “rubbish,” Brett pushes students to work through complex issues and come up with their own creative solutions. Even homework assignments rarely have a finite path to success. Instead, Brett lobs a problem — then steps back.

“Kids can do amazing things if you stand back and let them,” he says. But when they don’t connect the dots, he’ll still take it as a win, provided they learned something in the process. “I want students to have figured out 1 million ways to fail, because they’re willing to keep trying.”

Other assignments emerge from students’ external coursework. When his year two (first grade) students were learning about the history of toy production, for example, Brett gave them the opportunity to design their own toy and make it a reality using 3D printing.

While it seemed complex given the age of the students, Brett was able to break things down and help students excel. “His simplicity and clear instructions when teaching something complex set him apart,” says Hilltop Road colleague Rita Sleiman. “But there’s always one ingredient present in his teaching method — it’s always about having fun.”

Brett helping his students during class.

Focus on long-term skills

While recognizing he has a responsibility to teach specific skills, Brett knows the constant technology churn means students need to prepare for their futures differently than previous generations. To support their growth and evolution, he works to push beyond standard themes and topics to show them the skills, traits, and mindsets they’ll need to excel post-graduation.

“Brett presents innovative and challenging work that encourages students to work creatively through a problem to a solution,” Rita says. “He challenges students to think critically and creatively at the same time.”

In taking this approach he leans heavily on creative and tech-focused solutions, including the Adobe Education Exchange. “It’s the people and the contacts,” he says of this platform, “and having access to a global resource of big brains. This helps me to know the direction these guys are headed. I love seeing what a university teacher is delivering and trying to see how close a 6-year-old can get to that.”

And beyond that, it’s just practical. “Paint gets expensive, and it’s hard to undo an error,” he reminds. “Photoshop can be experimented with — for infinite possibilities.”

Collaborate with your peers

Ultimately, Brett’s teaching and learning approach is about creativity, critical thinking, and confidence. “There is no difference between a 6-year-old and a 60-year-old when they are learning something for the first time,” Brett says. “A first-time learner is a first-time learner.”

This is a mindset that not only impacts students’ learning potential, but also the Hilltop community as a whole. “Throughout the years Brett’s creative approach has inspired me to take risks,” Rita says. “It’s about guiding and facilitating our students in how to use the tools in order to create a project using their skills and creativity. It’s about the students — not the teacher — creating.”

In spite of the accolades and recognition, Brett doesn’t see his approach as anything new or innovative. To him, this is simply a better, more modern approach to teaching and learning. “I like to listen to what’s driving education,” he says. “But more so, I tend to focus on what the industry wants from a graduate, and combine that with what interests the kids. I figure that will drive them in the right direction.”

And, while they “drive,” Brett is content to sit back and see where their creativity takes them. “I’m just an Aussie guy having fun watching kids solve the problems of the world.”

Read more articles about creativity in education in our Back to School collection, and see what the Adobe Education Exchange community has to offer you, including our courses for teachers.

Topics: Industry, Creative Inspiration & Trends, Creativity, Education

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