Yesterday I read an interesting article by Simon Breakspear on the CEA website called “Bottoms Up: How Innovative Change Starts with Frontline Educators.” I liked the article in many respects. He is encouraging innovation and creativity in the classroom by stating that we need to think of ourselves as “learning designers” and I completely agree. We need to be creating learning opportunities and I often think of students as the architects of their own learning while my job is to design an experience that helps fulfill their vision.

I also really appreciated this idea,

“Engaging students as equals, for instance, by facilitating their investigative critique of the curriculum (and whose interests it represents), can be a shining example of 21st century learning and teaching talent in any classroom. In a diverse classroom it can be exactly what students need for their learning to be meaningful and engaging.”

This is 3UU. We work from our essential learnings (WRDSB has all secondary schools cluster the overall expectations) and the students demonstrate to me how they can meet and exceed the essential learnings. We have had a multitude of interesting conversations about what is expected of them through discussions about the essential learnings, but also through the co-creation of success criteria for summative tasks. What has been really important though is the concept that learning needs to be meaningful. My students know that it is on them to find the meaning in what we are doing in class.

Currently, my students are working on passion projects that are about a topic they chose as meaningful to them as individuals. They are then ask a question, use the social sciences inquiry model to look for answers to the question, examine various aspects through the lenses of sociology, psychology, and anthropology, and express their thinking somehow verbally, in formal writing, in a media piece, all with the underlying idea of comparing and contrasting their various sources. It sounds intense and it is. It was designed that way. I gave the framework, we designed the success criteria, and now I’m really excited for what they are going to create. I have a variety of topics: sports, gun control, body image, adoption, Syrian refugees, eating disorders, mental health, luxury cars, vigiliantism, nanotechnology, and more. My students have diverse interests, but they are innovative and creative so I can’t wait to see what they create.

Finally, this idea spoke to me as I am full of gratitude for the amount of freedom I have in my classroom,

“The key to leading innovative change in schools is to empower innovators within classrooms by supporting a new identity that harnesses teachers’ creative talent. Cultivating these learning designers through a culture that protects and promotes creative thinking will generate changes in the work itself.”

I am truly blessed to have a really supportive administration that listens when I have ideas and encourages me to think even further outside the box than I already do. I am also so very grateful for other supporters like all our panelists and my close group of colleagues here in WRDSB. Thinking differently can be isolating and create doubt like Breakspear says, but the support I’ve had since I joined the WRDSB has nothing short of amazing.

The trick now is to foster this innovative spirit in others. Breakspear mentions that this is the challenge and he is completely right. I worry that others see what I do as “dumbing down the curriculum” or that I’m not as “rigorous” in the classroom as we are active and don’t use traditional methods. The challenge is changing this perception and really fostering the idea that we want innovation and creativity rather than testing and extensive essay writing. I also see the other side of the argument that when students go off to post secondary that they are going to be writing copious amounts of essays and exams, but when are universities going to change? Elementary and secondary teachers are the experts on learning. We study learning, but university is still seen as the “premier” institute in intellectualism. This perception needs to change.

The other component that can cause issues is funding. School budgets are tight and with the desire for creativity and innovation, where does the money come from? I don’t have the answer for this, but all I can hope is that the government of Ontario realizes that education is so very important and that it is something that shouldn’t be continually cut. These students are our future and we need to do everything in our power to provide them with the opportunities to flourish.

Hopefully Breakspear’s article will reach and resonate with more than just us on the frontline…

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