I am returning to my blog for the first time in almost one year. Wow. I enjoy writing and sharing thoughts/ideas with others so much, but I didn’t realize so much time had passed since I last connected with others. We all know that life happens fast. For me, the past year or so has been consumed with some travel, additional duties at work, and even an adoption (our 5th child). You just put your head down and go, and when you manage to look up, or take a breath, you realize how much time has gone by, and thoughts of “what happened” aren’t far behind. When this happens to me, I find myself always asking questions like, “what do I want”, “what is my passion”, “am I operating in that”, and often times “what habits am I building”. Of course, these are always preceded by the infamous “where did the time go” question.
Lately, I have been pondering this tension that seems to exist between where I am, and where I want to go, whether that be professionally or in my personal life. Professionally, I want to provide an environment where students can thrive, be a voice to others, be part of a learning community that works together, and am an aspiring administrator. Personally, I want to be the husband and father my family deserves. I want to honor, model, and teach our family’s core values to my children. My pursuit of this, which includes a lot of reading, conversations, reflection, and prayer, has led me to strive to make three things critical in my life. Be consistent. Be disciplined. Develop good habits. These are not new concepts. In fact, I would argue that we all know their importance in our lives. However, if you are like me, knowing them and living them can be two different things. What’s interesting, at least to me, is that you can’t have one present in your life without the other two.
In order to be disciplined and consistent, you have to develop good habits. In order to develop good habits, you have to be disciplined and consistent. There is a unique, mysterious marriage between these that works together to create purpose and passion in our lives. We need to determine which habits are essential to achieving our goals. This is not just for long term goals, but for daily goals that we set. Truthfully, everything we do is habit building. We are either building good habits or bad habits, but we are building habits. Knowing this, everyday consistency and discipline are critical to fulfilling the things that are important to us. I have discovered that being consistent and disciplined not only builds good habits, but it also leads to finding your passion and purpose. Many times, we already know our passion, but we struggle with knowing how to start moving and operating in it. As we develop habits that move us towards fulfilling our passion and purpose, the discipline and consistency that is required will make our passion our lifestyle, and not just something that always seems to be “one step away”.
I write this as someone who is still searching and trying to build those habits. I know I need consistency and discipline, and it is a choice every day. However, I also know that the more I choose to build the habits that are important, the closer I am going to move to finding and operating in my passion. As educators, I think it is essential that our students and staff see consistency, discipline, and good habits being modeled. Students need to know that everything they do is habit building. Everything. We need to create environments in our classrooms and schools where students, and staff, not only learn the importance of, but also build, discipline and consistency. Not everyone will make good decisions. Not everyone will see consistency and choose it. However, I believe the climate of our classrooms, the culture of our buildings, and the trajectory of our students depend on our decision to model it.
The idea that the world around us is changing rapidly is an understatement. We see it in almost every facet of life, from technology to job skills needed for the future. We are even seeing this change filter into schools with new technologies, the 1:1 movement, and even BYOD. However, many teacher remain frustrated because they know what many have yet to figure out… that real change in education will not come until we change how we do school. The frustration many teachers feel is, at its core, rooted in the traditional system that emphasizes things that often zap students of their creativity and curiosity. These systems tends to lead to curriculum that is boring, of little value, and often dampens the creative spirit of students, not to mention the attempts to make students “fit the system” rather than changing to fit the student. There seems to be little room for student-centered innovation, creating content, and finding “real world value” within the current system. How do we combat this and move past these frustrations? How do teachers begin to spark curiosity and ignite passion in learners? The answer to these questions is to bring change from within the system, and within your sphere of influence. For teachers, this change must start within your classroom.
Design thinking in education is so much more than just how you organize and design your classroom. While the learning space is important, the heart of design thinking is the mindset and approach that a teacher has to learning. What do you believe about your students? What do you think is important to their growth and success? How will you design things to fit the student, rather than forcing student to fit the design? What do you see as valuable assets that you can impart to students?
It is so important for teachers to establish a philosophy and mindset that will guide them. It doesn’t have to be radical or differ from your school or district vision. However, when you believe in an approach with your students, you will find that you are continually looking for ways to impart that into your classroom. It will drive how you interact with students and how you prepare for class. This is so different from just continuing to feed the system that has disengaged so many learners. Using design thinking, not just to create learning spaces, but also to create an environment that will spark curiosity, unlock creativity, and ignite passions in your classroom, will be a critical element of creating unique experiences for students.
One of the core principles of bringing change within the system is the idea of creating experiences for students. There absolutely has to be a paradigm shift from the idea of “creating lesson plans” to “creating experiences”. The idea of having lesson plans is not necessarily a bad thing. However, the issue arises when the practice of creating lesson plans does not leave room for creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving. You are absolutely in control of the environment that is created within your classroom. The value in creating an environment that students WANT to be in cannot be understated. Students have a natural sense of wonder and awe. The last place we want them to lose that is within the classroom. Not only do students innately look for moments of wonder and awe, but they are also creative by design. Our students have never lived in a world where they did not have the tools to create in the palm of their hands. There is so much creativity to be unlocked, wonder and awe to be discovered, and passion to be ignited within students. The shift of paradigm in the classroom from a teacher delivering information to being someone who guides students as they create content and solve problems is essential to creating unique classroom experiences.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
In order to bring positive change from within your classroom, a culture of communication has to be established. This includes communicating with both parents and students, and often times in different ways. At its core, communication in schools is about transparency. It is breaking down barriers in the student/teacher relationships, and is creating a classroom without walls. Relationship with your students is one of the single greatest tools you have at your disposal to help them grow and succeed. Talk openly with students about expectations and risks you are taking. If you are doing something new, tell them that we’re taking a risk, and we’ll see how it works out. Let them know the goal is to bring them opportunities and activities that have real world value. Tell them how design thinking has shifted your paradigm, and how what your goals are. I have found this provides students with a sense of confidence, both to take risks and to understand that you value them and their experience as learners.
Communication with parents is also vital to the pursuit to bring change. However, this communication has to be put into context. Many teachers remember when the only way to communicate was either a note home or a phone call. That is no longer the case. Given the technology we have available, I would argue that we have a mandate to create a school without walls. This communication goes beyond just informing individual parents about a students progress. It is about telling the story of your classroom and school. Use social media and Youtube to show parents what their kids are doing. I have started making videos using the CLIPS app, uploading them to YouTube, and including them in my emails. Parents are starting to subscribe to our channel so they can see what is going on. Leverage your school Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts to tell the stories of the experiences you are creating. These are the changes that we can make within our classrooms that gain momentum over time and begin to bring change to the system.
In education, both as teachers and administrators, there is no shortage of questions to answer and items to check off the list.
“What are the standards?”
“What are your lesson plans?”
“Did you put grades in this week?”
“What day are you testing?”
“Did you finish your homework?”
As you know, this list could go on forever, and I’m sure there are questions and “checklist items” out there that are unique to your classroom or your school. These questions are often rapid fire and routine. It has become increasingly clear to me, however, that these questions, and often answers, are incomplete. Many times, we are missing the “why?”
“Why is this part of my lesson plan this week?”
“Why am I assessing this way?”
“Why was this a homework assignment?”
ACKNOWLEDGE THE NEED FOR “WHY”
There is a growing frustration in schools, classrooms, living rooms, and other educational circles with the process and standardization of all things learning. All too often, it seems students are saddled with assignments, homework, and assessments that only serve one purpose: getting something done so a grade can be entered. I don’t think this is an intentional move on the part of most teachers, but rather the result of the education process over time that has demanded standardization and compliance. I think more and more, parents and even educational leaders, are beginning to ask “why” things are being assigned, practiced, and done the way they are. I really think this is due to two things: the growing frustration with the educational system and the rapid pace at which technology is changing our world. The truth is, the “why” is no longer to just deliver content. Our students have a wealth of information at their fingertips, and the job of teachers is transforming before our eyes. This transformation underscores the need to acknowledge the “why”.
START WITH THE “WHY”
The idea of starting with the “why” comes down to a basic philosophical view… do you think you are just making lesson plans, or do you believe you are creating experiences for students? If you believe you are creating unique experiences, then you likely take into account the “real world value” of learning, and not just the standards. Starting with the “why” is critical to providing unique learning experiences. Teachers have to consider, not just why they are covering certain material, but possibly more importantly, why they are assigning certain activities, projects, homework, or assessments. When you start with the “why” of what you are doing, you are forced to answer, upfront, some tough questions about what you are doing and the value it will have for students. I have found that working backwards from the “why” has allowed me to not only create valuable learning experiences, but it has also made me much more aware to what is of value, and what is not.
COMMUNICATE THE “WHY”
I don’t think we have ever lived in a time when communication was more important, especially in the world of education. I don’t just mean communicating with a students home, but rather communicating with students, other teachers, administrators, and, of course, parents. I have found that simply communicating the “why” behind what you are doing in your classroom will revolutionize climate and relationships. Much of the frustration that parents feel can be eased when teachers take the initiative and explain why they are doing certain projects or assigning certain work. Communicating the “why” also holds teachers accountable. You can’t just coast through the assignments you have given year after year without any thought to them anymore. You need to come up with fresh ideas that have real world value. If you make a decision to communicate the why, there has to be a “why”.
I have always sent an email out to parents to begin the week, where I update them on class and talk about what activities we are going to be doing. I do not send out standard, day-to-day lesson plans, simply because teaching is not standard, and things change on a moment’s notice when we get new ideas, or students want to spend more time on a certain topic. However, recently I have been also making a YouTube video where I briefly explain the “why” behind what we are going to be doing. It is a short video, but I am able to explain the real world value an assignment or project has, and I think that makes a connection with parents that is essential.
Relationships, Relationships, Relationships… how many times do we hear this phrase as educators? While most educators would acknowledge the importance of relationships, I think there is often a lack of understanding as to the power relationship creates. Being in the classroom with the same students on a continual basis can sometimes dull the edge of innovation. This is especially true with relationships. Think back to the first week of school each year, and the excitement that is created by new faces, new possibilities, and new relationships. As weeks turn into months, excitement and possibility tend to wear off, and they are replaced by comfortable routine. Being comfortable, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. However, being comfortable can lead to routine, and routine can lead to complacency. A complacent educator is the antithesis of an innovative educator, and this is especially true when developing and maintaining relationships.
UNDERSTANDING WE ARE IN THE PEOPLE BUSINESS
If being an innovative educator means finding the better, then being an innovative relationship builder is this times ten. How do you build innovative relationships with students or staff? Simply put, you find the method that works. As educational leaders, we are in the people business. This is an important distinction that you have to make early on. As a teacher, the environment you create for students within your classroom is the single greatest tool you have for engagement, empowerment, and growth. Too many times, teachers are caught up in content delivery, grades, and other routines that we establish and place before the relationships we build. Relationships are the key to learning, and they are something teachers have to work at daily to build, develop, and maintain.
A game has developed between myself and a couple of students at my school that we play each day. Simply put, it’s a race all day to see who can say “hi” first each time we see each other. In the hall, at lunch, in class, in the gym… the only rule seems to be that we have to be out of sight with each other before it starts over. I say “seems to be”, because this is something that is kid driven, and important to them. Whether I think it’s silly or not is irrelevant, because it is extremely relevant to those students.
Students remember teachers, not content. It is imperative that teachers leverage this truth and use it to create environments that students WANT to be in. Teachers are not in the content business, the lesson plan business, or the testing business. We are around students all day, with opportunities to make profound impacts. Student achievement is a result of learning enjoyment, which is directly related to the relationships we build as leaders. The moment a teacher forgets they are in the people business is the moment they stop being an effective leader
How can we be innovative in our approach to building relationships with students? Here are some things that I try to do on a regular basis:
ABSENCE OF RELATIONSHIP CANNOT BE AN OPTION
In order to build innovative, effective relationship in your school or classroom, I really believe teachers have to understand a fundamental change taking place in education. The primary role of the teacher is no longer to deliver content, but rather provide students with opportunities to use the knowledge they are gaining. The truth is that students no longer view teachers as a deliverer of content. There is no disrespect in that, but rather it is the reality of the age and a result of what we have at our fingertips. Just as this shift has made our classrooms more innovative, it has also made the need for positive and innovative relationships with student more important and vital than ever before. In the digital classroom, where information is essentially free-flowing and rampant, teachers have to figure out how to use the power of relationship to create engagement, which will lead to empowerment and growth. We have to build relationships that encourage students to take risks and use new information in meaningful ways. The teacher who still views their role as “delivering content” because they are the “professional educator” is in danger of fracturing relationships with students that cannot afford to be fractured.
Developing a culture of innovative relationship building often times requires a change of mindset. The possibility that a teacher's pedagogy can lead to fractured relationships can be offensive to some, especially to experienced teachers. This goes back to a fundamental questions that every teacher should ask themselves: “Do students WANT to come to my classroom?” If the answer is no, for whatever reason, the ability to reach that student in order to foster meaningful growth is significantly compromised.
People, and I would argue especially young people, have an inherent need, and a place reserved, for relationship. It's important to realize that, in the absence of relationship, something else settles into a student’s life. There is never “empty space” with young people. In the absence of meaningful relationships, apathy, indifference, and distrust can all find a place in students lives. This cannot be an acceptable alternative in our classrooms and schools. Avoiding this is going to mean changing our mindset, and becoming innovative in our approach to building relationships with students. At the end of the day, students don't learn from teachers they don't like.
As I have been on this journey to develop more of an innovator’s mindset, I have continually come back to two questions: What is the role of a teacher, and how does this fit into the traditional view of “school”? I really appreciate the “School vs. Learning” image that George Couros posted, because it forces teachers to look deeper into the role that we play. I think there are a few things that teachers need to do in order to develop an innovator’s mindset, which ultimately results in an innovative classroom. I first had to understand that I could not create an effective, innovative environment in my classroom unless I was pursuing an innovative mindset as a teacher. I could do new things, and even some exciting things, but if I wasn't looking to create an innovative mindset personally, then I would only be changing the climate of my classroom on given days. In order to change the culture of my classroom, being innovative had to become part of my educational philosophy.
For a long time, the idea of “school” has carried a certain connotation and definition. It has become an institution that is defined by certain characteristics that, over time, have become hardened and unchanging. The development of new technologies that has brought information, literally, to our fingertips, has started to push back on the “traditional” idea of school. If you are looking to change your classroom environment through increased innovation, it is important that you develop a philosophy and begin to view things through that lens. This is such an integral part of teaching because you want to change the culture of your building or classroom, and not just the climate. Climate can change day to day and week to week, and we should strive to develop a climate that promotes creativity, student voice, and innovation. However, the ultimate goal, for me, is to create a culture that promotes those things. My educational philosophy is core to this, because in order to change culture, I have to make decisions, design plans, and provide opportunities while looking through that lens. I believe the role of the teacher is no longer to provide information in mass, but rather to put kids in a position to use information in an effective, meaningful manner. I am trying to make classroom decisions through that lens, including how I design projects, assess students, and even how I relay information. It’s important to me not to micro-manage student learning, but rather give them opportunities to shine using their unique skill sets.
One of the biggest concepts sweeping education is the idea of teaching students to view failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. For a teacher, it can be easier to teach this than it can be to actually practice this. As you develop a philosophy and begin to make decisions through that lens, there will undoubtedly be bumps in the road. There will be ideas that you think are game-changers, which will ultimately fall flat with your kids. Changing culture in your classroom or building is not easy. Many students have learned, over time, to view things through the lens that traditional school provides. This traditional lens includes memorization and compliance. I am not necessarily blaming teachers for this, but rather I am recognizing this is what our system has promoted and fostered over time. Some of our highest achieving students academically struggle when presented with options outside of the traditional “is this right or wrong” mindset that has permeated classrooms. Having an educational philosophy is extremely important to helping overcome and change these paradigms. When an idea doesn’t work, a teacher needs to be able to look at the bigger picture and galvanize their belief and efforts, and a philosophy you believe in will enable you to do this. This philosophy that you create and will lean on will allow you to continue to pursuit of preparing our kids to be "future ready".
The idea of being innovative in the classroom is something that is sweeping the educational world. While the word “innovation” has become a popular buzzword, I think it can still be elusive for many teachers and school leaders. There are many different versions and ideas of “innovation” floating around. Some will point to new technology, while others point to new methods. There is even the idea that innovation is taking old methods and re-inventing them to reach students. I don’t believe any of these, as stand alone ideas, are completely right or completely wrong. My experience is that “innovation” is a combination of all of these things. I think this is true because all of these ideas can be used to produce something “better” for students. If you are producing something better, whether it’s new technology, new techniques, or re-defining old methods, you are bringing innovation into your classroom. I love how George Couros defines the’ “8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset”. While all of these are extremely important, I have found that three things have really become vital to my journey of developing an innovator's mindset.
"translating knowledge into action is perhaps more important than acquiring information"
- Thomas Friedman
FIND A PROBLEM, THEN SOLVE IT
The question of what students can do with the information they are obtaining is something we need to begin asking ourselves as educators. As my paradigm has changed over time, and the more I have developed a growth mindset, my philosophy about my students and the information they learn has changed. I had to ask myself, “why am I presenting this information to students?” If the answer was only to pass a test, either mine or a standardized one, then I realized I was doing my students a disservice. If all we are measuring is memorization and compliance, then we are not preparing our students to be future ready. It is important that we allow our students to use the information they are obtaining in practical ways. At the end of every unit or topic, I have started asking students to identify a problem they can solve with their new knowledge. This practice has become so much a part of what we do, that students now go into each lesson looking through the lens of problem solving. The process has now become one of students continually looking for problems to solve as they are introduced to new concepts. This concept is crucial to developing an innovative mindset in the classroom. As a teacher, your job is not to find problems for students to solve, but rather to create an environment where students look for problems to solve. This mentality is critical to not only having an innovative classroom, but also to fostering an innovative mindset in your students.
TAKE A RISK TODAY
The more I pursue innovation in my classroom and work to change my thinking to an Innovator's Mindset, the more truths about the process I have discovered. One such truth has to do with being a risk-taker in my classroom. The truth I have discovered is that, in order for me to develop an Innovator’s Mindset, I have to take risks. This has become a non-negotiable for me. My own willingness to take risks in my classroom stems from becoming sick and tired of watching my students be sick and tired of school. As I began to use various resources, such as Twitter, to grow my PLN and continually develop a growth mindset, I began to have a desire to break the cycle of traditional school that students hate so much. I began to ask myself, “is there a better way?” This has became somewhat of a mantra for me, as I have begun to ask myself this question with every unit, assignment, and topic. I have determined one of the best ways for me to find out if there is a better way is to take risks. Once you develop this culture, it becomes part of who you are as a teacher. I began to have conversations with my kids about taking risks. They love that I take them as a teacher, and they appreciate that I encourage them to do the same. Failure is definitely part of the process in an innovative classroom. However, failure should not be embraced or celebrated. Rather, in the innovative classroom, a culture of risk-taking actually encourages continued attempts to learn, grow, and innovate in spite of possible failure.
I wrote my first blog a little over a month ago. The topic of that first blog was the power and importance of becoming a connected educator. I have been on Twitter now for almost five months, and can say without hesitation that it has been the best decision of my professional career. The connection between developing an innovative mindset and leveraging the various networking opportunities available cannot be overstated. While Twitter is an extremely powerful networking tool for teachers, it is not the only tool. There are other social media outlets, whether it be Facebook, Voxer, or others, that teachers are now using to connect. There is also the EdCamp movement that is sweeping across the country. EdCamps, by definition, are natural networking opportunities for teachers, and we should be taking advantage of them. Not only do EdCamps allow teachers to come together from various geographical areas, but they also empower teachers to collaborate about the things that interest them and share the innovative things they are doing with their students.
One of the biggest benefits to using Twitter has been the opportunity to surround myself with like-minded teachers who have a growth mindset. The motivation and pursuit to be better is contagious, and results in the development of an innovator’s mindset. I love what George Couros says about Twitter: “Don’t let the fact that you can find terrible stuff on Twitter keep you from all the awesome stuff.” I only use Twitter for educational and professional purposes, and I follow enough teachers and leaders that my feed is filled with nuggets of growth and motivation. Networking with other teachers allows me to experience the innovative things they are doing with them. This experience, and the motivation it brings, leads me to try innovative things in my classroom and in my building. The power and importance of being connected in today’s educational climate cannot be overstated. The pursuit of an innovator’s mindset is continual, and leveraging networking opportunities is more vital today than ever before.
John Spencer (@spencerideas) gave one of the best analogies I've ever heard last night on #IMMOOC, comparing the love of baseball to school. It was one of those moments where I thought to myself, “that describes the state of our educational system exactly.” John’s analogy was:
“If someone had given me a rulebook, I never would have fallen in love with the game of baseball. I had to watch it, experience it and participate in it."
This analogy causes me to think what schools have become, vs. what they need to be. I love innovation and innovative ideas. I have developed a passion for not just being innovative, but being better. I want to be better each class period, better each day, and better each year. Even with the drive for innovation we see emerging in education, I feel as there is a truth in education that has been somewhat lost. This truth is that, at its core, our schools need to be a place for students to have an experience unlike any other. Every other function and purpose of school will fall in behind the experience we create for kids. As I pursue this, I have had to ask myself hard questions, such as:
I am a firm believer this experience starts in the classroom, and spreads throughout the school. I cannot create an environment students want to be in if I marry my content to traditional methods day in and day out. Students know the game of school, and its time teachers introduce them to a new game with new experiences and new rules. For too long, we have only given students the rulebook without allowing them to experience the wonder and awe school can and should provide. This is where the concept of design thinking comes in, and the freedom each teacher has to create his or her own framework. The goal is to provide experience. If we provide the experience, students will fall in love with the process.
SHRINK THE WORLD
One of the things that has really become a focus for me in my classroom and with my students is the idea of shrinking the world. There is so much truth in the idea that tech does not necessarily equal innovation, and that just because it is new doesn’t make it better. However, there is also the reality that our students now have access to the entire world at their fingertips. With just the push of a button, students now have access to information, resources, and connections on the other side of the globe. I would absolutely encourage you to leverage this with your kids. Allow them to use their phones to document learning. I started doing this in my Science class, and students began putting together some amazing things. When doing research, talk to them about resources such as YouTube, social media, and blogs. Give students the freedom to create in the ways and with the apps they are good with. These types of things are the building blocks for providing awesome experiences, because it makes school part of the student’s real world. Don’t just do new things, do better things… but also leverage the tools students use everyday.
For the past week, I have really been reflecting on what it means to have an Innovators Mindset in the classroom. I am about one week removed from attending our state’s Technology in Education conference (ASTE), and listening to the best keynote address I’ve ever heard, courtesy of George Couros (@gcouros). George’s words, much like his book The Innovators Mindset, are full of inspiration and motivation. As an educator who wants to be non-traditional and continually think outside the box, I found myself asking what it meant to be innovative, and if I was innovative in my classroom. By definition, to be innovative is to introduce new ideas that are original and creative in thinking. I also think that any idea you can use to first engage students, and then empower them to higher thinking, is an innovative idea. I am admittedly just scratching the surface of what it means, and how, to be innovative. There is still so much for me to learn and put into practice; however, there are some things I have been trying to incorporate with my students to help them unlock their own innovators mindset. The one thing George Couros said that has stayed with me is, “the next big game-changer in education is not innovative technology, it is innovative educators”.
I am convinced one of the most innovative things you can do is build relationships and connect with kids. If being innovative means to introduce new and original ideas, then having positive relationships with your students are a pre-cursor to this. I believe that your classroom environment is first a product of your relationships with students, and second a product of the things you do and opportunities you give students. These two elements form a dynamic classroom, and go hand-in-hand, but do not undervalue the importance of first building relationships. Students are innovative by nature, and often times are creating and doing awesome things outside of school, whether through video, social media, video games, or other outlets. Positive relationships combined with classroom innovation result in genuine curiosity, genuine expectation, and genuine freedom to explore. This dynamic alone will curb a great deal of “fears” about digital citizenship and discipline, simply because of the environment you have created. The most innovative technology in the classroom will ultimately have little staying power with students without a teacher who has built relationships and shown students they want to give them freedom to create, explore, and innovate. Students continually receive feedback, just as teachers do, and I believe they respond more positively when the feedback is “I trust you and want to help unlock your creativity and passion”.
Recent project where students were to document their understanding of the structure of an atom. They were given the choice to use any device or means they wanted. When given choices to be innovative, students can do amazing things.
One of the biggest “buzz-phrases” in education right now is “meet students where they are”. This is true in many ways, including both meeting kids where they are academically and also where they are in the real world. Teachers can’t focus on empowering students without first engaging them. Over time, I have discovered the power behind student engagement, and how it is intertwined with relationships, classroom environment, and empowering students. Lately, the questions I have been asking myself have moved from “how can I bring innovation to my content” – to – “how can I bring content to various, innovative techniques?” Often times, in order to answer that question, I have to take risks in my classroom.
Risk-taking in the classroom is not something that should be feared, but rather something that should be embraced. I have taken quite a few risks over the last few months, whether it was a new activity, or a new digital tool we were going to try. I have learned how important it is to be honest and upfront with your students. I have often told them, “we are going to try this, because I think it could be really awesome… and if it doesn’t work, we’re going to try something else that could be really awesome.” Because I have built strong relationships, I am comfortable having those conversations with my students. It enforces to them that I want them to have an awesome experience in my classroom and that it is important to me they WANT to be there. Here are some possible classroom risks that you can take, and some of which I have done the past few months:
There are so many more ways to innovate and take risks in the classroom than what I have just mentioned. You are likely thinking of new stuff everyday, and wondering “will that work with my kids, because it could be awesome”. I would encourage you to take that risk. Creating a culture of risk taking in your classroom can often times be the key to unlocking students creativity and innovative mindsets. Go into this understanding that not every risk you take is going to pay off. There will be times when something seems like a good idea, and it completely falls flat. The awesome thing about creating a culture of risk-taking is that your students will eventually begin throwing out ideas and new things to try. Although that idea may frighten some, that’s exactly when you know students are engaged, taking charge of their learning, and pursuing their passions. An innovative mindset is always asking, “is there a better way?”
I dedicated my first blog post to the importance of becoming a “connected” educator. I will keep beating this drum as long as I can, mainly due to the difference it has made in my own life. Becoming a connected educator five months ago completely changed my paradigm and professional trajectory. Of all the benefits being connected has had for me, one of the most important has been the push to be innovative. We are truly affected by the environment we are in and who we surround ourselves with. Social media outlets, such as Twitter, have allowed me to surround myself with other educators who have an innovative mindset. Sure, there are tons of ideas, activities, and plans you can “steal” from each other when you are connected. However, the bigger thing for me is the growth mindset and motivation that is just a “push of a button” away. Every time I participate in a Twitter #edchat or read a blog post from a member of my #PLN (Professional Learning Network), I come away motivated and eager to continue to learn and grow. I have found I take this mindset into my classroom, and it is often the inspiration for many of the risks I take. I love reading about new ideas, techniques, practices, and risks that people are taking with their students. While I often times see something I like and try with my kids, I ALWAYS, walk away thinking about what I can do differently and how I can be more innovative in my classroom. We live in a time when we literally have the entire world at our fingertips, and continued growth and innovation demands we take advantage of that.
It’s important to me that my first blog address the issue of being connected and how it has changed my paradigm. My journey started 3 or 4 months ago, when I attended a conference where Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy) and Glenn Robbins (@Glennr1809) were speaking. Since joining Twitter at that conference, I have made more connections, gotten more ideas and feedback, and shared more successes than I did in the first 12 years of my teaching career. Although I will be forever grateful to Jimmy and Glenn for sharing their passion and motivating me to reach higher, the connections I have made, and continue to make, along the way are what define my journey. I am now more motivated than ever before. I have developed a growth mindset that remained dormant for way too long. That motivation and growth mindset have ultimately filtered down to the most important part of my job, my students.
Being Connected Creates Motivation
If there is one thing I have learned over the last three months, it’s that being connected leads to motivation. Nothing creates the desire to be great more than reading about what other great educators are doing. As my PLN grows, the motivation to make a difference and be great grows with it. When I read what other educators are doing, something sparks in me and I am motivated to bring those ideas into my classroom. Being connected makes me want to be a better teacher, leader, and in my case, parent. As I participate in different #edchats or read blogs by others, I am gripped by an inspiration that I often cannot find anywhere else. Because of the connections I have made on Twitter, I have developed a deep desire to break away from the status quo. Interacting with others via outlets such as Twitter and various blogs has given me the tools to avoid complacency. As a teacher, I impart something everyday to my students, whether intended or not. If I allow myself to remain in a state of complacency, then I will ultimately create an environment of complacency. By staying motivated both personally and professionally, I create an environment of motivation within my classroom.
Being Connected Creates A Growth Mindset
For a long time, I was under the illusion that I had a growth mindset. That’s not saying that I did not want to become a better teacher, but rather that any growth mindset I thought I had was actually lying dormant. As you become more connected, and find yourself becoming more motivated, a growth mindset will naturally begin to take shape. Becoming more connected has motivated me to grow as a teacher and leader. Twitter has allowed me to develop a unique PLN, which is vital to developing and maintaining a growth mindset. On a personal level, I have begun to develop a mindset of being both disciplined and intentional. As I see others who are intentional about how they spend their time, I am inspired to do the same. While most people understand the importance of personal growth, there is a unique desire and motivation to be great that occurs when you connect yourself with other like-minded people.
Professionally, becoming a connected educator has become one of the single most contributing factors to the development of my growth mindset. Interacting with my PLN, reading various blogs, and participating in #edchats on Twitter has instilled a desire in me to get better. I have a desire to grow within my role as teacher and leader. I am a firm believer that you cannot promote growth in others unless you are growing yourself. As a teacher, I cannot expect my students to embrace a growth mindset unless they see it modeled. If I want to help bring a change in the culture and trajectory of my school, then I must embrace change and be willing to grow. Being a connected educator, by nature, will continually create a growth mindset.
Being Connected Benefits Your Students
The motivation and growth mindset you begin to develop as a connected educator will ultimately filter down to your students. As I am motivated personally and professionally, I have seen a distinct difference in how I approach my classroom everyday. I am more inspired to see students, not only succeed, but enjoy the process of learning. Listening to and reading about what other connected teachers are doing in their class naturally promotes a desire to “raise the bar” for my students. Sharing my student’s successes, as well as reading about other student successes, pushes me to provide students with the best experience possible. Through Twitter, I have discovered different lessons and ideas that my students absolutely love! Not only do I get ideas from other educators, but also from places such as Twitter, blogs, and other organizations.
Becoming more connected has created a natural accountability for the environment I create in my classroom. The willingness to take risks that I have developed as a connected educator is vital to my student’s success. Student engagement is essential for continued growth, and being connected positions me to maximize engagement with my students.
Being Connected is a Choice
Sitting at that conference back in October, I was faced with a choice about becoming connected. I could either join Twitter, or not. To not get involved would have meant to keep the status quo, and the status quo was comfortable. Growth is impossible without change, and for me to grow, I knew something had to change. Those initial choices I made have created a desire to continually get better at what I do.
You can’t force others to choose to be connected. Live your passion. Make the choice to pursue greatness. Create environments that students can’t wait to be a part of. Let your choice to be a connected educator and leader lead to greatness. When others ask what drives and motivates you to do those things, tell your story. As you share your story, always remember, the most important connection you will ever make as a teacher is with your students.
Joe Robison is a Middle School Science Teacher in Valdez, Alaska. He is passionate about his family, his faith, and his job. His desire is to be a leader for his family, and an innovator in the workplace. He enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife, Wylie, and their five small children. You can follow Joe on Twitter @joerobison907.