Innovate Your Life: Journey
Updated: Jan 2
6 months ago I was approached by a friend and mentor to open the first Teach 2 Lead Conference in the Middle East by sharing my story as an educator.
I'd never done this before. After spending a long time trying to figure out how to create a simple but effective narrative I finally came up with a speech that I felt reflected the most important parts of my journey as a person and an educator. I hope it inspires you.
Good morning everyone, Welcome to the first teach 2 Lead Middle East conference. What an amazing group of educators we have here, all dedicated to making a difference in the journey of our students - the future leaders and innovators of the world.
My name is Evo Hannan, I’m a Design teacher of 19 years and I promote innovative thinking in education, and I would like to take this opportunity to share my journey with you. When Kevin first asked me to talk about my story, I felt both surprised and honoured. I’ve had my share of ups and downs, been in dark places and felt as high as a kite, like many of us, but over the past few years I’ve discovered a key, a key which has helped me reach to where I am today, to right here talking to you lovely people, and where I want to go in the future.
“It’s a key that requires turning, whenever you need a change, whenever you are inspired to take a different approach, this key is innovation.”
As a visual learner, I find inspiration in the smallest of things, and from so many different sources, these small flashes of inspiration, things we see and do, the places we visit, even the clothes people wear. Let me take you back to 2012, I’d been a head of department for 2 years and I was called into the heads office ‘out of the blue’ and told if I didn’t increase my departments grades, I may lose my position. We had growing numbers in our subject and the grades were in the top 30% of the school, so I didn’t understand. This sent me into a downward spiral, I felt anxious at work, I lost my focus. I felt threatened, and confused.
And then I was hit with a giant bolt of lightning, a eureka moment of inspiration, when I held my first born for the first time, Zakaria Robert Hannan, born at 2.32pm on Saturday 2nd February 2013. Time stood still, I forgot about everything, it was just him and me. I felt love on a whole other level, and instantly inspired to change where I was and how I felt about myself. I had to change my mindset, refocus, innovate. This single moment lead to a chain reaction that changed the way I viewed myself and my place in the world forever.
Zakaria is now 6 and we also have little Zara who is 4, and quite the handful I must say. They keep me inspired through the good times and bad, the sun is always shining when they are around. It is so important that you [find your inspiration], whatever it maybe.
Unlike my children, I grew up in a deprived part of Merseyside, England. My brother and I were the only non-white kids in the school, a high school of 1,500 boys. You can imagine how that went down. Often picked last, never really considered for many things. But we survived. I was always fascinated with fixing things, making things, recreating things, innovating as we now call it.
Design became my passion, my saviour. I was often in the workshop during lunchtime when the other kids where outside playing football, as well as the obvious reasons of feeling different, I also felt calm and at peace, just doing my own thing, with no one bullying me and no one was bothering me. I won a few awards for design and ended up visiting some university campuses for design when I was 17, including The Centenary building in Manchester. I’d never been in a building like it, I walked through the revolving doors in awe. Open plan classrooms, floor to ceiling windows. This is where I wanted to continue to study design.
Back then no one really cared about it creativity, not like they do now. After graduating, I discovered a new passion for education, but kept one foot in the design world. How lucky was I, to be able to teach students the very thing I was passionate about. But that passion got kicked out of me when I started to get overloaded with admin work in my leadership position at school. Luckily some of my innovative work outside of school got me noticed by a number of schools, including my new principal who offered me a job at the all new Dwight School Dubai, and I haven’t looked back since. I found my passion again in teaching design and innovation, leading our school being in the international press for the F1 in Schools challenge – I was the only teacher to enter an all-girls team from a mixed school, and they did amazingly well coming second overall - this one for all of the girls in the room! So even when everything seems overwhelming, [find your passion] again and relight that fire!
Soon after my son was born I was reignited with this burst of inspiration, I wanted to make a change, I wanted to become more, connect with the community, give back but didn’t know where to start. I found I only had friends from my school, and that was it, most of which never understood my ideas and motivation, even when they tried, anyone else in the room know what I mean?
I wasn’t going to settle for this. During the sleepless nights as a new dad, the many sleepless nights, I started to work on a new project, something that would challenge me to be more innovative and help me to promote community spirit amongst teachers. I created a brand called Connect.ed and started to host teacher networking events. My friends thought I was crazy. Why do you want to meet other teachers, don’t you have enough friends? The very fact I was asked this in the early days, made me realise I needed to mix with more like-minded people.
The first event was in September 2014. I had over 70 teachers turn up from 10 schools. I was nervous, excited and overwhelmed by the response. Since then I’ve hosted brunches, dinners, parties, balls, charity skydives, across the emirates, even to Qatar where I met my friend Dan Pardy who’s been a great supporter ever since. I found that by stepping out of my comfort zone, I found my comfort zone. I met a whole bunch of like-minded people, including my man Kevin Simpson, the man who gave me this opportunity, who have become some of my best friends.
I rebranded and relaunched in October 2017 under Teacher Society, guess who with? The same people I met at my first events back in 2014, my great friends, Scott, Laura and Gary. Teacher Society is 2 years old tomorrow, and we are celebrating becoming a global community, with groups in; Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and New York!
So go ahead [find your people] because when you do, you’ll achieve things you never thought possible.
Has anyone heard of Liverpool, England? Beatles, Liverpool Football Club, yeah you know. Well I grew up with a view of the Liverpool skyline out of our skylight window. I used to go to the attic at night as a boy, get a chair, lift open the window and just stare at the lights in the distance. The seed was planted, I was going to live in a city when I grew up. I first visited Dubai in 2001 on the way back from my native Bangladesh. It was a very different place back then, but I knew I wanted to be here. I had the first rendering of what was known back then as the Burj Dubai as the wallpaper on my computer in 2006. Less than a year later, I was on a plane to Dubai to start my international teaching career, I couldn’t believe it! I actually got to watch the Burj Khalifa get built, and attend the opening ceremony, absolutely unreal! This place has inspired so many ideas for me since I arrived.
In July 2017 I was given the opportunity to guest lecture at Parsons in New York, yes, the Parsons on 5th Avenue, unbelievable! For me this was like the stuff in movies. I’d be working in New York City! I’d waited so long to see the city and I have to say I absolutely loved it. I love the energy, I felt alive and inspired to take on new challenges. One of my Dubai friends was over at the same time. During a Yankees Game I told him that this would become one of my cities I would work in the future, but I had no idea when. I didn’t know anyone in NYC and it’s crazy expensive! This experience did however inspire me to speak at conferences.
After a number of speaking opportunities in Dubai a education company with some very nice people offered me an all-expenses paid trip Singapore to speak at an international innovation conference on 4th October 2018. I felt like a rock star, flights, hotels food, all paid for. I was like, I could get used to this! The week after Singapore, one of my friends asked when I would be conquering New York as a joke. I thought, you know what, that’s not a bad idea. But how? I didn’t really know anyone there, and it’s an expensive place to visit with no real agenda. I had to look at things from a different perspective. This idea made no sense to anyone but me. I dedicated time to developing my PLN on twitter, connecting and reaching out to anyone and everyone I could, I had 450 followers at the time. I had to innovate, so I created my own twitter chat in January called #ENGAGED, with co-hosts from across the world, including a new friend from New York. Within a month I had a full itinerary, even had people offering to come and pick me up from the airport. I’ve got a great bunch of friends in NYC now, I’ve spoken at schools, I even created my website when I was there after receiving some feedback. See, a little bit of innovative thinking can get you anywhere. So much so that I’m hoping to be back there again in April 2020. So [find your place], a place that helps to keep you innovating and motivated.
The last 12 months have been pretty crazy. I’ve travelled to Singapore and New York for speaking engagements, made a lot of new connections and friends at conferences, and using Twitter - I have over 4,000 followers now! I’ve been published in magazines and on the web. Talked at TEDx about how to value your creativity - you should check it out! I’ve developed video content for my social media channels, started to record my thoughts and ideas down in a blog to share with others. I’ve started a course on innovation from MIT and developed my own innovation model for schools called Innovation X. I’ve also done work with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I turned 40 and hosted a James Bond party on the QE2 with 100 friends, it was awesome!
I even have my own .com! My own .com! This little guy from Merseyside, I never thought I’d have that. I feel alive, inspired, confident, connected, and free to create. More than I ever have. I’ve learned to be bold and have self-belief and if I want to see a change, I need to innovate.
[I started to find myself]
What lies ahead? Hong Kong in December, New York in April, Australia in July and possibly Tokyo in the summer, all connected to developing myself more as a person and as an educator. I’m finding the more progress I make on this journey, the clearer the connections become between my personal life and my professional life, and it has helped me really organize my priorities.
Mahatma Gandi once said – A man is but a product of his thoughts, what he thinks he becomes.
I’d spent 34 years, of my life thinking the wrong things about myself. You see, with a little innovation, belief in your ideas, we can achieve wonderful things.
Find what inspires you and keep it close to you
Find your passion and keep working on it
Find the people who love you and keep loving them
Find the place you belong in and keep visiting it
Find yourself and be all you can be
Shake peoples hand, smile at a stranger, help those in need.
[Innovate your life]
We are all on our own journeys, experiencing the joys and sorrows, sadness and happiness. This journey has brought me here, today, with you lovely people and I’m hoping that someday, through our inspirations, passions, or the places we visit we will meet again.
I’m a better person, I’m a happier person, and my confidence and self-awareness resonates in the classroom and this is what I instil in all my students.
Wishing you the very best for your journey, have a fantastically innovative day!
Thank you, and good luck!