Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Asking the Right Questions

Innovation... what is it? What does it look like in a classroom? In a district? And how do we become brave enough to innovate? To take a chance on doing things differently?
By definition, innovation is a new method, idea, product, etc.

So in an educational setting, innovation requires people to change their thinking about students and learning, to try new ideas. Yet, this seems more difficult in education and we get caught up in the way things have always been done. 

 I'm reading two books right now and they are both pushing my thinking about innovation. 

One of the books I am reading is A Beautiful Constraint by Adam Morgan & Mark Barden. Although it is not education specific, the thoughts & ideas presented are certainly applicable. The model is based on "constraint-led innovation" and constraints are something the education system and educators know all too well. Whether it is not having enough time, people, resources, etc, teachers are well versed in constraints. But are we looking at those constraints and saying, "yes, but"? In the book, we learn about asking propelling questions and the "Can-If" problem solving method.

 Our world is full of can'ts, but what if we instead approached these issues with a different mindset? "We can if" allows us to look at those constraints in a much more positive light, which opens the door to innovative ideas. This is a great approach as we look at how to create a more relevant learning experience for our students. There will never be enough time in the day, we will always be short of staff and resources, but WE CAN if... What is the "if" that we need? The solution is up to the individual situation and the brainstorming that must take place to come up with it. We just have to be willing to think differently and come up with innovative solutions.

The other book I am (re)reading is The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros. I'm participating in the #IMMOOC online through blogs & Twitter and am finding this is the perfect time to revisit this book. One of the things that I am glad to be reminded of is that innovation can come from something new or an iteration (a new version) of something. As with many districts, we have our "pockets of innovation" that we would love to spread. One of these areas is student-led learning environments. Several teachers do an exceptional job of turning the learning environment over to the students, and we are looking for ways to increase that mindset.

This past week our district participated in Digital Learning Day, with many classrooms & student groups engaging in digital learning which for some was just a normal day. We had classrooms participate last year, but this was the first year we had a student-led digital learning experience. Our high school student advocates created a "Lunch & Learn" for the high school teachers to share with them a digital tool and classroom application. 

These students were empowered to be teachers & learners through this experience. They planned, advertised, and created a presentation to share Canva with teachers on their campus. On the day of, several teachers came in to the computer lab in the library to learn the tool, even asking the students how they could use it in their classroom. It was inspiring to hear the students respond with ways the teacher could effectively use Canva "instead of all the worksheets you give us." :)

In talking with the students,  there might have been a little disappointment in the number of people that attended the session, but overall they were proud of this experience and, through the iteration process, will be able to make their next session even better! The plan right now is to offer the Lunch & Learn once a month, with a new tool being presented each month.

So how does this tie in with the purpose of education and why did I connect these two books? I believe that we are often caught up in constraints and fail to see the opportunities to innovate. That not recognizing what students are interested in creates a passive learning environment and does not instill a love of learning. The teacher (high school librarian, Katy Smith) who worked with these students recognized their desire to help teachers integrate technology and provided an opportunity for them to do this. These students gave up personal time and were motivated to learn a tool and prepare for a presentation for teachers because they feel that teachers need help integrating technology into classroom instruction. 

It all goes back to questioning what we are doing and why? Our why must include our students and "What is best for THIS learner?" (p.21, The Innovator's Mindset) Students must be given the opportunity to take control of their learning and, even the teaching at times, because if they are passively involved in the education process, we are surely failing them. Including our students in conversations & planning help to ensure that they are active participants in their learning. Including them in projects and initiatives help to promote ownership in the learning environment. Asking our students for feedback shows that we value their opinion and what they have to offer. 

I will be reading and participating in The Innovator's Mindset #IMMOOC for the next few weeks and hope to blog more about our focus on seeking innovative approaches to education. 

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