Actionable Ideas for Innovating Inside Our Box

” Be Vocal!  |  Take a Risk!  |  Be Creative!  |  Innovate!  |  Share with Others! “

Let’s be honest – Innovation in our schools can be… well… scary.  We are housed in a rather rigid system in which our work must operate – a defined system built largely on a foundation of standard expectations, inflexible rules, and deep deep tradition that is difficult to challenge.  These factors make it difficult, scary, and sometimes even risky to step outside the box.  The rules of school are so clearly defined and routinely practiced that reshaping those rules can seem difficult, foreign, or impossible.  Comparison to others, nerves, fear of failure, tradition, and a host of other factors can limit our willingness to break away from the norm.

Negativity Demands Attention . . .

It is easy to focus on constraints, obstacles, and challenges; in fact, it’s hard not to – they are right in front of us!  When something goes wrong, the unexpected happens, or things go south, our attention is demanded.  Let’s face it – it’s really hard to shift our attention away when difficult things happen (consider how hard it is to stop thinking about situations that cause you hurt, embarrassment, or sadness).  In contrast, innovation and creativity offer an invitation for our focus and attention – and are easier to set aside for another day; a day when our plates are a little more clear.

But, just as AJ Juliani & John Spencer suggest in Empower, as innovative educators, we must agree to “focus on the areas of our work in which we have control and influence”.  Let’s recognize that there are some things we won’t likely change in our school boxes (or at least not quickly), and let’s set those aside.  In exchange, let’s take @gcouros‘s advice and allocate our precious attentional resources on innovating WITHIN the box we are given.

 . . . But Innovation Ignites Empowerment

LearnerCenteredInnovationImage shared by @burgessdave

The amazing #IMMOOC crew has been sharing some inspiring ways in which we can all begin to innovate inside the confines of the boxes in which we operate.  These educators are operating within the confines and rigidity of ‘school’ to set sparks of creativity and innovation that empower those they serve.  So, when the confines of our boxes make it difficult to shout from the rooftops, let our actions speak for us.

Actionable Ways to Innovate Inside our Box

  • Required to Assign Homework?

Rethink the nature of homework assignments.  For instance, consider tasking students with serving others as their ‘work from home’.  Every night, each student must meet at least one need of another.  Ask students to document their act of service and report back to the class.

  • Must Use Traditional Grades?

Switch to a learning MINDSET in preparation for a time when the documentation of learning follows suit.  In other words, encourage reflection, revision & reiterations so much so that assigned ‘grades’ fade into the background.  Consider redesigning assessment processes as David Dutrow did, to include learners as integral players.


  • Little Time for Collaboration?

Open your door to your colleagues! As Jennifer Gonzalez reminds us in her still relevant 2013 post:  Open Your Door: Why We Need To See Each Other Teach, the benefits of watching one another succeed, fail, & risk take are immeasurable.  No need to wait for official peer observation to be scheduled either – Spend 15 minutes of one prep period a week working in the back of a colleague’s classroom and spread the word that your classroom is an open door as well!

  • Social Media Restrictions?

A student of mine, came up with a wonderful idea that might help connect students’ lives outside of school (and might help overcome some restrictions on social media use).  Instead of creating a traditional classroom social media account run by students, invite families to contribute to a class instagram account where parents, guardians, and students can share experiences that happen outside of school.  Use the images to help students make connections between the learning experiences they experience in and out of the classroom.

  • Little Funding for Flexible Seating Options?

As @TopDogTeaching would tell you, flexible seating is about a flexible mindset – a mindset than can be adopted with or without fancy furniture to support it.  Help students self assess their productivity, creativity, and effectiveness in various learning situations and support them in beginning to advocate for the learning environments they need to be most successful in each scenario.  Although alternative furniture might support this thinking, providing students choice in simply sitting or laying on the floor, standing, collaborating, and/or working independently is a great start.

  • Schedule Won’t Allow for 20% Time?

With or without a dedicated 20% time, innovative teachers are beginning to weave student choice and voice into their regular (and often required) routines.  Check out how @MrsJankord uses her required guided reading groups to provide a consistent time of choice for her students.  What other parts of our prescribed school days could we build in consistent student choice?



  • No Funding for a New Playground?

Ask students what it is that would help spur their creativity while at recess.  Consider using this dedicated time to spark students’ passions through community, service, or collaborative projects.  Check out how @KLHouston3 is overcoming obstacles to provide creative space for her students.


  • Mundane PD Sessions?

Take charge of your own PD, or suggest an EdCamp for your school’s next inservice day like @SteinbrinkLaura did!




Let Our Actions Be Our Anthem

These IMMOCers inspire me to tear my focus away from the obstacles, challenges, and negativity present in my ‘box’, and to instead, center my attention on what I have the power to control.  Let’s let our innovative actions shout our anthem from the rooftops!


2 thoughts on “Actionable Ideas for Innovating Inside Our Box

  1. Your post reminds me of the Serenity Prayer. It’s so easy to get bogged down in what we can’t control, which then fuels negativity and resentment. On the other hand, innovation is inspirational and often spreads positivity. One’s perspective is contagious – when you start to look through a more positive lens, those around you often follow suit. I love the idea of creating a social media account for students/parents/guardians to contribute to outside of school! This breaks down the notion that learning only happens during the school day and between the school walls. Awesome!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s