Adapting to Change

“When our students get into the real world, they’re going to need to do X, Y, and Z…”

Sound familiar? I’ve been hearing this for many years in education, and, if I’m honest, have said it a lot of times myself. It’s one of those educational catchphrases that the older, wiser, mentor often says, and we new teachers lap it up without giving a lot of thought. Part of that is because sometimes school seems so much different than the outside world, we’re sometimes isolated from a lot of the reality of how people interact and communicate outside of our classroom walls. We can examine these two pictures of classrooms, and recognize that not a lot has changed, even though so much around us actually HAS changed.

Aside from the interactive board at the front of the room in the color photo, not much has changed from the classroom of the 1950s. While this is not true in all schools – lots of wonderful, immersive learning experiences are happening – it is still quite common to see the traditional desks/table in rows.

My brilliant friend George made me think about this topic again the other day when he wrote a blog – On the “Real World”. You should definitely read the entire post, but I especially relate to the idea that we have to “prepare students for continuous change and adaptation.”

How often does your schedule change? How many times have you logged into Google and noticed something changed, or management structure changed (again), or a process on how to submit for a reimbursement was adjusted? This can be frustrating and induce some stress, especially if you’re used to doing something the same way and have been doing it that way for a long time. Change is inevitable. We have to learn how to adapt to it and adjust.

Changing presidential administrations in 2017 was a huge challenge for me – and millions of Americans. It can be hard to adjust when things change and we’re not happy with the outcome. Our students experience those things, too, and it’s essential we equip them with the skills to process and deal with that. We must model it for our students – with as much grace and dignity as we can muster. As educators, we also must acknowledge change can sometimes be good, even if it doesn’t seem that way at the time. Evaluation and putting aside personal biases is a tough thing to do, but essential if we want to properly evaluate situations.

#IMMOOC – Season Two

Last night some pretty smart people kicked off another round of the #IMMOOC – The Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course focused around the book – The Innovator’s Mindset. I participated last year, but when I heard there was going to be another round of the IMMOOC, I was thrilled. It’s always fun to connect with new people and challenge your own thoughts and ideas.

One of the questions from this week is centered around the idea of the purpose of school. What is it we are actually trying to do with our students? For me, as a former social studies teacher and current technology integration specialist, the purpose of education is to teach students how to engage with the world around them. They obviously need content knowledge to contextualize their ideas, but we really need to support our students in analyzing information, formulating their own opinions, creating new and innovative things to change our world and their experiences with it, and to find creative ways to solve problems.

I always get push back from teachers whenever I bring up the idea of innovation and design thinking. It can be really hard to find the time, but, like most things in life, you make time for the things that are important to you. In the YouTube Live Episode 1, John Spencer said something that stuck out to me: “Curriculum maps are just that – maps. Maps should inspire possibilities.” Too many times teachers get stuck in marching through the curriculum, stuck on one path and not veering off from it or incorporating other standards and curriculum into what they’re teaching.

My favorite part of the episode? When George discussed some pushback he got from a teacher – “Innovation isn’t in the curriculum.” His response: “Yeah, well neither are worksheets.” Right!?! I mean…we do things we KNOW are bad for kids because it’s what we know, it’s what we’re comfortable with, it’s “easy.” This isn’t to say that there aren’t teachers out there who aren’t doing innovative things or out-of-the-box thinking. A challenge I see a lot is that the environment in which a lot of our teachers are currently operating in isn’t always conducive to innovation. It can be hard to take a risk when you feel like your administrator doesn’t have your back.

So how do we get more innovation in our schools given the current climate? I think it’s crucial to talk to kids since they’re the ones we’re in this business for! Kids can solve some pretty interesting problems if we give them the chance! When we do what’s best for kids, we begin to push kids to take ownership of their learning and to show what they know in new and innovative ways.

#IMMOOC Week One – Opportunities

So, I’m super excited to be participating in this awesome MOOC with lots of amazing and brilliant folks on the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. One of the biggest challenges for me in my role as an Instructional Technologist is letting go of some of my own ideas about what technology integration SHOULD look like, and being more open to hearing other teachers sharing what their visions are. While many of the teachers I work with are eager to utilize technology in more meaningful ways, they aren’t sure how to make that happen. At the core of any real systematic change is the ability to listen to and understand one another. Sometimes in the busyness of the day, teachers and I aren’t always speaking the same language.

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Photo courtesy of George Couros: gcouros.ca

One of the prompts for this week is: “‘Change is an opportunity to do something amazing’ How are you embracing change to spur innovation?”

So one of my big goals for this MOOC is to change the way I “do business” to generate some innovative ideas. Spend more time listening and asking questions (of both teachers AND students) and less time talking and trying to provide solutions. I feel stretched in a billion different directions and, when I walk out of a teacher’s classroom, I want to feel like I have helped him or her, so I often feel pressure to give him or her a quick answer or a solution. Rather, I want to embrace the opportunity to do something amazing by CHANGING the way I communicate. Asking questions and really thinking deeply will help me to provide more meaningful supports for the teachers I am working with.

If…

Reading through the #InnovatorsMindset hashtag on Twitter, I came across this post – If I Could Build a School. Created as part of the Ontario School and System Leaders Edtech MOOC, the post really got me thinking. It’s pretty easy to complain about the things that are wrong with schools, bemoan the many challenges facing teachers and schools, be frustrated with all the things that are seemingly out of our control, etc. However, when thinking about how to change schools, it can be a much more challenging conversation.

If you could design a school from scratch, what would it look like?

My school would be open and welcoming from the very moment you enter – bright colors, soft flooring, lots of seating options and areas for collaboration. There would be student work throughout the school, highlighting the unique learning and various student cultures present in our building.

Our building would not have specific areas for learning specific things – i.e., “technology lab”, “classroom”, etc. Rather, students and teachers would have many areas to take their students to immerse them in learning. When you walked into my school, you would see students working in collaborative spaces throughout the building. iPads and other technologies would be integrated seamlessly into instruction. Students would be documenting and sharing their learning on their personal blogs. There would be many opportunities for formalized sharing – Google Hangouts, Skype with other classrooms, presentations, small group discussion. Makerspaces and “studio” space would be available for students to create and share their learning in myriad ways.

Our focus would be on building relationships and fostering a culture of support and collaboration. Students would feel safe, welcomed, loved, and supported. They would be inspired to learn, to ask questions, to create, and to build. Our school would not have bells and our schedule would not be a strict structure. Inspiration doesn’t happen in neat, hour-long chunks, so why would we force our students to learn and create that way?

Your Turn: If you could design a school from scratch, what would it look like? 

The Innovator’s Mindset Book Study – Week 1 Reflections (Intro & Chapter 1)

As I read the introduction to this book, I had a hard time not underlining the entire section as George laid out the reasons behind creating this book. I think many educators can relate to feeling frustrated in a lot of ways by the state of schooling today. Overwhelmed by mandates that sometimes don’t make sense, standardized testing, and data collection, I felt so frustrated. From the very beginning of my formal teacher education program, I understood the importance of relationships with students. Creating a culture of caring, creativity, risk-taking, and safety was always at the fore of what I did as a teacher. As the years passed, I began to feel frustrated by the emphasis on the student as a set of data points instead of a person with ideas, fears, wonders, dreams, and interests beyond what tests could measure.

While I am not working with my own classroom of students any more, I now get to see entire buildings of students and see a bigger picture of what a school is – and what it could be. This quote in particular stuck out to me:

Inspiration is one of the chief needs of today’s students. Kids walk into schools full of wonder and questions, yet we often ask them to hold their questions for later so we can ‘get through’ the curriculum.[…] We forget that if students leave school less curious than when they started, then we have failed them. (emphasis mine)

Just adding a bunch of technology isn’t going to magically change the way students are being taught. It’s crucial for teachers to embrace technology as a way to connect students to the world “out there.” We always talk about when students get “in the real world” as if schools are a  little bubble and the real world never impinges on our students’ lives. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our students are facing some very difficult realities, many that I – as a middle-class white woman – could never truly relate to. Our kids are connected to others in many parts of their daily lives – their cell phones, social media accounts, etc. It’s unrealistic to expect that our students won’t want to use technology in a way the fundamentally changes the way they learn. Technology has fundamentally changed the way almost all of US learn. How many of you memorize phone numbers? I don’t, because my phone does it for me! If I can’t remember a particular detail or fact, I can quickly Google when an event happened. Our students do these things too, and we should foster a culture of innovation – where the focus is not on the facts but on evaluating, analyzing, and sharing how those things have influenced or impacted our world.

In my current role as a tech integration specialist, something I hear from teachers all the time is “what if _______?” I totally understand not being comfortable with something, and, as the “expert” in the room, teachers want to feel like they have the answers before they introduce something to their students. However, I push back with asking, “What do you do when a student asks a question you don’t know?” I think it’s important to model for our students how adults solve problems and figure things out. Besides, students love to be the experts and if they can show a teacher how to do something, it makes that kid feel very empowered. Instead of trying to control everything and preparing for all of the “what ifs”, what if we let go a bit and let our students lead, puzzle, tinker, struggle, and figure things out on their own?

Aside from the technological know how, many teachers are worried that their students will use technology inappropriately – looking up things that are not appropriate, communicating with others instead of working on an assignment, etc. While these are legitimate fears, I don’t think they are really any different than normal classroom management challenges. How do you ensure students are staying on task and are engaged in a lesson. Obviously rules and procedures are important, but more so is the relationship piece. If students feel valued and loved, respected and inspired, they are far more likely to behave the way they are supposed to. While safety online is important, it can’t be the only thing we talk about. I loved this quote from page 7 of the book:

We are spending so much time telling our students what they can’t do that we have lost focus on what we can do. Imagine that if every time you talked about the ability to write with a pencil, you only focused on telling kids not to stab one another with the tool. What would you really inspire in your students? Creativity? Unlikely. Fear? Almost certainly.

In thinking about practices that I consider innovative, I think about the fashion service Stitch Fix. Obviously this example is not education related, but it is a service that seems very innovative to me. Here’s how it works:

  • Create an account and fill out a style profile
  • Schedule your first “Fix”
  • In a few weeks, a package of five hand-picked items arrives at your doorstep. Your stylist chooses items based on your style profile as well as personal requests like a pair of skinny jeans or a handbag.
  • You try everything on, keep what you want, and send back the pieces you don’t. You check out online, providing feedback for both the pieces you keep and the ones you send back. The more fixes you get, the better they become as your stylist really becomes able to understand your personal style.

I consider this practice innovative because, as a busy professional, I don’t always have time to shop and look for things that are fashion-forward. This service makes shopping more fun because the items come to me! My stylist chooses items that are within my style, but sometimes pushes me outside of my fashion comfort zone.

The big question at the end of the Introduction is: Why do you believe schools need to change and what are the opportunities that lay in front of us? 
I believe schools need to change because our world has changed. The types of skills our students will need to be successful – nay they ALREADY need – cannot be taught through compliance and completing worksheets. Researching, analyzing, collaborating – those are the skills our kids need. Creating their own meaning through the guidance of curricular experts (i.e., the teacher, guest speakers, etc.) will create far more nuanced and thoughtful students. The ability to connect to the world around them is so powerful for students. We, the leaders of our classrooms and our schools, need to provide those opportunities for our students and guide them so they learn how to communicate in a digital environment.

 

What are your thoughts? Feel free to add them in the comments here. Questions to guide your thinking:

  1. Why do you believe schools need to change and what are the opportunities that lay in front of us?
  2. What is an example of a practice that you would consider to be innovative? How is it new or better than what you had before?
  3. How do you create opportunities for innovation in your leadership? In your teaching? In your learning? 
  4. What has changed in our world today that not only makes innovation easier to do, but necessary for our students?