“Take the road less traveled”
“Go against the grain”
“March to the beat of your own drummer”
These quotes seem so exciting and invigorating! Just reading them aloud gets me fired up to change the world! But, then I think about actually going against the grain in practice; Actually travelling an uncommonly travelled path in my own organization; Actually adopting innovative practices and thought patterns. Hmm.. Suddenly innovating in education (a profession characterized by policy, regulations, and deep tradition) becomes easier said than done.
True learning (the kind defined by new thought patterns and connections), takes more than fancy language and reciting inspiring quotes. True innovation takes bravery. It takes courage to step out of our comfort zones and truly take the risks that are needed to innovate our mindsets and shift our practices.
Part of this shift involves modelling not only mistake making, but also the thought processes associated with allowing oneself to be in a space where mistakes are not only okay, but encouraged. For us educators, this takes embracing mistake and error in both our students and ourselves. It is about cultivating a culture where ‘not-yetness’ (@amcollier) is welcomed.
Learning is about making connections across content areas and experiences (@joboaler). For rich connections to be made, students must be given the opportunity to take learning wherever it leads. The connections students make in their minds, and the meaning that they build based on these connections, will be unique for each student. Therefore, teachers need to create an environment where it is possible for students to personalize these connection pathways. Actually doing this in the classroom will mean letting go of some of the control, and not having a full sense of exactly where each lesson will lead. Lesson plans will need empty space- space left to filled by students. If we choose not to allow for these unique learning pathways – if we choose to stay the course, consistently carving the learning paths for our students, not only will they fail to make their own personalized connections, but the level of learning that occurs in our classrooms will never surpass that of our own understanding. As @katiemartinedu said so eloquently in #IMMOOC Season 3, Session 1: “If we (as teachers) have to have all the answers – how are we ever going to allow kids to surpass us and do better than what we currently know?” Isn’t the goal for our students to exceed what we have planned for them – to surpass the constraints of our own thoughts?
Facilitating this environment means being able to be innovative, even in systems governed by policy, regulation, and tradition. Educators must innovate inside the box we are given- being brave enough to step out of our comfort zones to advocate for putting students at the center of teaching and learning. This won’t be comfortable. It will mean carving a new path that challenges the more commonly traveled path of tradition (think: “timed math tests are common in my school”, “homework is mandatory in my district”, “I have to follow the textbook exactly”). It means facing adversity and seeing disagreement as an opportunity to push the discussion forward, challenge our own thinking, and build new schemas. Then, and only then, will be truly be modeling for students what it means to take risks in learning.