The best time to innovate

Earlier this month, I was looking at a blog by John Spencer, one of the authors of Launch, which is all about design thinking and integrating creative thinking into classroom activities.  The gist of the post was to give some ideas for a creative way to spend the last few days before winter break instead of showing a movie.  You can check that post out here: Ten Creative Alternatives to Showing Movies Before the Break.


I’m sure you have noticed, when kids are given the opportunity to truly get immersed in an activity that they are interested in and motivated by, they get into this flow state where time just seems to fly.  Once in that flow state, they don’t want to do anything else.

As we continue to move towards more innovative practices in the classroom, it is my hope that we are truly giving students the agency and choice in what and how they learn so that those flow states happen more and more often.  At the same time, I know that there may be some among us that hesitate to dive into highly creative projects.  Maybe you don’t feel like your that creative yourself, maybe you worry about how to motivate the kids, maybe you worry that you don’t have enough time.

Today I’m going to look at one of those factors – time.  There have been many times when I have talked to teachers about some type of creative project that they are considering, and the response that I hear is “I just don’t think I have the time for this.”  Oftentimes those hesitations come from the fear that we might not be able to meet all our standards if we go outside of the box, other times it seems overwhelming to think about a day, or a few days, doing something other than the typical classwork.

Here’s my list of 4 times when it’s a really great time to try something innovative:

  1. Right before a break – Let’s be real, right before a break, no matter when it falls in the school year, whether it’s the three day weekend for Labor Day or President’s Day, a week for fall break or spring break, or a longer break right before winter break or summer break, we are all a little worn out.  Students, teachers, parents, administrators – we’re all looking forward to the chance to take some time away from school to recharge.  Often around breaks when I walk the halls, it’s a question of who is not showing a movie.  If we say we don’t have time to innovate, but we do have time to show a movie, I would like to challenge that thinking.  Before the next break, try something new and innovative with your class and just see how it goes.  If you’re looking for suggestions, the post from John Spencer above contains some really great activities that could be done in any classroom.
  2. The end of a unit – What happens when you wrap up a unit on a Wednesday or Thursday.  Do you dive right into the next unit, or do you do some sort of activity as a pallet cleanser?  That day or two after a unit could be a great opportunity to try out something innovative.  It gets you and your students out of the routine, which is a great way to increase thinking or learning.  Since I’m a runner, I think about it from the perspective of a training plan.  When I’m working up to my next half marathon, there are days where I will go for long, steady state runs to increase strength.  More often than not though, my pace is slower on those days.  A couple times a week I may work in a shorter session where I am doing interval training (moments where I mix some sprints in with some regular or low speed running).  While I generally run more miles on the long run days, I’m more tired after an interval training session.  I’ve taxed my muscles in a different way.  After a few weeks of the interval runs, I find that my pace on my longer runs starts getting faster.  Our brain can act like a muscle at times.  When you teach in a different way, you create new pathways in the brains of your students, which allows new learning to happen, and new ideas to stick!
  3. The first day back from a break So often on that first day back, your students are pumped to be back.  They are excited to see you, to see their classmates, and to get into the learning.  Instead of coming back and going right into the typical routine, switch it up.  Try some form of creative learning.  The fun that goes with these types of creative activities will have the kids begging for more!
  4. Any old time… Just because! – A while back I was reading a post – I honestly can’t remember who it was by – and the author said that the best time to try something innovative is right now.  When we get the desire to try something new, we are often tempted to wait for the better time – the end of the grading period, the start of the next semester, or next year.  The main point of the post though, was that if you believe that an activity would benefit your students, don’t you owe it to them to do it right now?  It was an idea that made sense to me.  The next time you see something that would be new and better for your students, go for it.  Don’t wait for later, just dive in.  What’s the worst that happens?  If it doesn’t go well, you’ve got a great way to model growth mindset.  And if it does, you’ve just created an amazing learning opportunity for your students!

So, what are your thoughts?  Do you have any additional ideas of when it’s a good time to do something innovative for your class?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!



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