“Take what comes your way. Do the best with it. Be responsible as you can and something good will happen…” (Frank Gehry)
What structures are in place that encourage innovation at school?
So much is on a teacher’s plate these days that time is a precious commodity. Most of the contractual hours away from students involve a predetermined agenda- driven by politics, interpreted by district admins, and finally imparted to teachers in some fashion. I can’t recall having heard a teacher say, “I can’t wait to go to academic seminar.” I make it a goal for myself to take one new idea that I’ve heard from a training and apply it as quickly as possible. Going into training with this attitude makes it easier for me to prioritize what will work in my particular classroom during this particular year without feeling like I have to do it all.
I do wonder what would happen if, for one quarter, teachers were given the freedom to form their own learning groups. Would we be more excited about trying new things if we had ownership of our own self-improvement? Following through on innovative ideas doesn’t happen after one training. Follow through requires that teachers have a trusted group to share with and tweak ideas, not once, but over and over again.
I also recently read about the importance of making sure your group makeup is diverse in many ways. Teachers in different grade levels and subject matter, gender and race, etc…who meet together add to the innovation process by naturally pushing the thinking in new directions.
The closest my school came to dreaming of new ways of being in the classroom, as wonderfully creative as Gehry’s architecture, was our Innovation Cafe. It was canceled due to a need to pass along assessment information and because all planners involved agreed that teachers truly couldn’t handle anything that wasn’t essential at the moment. Even so, Innovation Cafe wasn’t crazy different from typical PD. Innovation Cafe was designed to be focused on classroom technology but with a menu of predetermined mini advertisements from those of us trying out technology in the classroom. We have been asked to try out the concept again in February. We anticipate the anxiety will be even greater as the year moves along. How does a school build and sustain a creative culture?
I hope to hear from more teachers out there working in highly engaging environments. For now I will enjoy applauding innovation in the world and dream of a day that schools embrace it fully. If teachers aren’t truly excited then how do we expect our students to be?