Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Innovation 101


Defining innovation is no small task. For the past few years we as educators have been tossing this word around and observing how it sticks. As a middle school principal with a staff close to 100, I am doing the same. I, along with my teachers, am watching, listening, and learning what it is to be innovative in this era of education.
Being on the cutting edge of best practices, we continue to explore new methods to deliver content and measure student growth. Teachers are allowing students to take more ownership of the lessons themselves and outdated practices are diminishing.
As we talk about the responsibility for the teaching and the learning within the classroom, we are recognizing that it is a shared task by both the student and the teacher. And, more than ever before, we are connected in what we are doing as teachers and how we support each other with our work. Social media is, where access allows it, a part of our daily work and our daily interactions with both students and teachers alike. Embedding today's technology in schools and classrooms is becoming more common and someday, we hope, will be universal for all educators at all levels.
Innovation in your school may or may not look similar to my own. Here are some topics to explore when having conversations with your colleagues about what it might look like as you walk through classrooms in your building:
Bring in Blended Learning—An approach that is taking our academic landscape by storm, Blended Learning combines the formal learning model and the schoolhouse approach and adds an online element to deliver content and instruction. This practice fosters innovation as well, as it allows for an element of student control and speaks to choice and voice in the learning process.
Shift to Project-Based Learning (PBL)—Having focused questions and solid, well-crafted assessments, allowing for multiple solutions, and getting the community of learners involved are all essential elements to a great PBL lesson. For PBL to be most successful, teachers use inquiry combined with accountability.  Schools across the country are working with their teachers to better understand how Project-Based Learning can increase student achievement.
Make Reflection and Feedback a Part of the Lesson—If you are not talking about teaching and learning in the moment, then you are missing the mark. Having students share out what they are learning at the point of delivery and giving feedback speaks volumes  for a teacher’s desire to improve the student learning experience. We need to be giving and receiving as much feedback as possible to support growth. If you haven’t yet done so, it might be time to have this conversation with your colleagues and add this element into your instructional expectations.
Groups & Teams—Sometimes our role as educators is to match our students’ learning styles, abilities, and interests with others—forming the best groups possible to work toward an assignment or academic goal. Being innovative can be as simple as creating groups of learners in a new, timely, and more strategic way. Being innovative can also mean knowing the distinctions that are sometimes drawn between groups and teams, and choosing the right format for the circumstance. Where the term "group" might mean any collection of students—or teachers—with a shared interest or purpose, "team" is more often used when group members not only share a common goal but work together interdependently, and are mutually accountable for that goal.
Make It Personal—I have written about this before and will continue to beat the drum. This is more than just knowing where a student is starting their academic journey at the beginning of each year or each unit of instruction. This is about creating a pathway to success based on their life-experiences, learning goals, and personal abilities. We will continue to be innovative in how we reach today’s students if we are encouraging personalization with our students. In the same regard, we as leaders should implement this same mindset for our teachers through their professional development. Not all teachers need to hear the same message all of the time and we should personalize their learning as much as we do our students.
Lead by Example—Get in the trenches and show what you can do when it comes to being innovative. Whether as a teacher or administrator, if you are not modeling what it is we expect to see from others, then we are no further ahead then where we started. So, get out of your comfort zone and lead, making visible what innovation can look like for all the learners that you work with.
Today, innovation is defining education.  What is included above is nothing more than a partial list of what is taking place in schools everywhere. I would encourage you to grow this list with your own thoughts, ideas, and creativity to best work with teachers and students in your environment.

If we remain focused on developing critical thinkers and problem solvers, being creative and supporting innovation in instruction, then we will have our students (and our teachers) ready for tomorrow.

Written for the National Center for Literacy Education. Find out more by going to their website at www.literacyinlearningexchange.org