What Does it Mean to be an Innovative Educator?

My new role as Educational Technology Coach within my Board’s Innovative Education Department is an awesome place to be. I get to work with a group of Educators who want to be innovative and creative within the classroom and beyond. I think, personally, that I acquired this position by being slightly innovative (or, at least, synthesizing and connecting creative ideas I’ve seen and heard into something new). Interestingly, since I am an Educational Technology Coach, there is this assumption that everything innovative needs to have a technological slant to it — and, for me, that is part of it, but not all of it.

I have been asking myself new questions because of this new role, and one is around ways to become innovative, think a little more creatively, or, at least, embrace reflecting on your practice, and trying something else.

So, totally my opinion: Here are some ways I think Educators can become, and are, innovative.

Innovation does not equal ‘knowing all of the tech’:

Many teachers (and people) feel pressure to know and do all of the technology provided. I should be coding, having my students document their learning, using virtual manipulatives…I could go on. Technology should complement and make teaching easier, and help students collaborate, create, and communicate. Technology — whether a new program or new device — unless it’s purposeful for you, your students, and the concept you are teaching — might not always be the best choice.

The program that everyone is talking about that you aren’t familiar with does not make you a worse teacher (and, believe me, in my new role, this is constant. There is a lot of me saying, “I am not sure! Can we check it out together? Can we make decisions based on what you ultimately want students to do, and how can this piece of technology enhance the experience?”)

When implementing technology, ensure it is helping you and your students share ideas, give feedback, understand more clearly, or access resources beyond the school. If there is a new piece of technology you want to use, make sure it’s for a purpose. Play with that piece of technology on your own first. Slowly introduce it to your class. Analyze and deconstruct how it’s helping you and students. If you’ve hit a ‘sweet’ spot, push the technology further. Good technology should let you enter comfortably, but go deeper as needed.

Taking Ideas and Adding Your Own Twist:

Being innovative in education can start small; something you feel comfortable adding your own ideas and personality. Something that will help you teach better, or, help students.

One way to do this is to ask questions of yourself as you teach. After a lesson, reflect: Hmmm…what could have made this more clear? How could I have gotten students to talk more? How could I have spent more time listening? There is always something we want to work on and do better. Making a small change could be innovative in your classroom — and almost immediately.

I felt when I was co-creating success criteria with students, it became static. Just on the wall. I wondered if I shared our learning goal as a question, it would help students see the link between the question and what we were learning. Instead of letting this thought float away, I tried it. What was the worse that could happen? It didn’t work, and I would continue to look at success criteria from a different angle.

Before you try something new, just create ‘look-fors’ for yourself. For example, what would be the indicator that changing learning goals into learning questions be successful? For me, it was as simple as more student participation when we created success criteria. It would give students more language to conceptually describe what they were learning.

Example of one of the first attempts at learning question vs. a learning goal statement.

Try to Be In and With your Students’ Reality:

I can Floss, but only because I took the time to learn. I watched YouTube videos, asked questions of students, and realized it was more than just a dance: It was a way to collaborate. The Floss brought students together who normally wouldn’t have been together. Me being able to Floss isn’t really the point: It’s the fact that it let me in to see what was important in their World.

Sometimes being innovative is just that. All this Fornite talk? Just check it out, and ask yourself what makes it so appealing. Maybe it’s taking the time and effort to choose classroom library books that you know students will appreciate. It’s finding videos, articles, and discussion topics that you honestly aren’t sure of, but your students are. It’s taking time to re-look at what you have chosen to read to reflect on that day and ask yourself if a voice in your classroom is missing.

Innovation can mean a little thing like having your students bring issues they are interested forward, finding a read aloud from a viewpoint not your own or that you are comfortable with — and being open about that discomfort.

Sometimes being innovative can be as easy as dipping your toe in waters you find slightly uncomfortable.

Connecting with Others (PLN):

Talking with others and sharing ideas is a great way to consider different strategies and ideas. Teaching can be isolating. Reach out. It’s OK that you aren’t sure or doubtful. If a new idea is presented to you and you aren’t sure if it will work, that’s ok, too. Talk to your network. Choose questions to ask yourself.

Just try it. Give yourself the chance. Being innovative might spark a further adventure for you and your students.

I am here if you want to share your ideas with me.