An Open Letter to Educators

Earlier this summer I finished reading the book The Innovators Mindset by George Couros (@gcouros).  One of the things that I loved about the book was his use of his website and blog as a way of linking to important information that tied to the chapter you had just completed.  On his website you find a page dedicated to each chapter of the book.  It has a brief overview as well as links to additional reading (typically blog posts or new articles), as well as video resources.  One of the links led me to the video below titled “An Open Letter to Educators.”  Take a moment to watch the video:

A few thoughts after watching:

  • If a strong education is the key to success, what does that education look like in this day and age?
  • Does the current institution of education get our students prepared for a successful future?
  • How has “free” information changed your life?  How might it continue to change the lives of your students?

If, as Dan Brown says “education isn’t about teaching facts, it’s about stoking creativity and new ideas” and one of your primary goals should be to “empower students to change the world for the better” then I wonder what our classrooms need to look like?  What are we getting right?  What aren’t we getting quite right yet?

For me, I see collaboration, student choice and student voice, authentic and meaningful learning, inquiry based activities, and opportunities for our students to apply their learning beyond the classroom as keys to help meet these needs for our students.

InnovatorsMindsetWhat do you see as the keys to success for your students?  How is your classroom currently meeting the needs of your students?  In what ways is your classroom still falling short on meeting those needs of your students?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!  If you’re looking for ideas and inspiration, I highly recommend The Innovators Mindset as a way to help you find opportunities for innovation!

 

I don’t have time for that!

I don’t have time for that!

It’s a refrain that seems to come up quite often in education.  You might have just left a professional development talking with a colleague and you feel excited to try something that you learned only to hear “I don’t have time for that” in response.  Or maybe you shared an article with a friend that you have used to help in your classroom, and the only response you get is “I don’t have time for that.”

Or even worse, maybe you’re the one saying “I don’t have time for that” to your colleague, administrator, or friend.  My immediate response, knowing that we work primarily in a learning environment, is “You don’t have time to learn?”  Would you allow your students to say that?  Would that be an acceptable response in your classroom?

I would challenge you to shift your mindset.  Reading a recent post from the blog Principal of Change, George Couros makes a suggestion of what we can say instead of saying “I don’t have time for that.”

  1. How will my students benefit from this practice?
  2. I am not seeing the relevance of this for teaching and learning…could you give me specifics of how this would impact my practice?
  3. How would you suggest incorporating what you are suggesting into my position?
  4. What has been the biggest benefit for your own practice?
  5. If I was to do this, what would it replace that I am doing now?

Time

How many times have we all tried things, thinking that they wouldn’t be valuable, or we wouldn’t like them, only to realize a few days (or weeks, or months) into the new thing that we couldn’t imagine not doing things this way?

So what can we learn from those moments?  My hope is that we would come to the realization that it is important to be open to learning and trying new things.  Just because you feel as though you “don’t have the time” you can’t just dismiss something out of hand.  Take the moment to ask the questions above.  If the answers are satisfactory, then that should show that you need to make the time to learn a little more, to try it out, and hopefully create a better learning environment for our students.

Remember that we are the ultimate models of learning for our students.  If we never try something new, if we never exit our comfort zone, if we never do things differently than the way we’ve done something in the past, then we are saying to our students that it’s ok for them to be the same way.

What are some things you tried, not knowing quite how they would work out, only to be pleasantly surprised by how great it really was?  Let us know in the comments below!

Defining Innovation

Recently in education there has been a lot of talk about innovation.  The question is, how do we really define that word?  What is innovation in education?  Do we get there by handing our kids a digital device and then stepping back?  Do we get there by taking our old worksheets or workbooks and fill in the blank packets and making them digital?

This electric car dates back to the 1890s at a time when electric vehicles outsold combustion engines at a rate of 10 to 1.
This electric car dates back to the 1890s at a time when electric vehicles outsold combustion engines at a rate of 10 to 1.

When I think of innovation, I don’t just think of something as new – I think of something that is both new and better.  Electric cars have existed since the 1830s (look it up!), but not until recently with companies like Tesla (or Toyota with the Prius) have electric cars begun to be innovative because not only are they something new, but some would argue that they are better than other options on the market.

 

Avoid the $1000 Pencil
Avoid the $1000 Pencil

 

If we hand our students an iPad and then take our old lessons and make them digital, then that iPad is nothing more than a $399 (or maybe more depending on the model of iPad) pencil.  Are we being innovative by spending that much on something that we were already doing?  Probably not!  In the past, I have talked about the SAMR model.  Substitution and Augmentation are the basic levels of tech integration – to get to the Modification and Redefinition is a high bar to climb.  Look back at a previous post for what it takes to get there.

So to be innovative, we have to shift our mindsets.  Just adding tech does not make you innovative.  Being intentional in our choices about how we use technology is what gets us to the innovative activities that will lead to greater student engagement and growth.  And here’s what’s amazing about that – what’s innovative in one classroom or for one teacher may not be innovative for another.  Innovation is different for all of us because we all are at different places on the spectrum of innovation.

As you think about how you want to grow and innovate as a teacher, take it one activity at a time.  Think about what you could do to make this one thing new and better.  As you innovate one thing, you may get the bug to innovate in another area.  With each step you take you move further along that spectrum.

It’s easy to get stuck in a creative rut and say we don’t have time, but if we don’t try new things, we aren’t modeling for our students what it means to learn and grow.  Sometimes we all have to be a little uncomfortable with where we are or where we’re going.  Think about how often you expect your students to try new things, to be a little uncomfortable, and to be willing to fail.  Sometimes we have to remind ourselves what that feels like by pushing ourselves to go a little further.

What is one activity that you think you can play with this summer to make it new and better for your students in the fall?  How will you make sure that you keep pushing yourself to be innovative?  Add your thoughts in the comments below.