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.
Joe Robison is a Middle School Science Teacher in Valdez, Alaska. He is passionate about connecting with kids, building relationships, and innovating in his classroom. He enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife, Wylie, and their four small children. You can follow Joe on Twitter @joerobison907.