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".
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.