I Feel a Change Comin’ On

Warning: Give me a couple free hours and some great coffee before a Board meeting, and I start to ramble…

It’s that time of year. I can sense it. The excitement is building…it’s buzzing…it’s almost palpable.

It’s back to school time.  Time for a fresh start…new students…shiny new digital tools…sharpened pencils and pristine notebooks…and, most importantly, an opportunity to grow as a Learning Leader.

innovateIn my last post, I challenged you to stretch yourself and “Innovate Up” this year. The more I watch my social feeds and the more I see a flurry of great ideas out there, the more excited I get about the great innovations already occurring.  I’ve noticed that, for some, innovating in their school comes naturally, but for others it may take a little more effort. “Innovation” has become one of those trendy edujargon buzz words…suggesting images of sweeping reforms or massive overhauls, requiring a mass influx of new technology or a complete abandonment of past practices. It’s a scary thought…it has been so built up that it seems unattainable to some. If it’s such a BigDeal®, when could we ever find the time to innovate?

However, simply put, innovation is nothing more than a new idea or a change in behavior that results in an improvement. It doesn’t need to be a grand reform. It doesn’t require a mass investment or a complete reworking of everything. It can, and should, start small.

Referring back to (and expanding upon) one of my first posts…where do we find the best ideas for innovation? We’ve done a pretty good job in education of making innovation a BigDeal®. We roll it out in grand fashion, dressed in important-sounding acronyms, carrying the Better Schools’ and Campuses’ Research-Based Best-Practice Seal of Approval, promising broad-sweeping academic improvement…if only you make the change exactly as prescribed for the low, low introductory price of !!!!.  If (and only if) you just {insert best-practice innovation exactly as prescribed here} you will see student performance increase with an effect size of 1.7!  If it doesn’t, you must be doing it wrong. Try again. Harder.

Now, don’t get me wrong. In many cases, BigDeal® Innovation really does work. There are a lot of really good ‘best-practice’ acronymed practices out there with some solid research behind them. Formative Assessment, Standards-Based Grading, Professional Learning Communities, and Response to Intervention to name a few. However, we can’t rely on just those.  They are not the ONLY solution. They’re too big-picture. They provide the structures in which we can better operate.  But, they don’t provide the on-the-spot, day-to-day, “My class didn’t understand the relationship between sample size and the standard deviation of the sampling distribution.” needs that really improve achievement in real-time. We can’t look solely to the BigDeal® to drive our improvement. In fact, if we do we are missing the source of some of the most powerful innovation ideas available.

You.

Yes, You. While you may not have a fancy title, or work for a consulting firm, or have a published book, or TedTalk, or regular column in your favorite educational journal…you are a Learning Leader. And you are in the best position to drive innovation in your school.

Innovating Up in Your Classroom or School:

  1. Take a Risk.
    • 300869_10150317450929327_1956529651_nGet out of your comfort zone. Shake up your status quo. You don’t have to
      change EVERYTHING. If you have a practice that is currently working well for your students, keep doing it! But challenge your self to avoid changing NOTHING. At a minimum, make a commitment to try at least one new thing. And no, you can’t take the easy way out and rely solely on this year’s BigDeal® innovation that was rolled out at your welcome back workshop. If we want our students to develop into innovative, future reader learners, we have to model it at the school and classroom level. That goes for administrators, too. The only way to encourage innovation is to support a culture in which risk-taking is not only allowed, but expected.  Take a risk, let your teachers and/or students try something new.
  2. Start Small.
    • 13718572_10153699227084327_3841042443349872779_nGeorge Couros notes, “Small things can make a significant difference…yet we should be intentional about them.” The BigDeal® innovation is a good start, but the little things can have an impact, too. Try a new seating arrangement to support collaboration. Try creating dedicated zones in your classroom for quiet reading…or comfortable discussion centers…or digital hubs…or exploring in a maker space…or getting additional help from you or other students.  Try a new means to collect feedback. Perhaps digitally using the latest hot app/site/lms…or kick it old school with post-its and a physical “message board”. Try organizing an assessment by learning targets and then providing an aligned feedback form for student self-reflection. Try doing something new with a digital tool.  Try asking your students or staff what THEY’D like to see changed or improved.
  3. Collect Data.
    • Hi. My name’s Jason. I’m a Stats TurboNerd.  And dang proud of it! I live for data…why? Because it let’s us tell our story. It helps us make an argument. It can justify a decision. If you’ve decided to try something new, there must be something you were hoping to see change. Measure that change.  You don’t need to design a full-fledged university approved empirical research study (although that would be sweet!)…but you should be able to identify what it is you’d like to improve, collect some data, and review the successes or opportunities for improvement of your attempted change. Quantitative, qualitative, anecdotal, scribbled, or digitally captured. Collect data to tell your story. Take the time to study what it really says. Did the change result in an improvement? If so…woohoo! Your innovation may be a success! If not…
  4. Reflect & Fail Forward.
    • Take the time to sit back, relax, and reflect on your progress. Not all ideas will work perfectly in your school or classroom. Ideas gathered from elsewhere need to be adapted to your own environment (more on that next week).  Be willing to accept the possibility of failure and use what you’ve learned to develop an even better approach. A failed attempt is not a stopping point…it’s an opportunity for improvement. Monitor, adjust, and try again.
  5. Embrace Your Network.
    • CqgbS7AUMAAq1jeFor every workshop consultant and educational researcher with really good systemic improvement ideas, there are thousands of classroom teachers with REALLY good incremental improvement ideas. For every back to school workshop of this year’s BigDeal®, there are tons of ideas waiting for you right next door. They’re across the hall. They’re right across town. On Twitter. On the Blogosphere. The most valuable ideas I’ve gotten haven’t come from the ‘experts.’ While the experts have provided a solid foundation for improvement, it’s the interactions I’ve had with colleagues that have had the most impact.  Whether it’s sharing classroom ‘best-practice’ ideas at a conference, discussing how to improve student performance in a PLC, chatting via Twitter in #statschat, #mathchat, #insertyourparticularinterestherechat, reading the blogs of other teachers and administrators, or sharing a cup of coffee (or the beverage of your choice) and just talking it through, the most powerful ideas for change are much closer (and cheaper) than you think.

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Now, consider that last point as well as the learning leader suggestion on the previous post and SHARE.

Comment below with something new you plan on trying this year. What is your goal? What are you going to try? Or, if you’re stumped, what kind if ideas are you looking for?

Or swing on by for a chat..I’ll buy the coffee!

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