Friday, October 7, 2016

Inspired to Innovate - #IMMOOC Week 2

Week two of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC) involves a study of Part I of The Innovator’s Mindset and a YouTube Live session featuring Shawn Clark and Brady Venables from Saluda County Schools in South Carolina (check out their blog, Classroom Confessional). As I read Part I and watched the YouTube Live session featuring Brady, Shawn, George, and Katie, I began dreaming about what school could look like.

I started thinking about how we can create a school system that gets kids excited about learning rather than dreading each day of school. I excitedly considered ways we can change the structure of learning to better meet the needs of our 21st century learners and prepare them for the world they will face, rather than the world our grandparents faced. I began thinking of examples like High Tech High, Iowa BIG, and ideas such as those from the documentary Most Likely to Succeed. Thinking like this gets me excited about the possibilities of education, but the excitement then fades as I consider the realities of our educational system and its place within our larger society.

The pragmatist in me recognizes the realities of our data-driven system that emphasizes test scores in measuring the successfulness of schools and teachers. As George Couros states in The Innovator’s Mindset, “we have taken the most human profession, teaching, and have reduced it to simply letters and numbers.” I see teachers that are struggling to keep up in the current system and thus unlikely to try new ideas. I see administrators pressured by outside voices that want schools to do more and more for students while maintaining our 19th century paradigm of how school should look. I see parents and community members who want what’s best for their kids, but are stuck viewing education through their own experiences and thus view more school (more and longer days) and more homework as more rigorous. Too many people in our society are stuck in the factory model of education that no longer applies to our students. There is no need in today’s world to drill students on facts. I agree that a certain level of factual knowledge is important to be culturally literate and creates a base upon which further learning can build, but the days of school being about learning facts are gone. Our students have a machine in their pocket that can produce more facts, faster than we could’ve conceived during our days in school.

As I dream about the possibilities of education and then crash back to reality, I finally settle somewhere in between. This week’s activities helped me to more fully develop some of the thoughts that have kept me involved with education despite my rollercoaster of emotions. I enjoyed the emphasis on innovating within the box. As I read about this concept, I realized this is something I have done throughout my time in education. I have never been involved in a school that truly went outside the box, yet innovation can take many forms and doesn’t have to involve blowing up the existing structure (even if we would like to do this at times). As we work within the tightly constructed box that is our educational system, we must continually ask the why. I agree with this week’s reading that the why of education is to develop learners and leaders that will create a better present and future. As long as we keep our focus on this goal, we can innovate within the bounds that exist in our educational realities. This means we all need to focus on the creation of a new and better way of reaching the students we serve. We must improve upon existing practices to allow us to meet the needs of our students. Working toward this end will allow us to grow in our profession, our methods, and our own personal learning, while adapting our practices to better meet the needs of those we serve.

Pezibear. "Untitled." 14 December 2014. Online Image. Pixabay. 7 October 2016. <https://pixabay.com/photo-746931/>
Katie Martin reinforced this idea by stating, “It is becoming increasingly clear that we don’t necessarily need to transform the role of teachers, rather create a culture that inspires and empowers teachers to innovate in the pursuit of providing optimal learning experiences for their students.” George uses this quote in The Innovator’s Mindset to reinforce the point that innovation does not require transformation. We must simply change the way we look at things. Innovation can come from invention (creating something new) or iteration (changing something that already exists), but it requires us to open our thinking to new possibilities.

The biggest change that needs to happen is putting students, rather than teachers, at the center of the classroom. For too long we have existed in a teacher-centered model of education, but we want students to do the learning. This brings me to another theme that continually popped up throughout Part I of The Innovator’s Mindset and in this week’s YouTube Live session; empathy. Educators must put themselves in the shoes of their students. Consider what it is like to be a student in your school or your classroom. How would the methods, routine, and culture of the school feel to a student? And, more importantly, how can you improve this?

To create a learner-centered classroom and to promote empathy in our views of school, The Innovator’s Mindset suggests the following critical questions to help us create new and better learning opportunities for our students:
  1. Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom? 
  2. What is best for this student? 
  3. What is this student's passion? 
  4. What are some ways we can create a true learning community? 
  5. How did this work for our students? 
As illustrated above, innovation does not have to involve expensive technology, we don’t have to scrap our existing system and start from scratch, it does not have to be something no one has ever done, we simply need to look at things from a new perspective and apply it to the needs of our students. This is what the innovator’s mindset is all about, a mindset that allows us to look for new ways of working toward our why - developing learners and leaders that will create a better present and future. As long as we are always asking ourselves, what’s best for students, and working to achieve this end (even within limitations that are outside of our control), then we are being innovative.

This seems like a simple proposition, but it will not always be easy. People do not like change, even when they know deep down that it is for the best. Others will question our adaptations of the existing system. Students may even want to go back to the old methods. We have trained students to be “academically compliant.” They often enjoy the simplicity of not having to think too deeply and of there always being a correct answer that can be found from a textbook or a lecture. However, is this what is best for them? If we truly think we are right, then we must stick to our philosophy and not allow a few naysayers to derail our efforts to improve the educational experiences of our students.

Those who promote change and embody the ideas of the innovator’s mindset exhibit the following characteristics as illustrated by Sylvia Duckworth.


Duckworth, Sylvia. "8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset." 10 March 2015. Online Image. Flickr. 5 October 2016. <https://flic.kr/p/rh9vco>
As George states, “When forward-thinking schools encourage today’s learners to become creators and leaders, I believe they, in turn, will create a better world.” So ask yourself every day, how can I improve the learning experience for my students in order to develop learners and leaders that will create a better present and future. By following through with this thinking, you are innovating and making a difference in the lives of our young people.

I want to thank Brady, Sean, Katie, and George for helping to push my thinking while at the same time keeping me grounded. I love the opportunity to dream while recognizing how to adjust these dreams to the current realities of our educational system.



2 comments :

  1. Hi
    Your words from this post helped inspire my IMMOOC Found Poem: Begin with Exploration, and I wanted to make sure I said: thank you.
    I hope you don't mind your words and ideas finding a new home inside of a poem.
    Sincerely,
    Kevin
    My Blog Post: http://dogtrax.edublogs.org/2016/10/08/immooc-found-poem-begin-with-exploration/
    Direct Link to Poem: https://www.thinglink.com/scene/841260843227152385

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Kevin! I'm glad you enjoyed this post and that it was helpful in creating your found poem.

    ReplyDelete