By Kisaundra Harris
Eleven years into my teaching career, I found myself playing it safe in my classroom. There were no pressing reasons for why I should do things outside of the norm and so I didn’t, until one day my associate principal approached me with a professional development opportunity. After a few meetings with a trainer on problem-based learning, my journey as a teacher and learner took a different and exciting turn. I focused on creating an innovative classroom that placed a focus on thinking, collaboration, and student choice.
I even coined a new term for my assignments: a GP lesson. A GP lesson is not AP (Advanced Placement), nor is it GT (Gifted & Talented); instead, it is a Guinea Pig lesson in which I make it clear to my students that I am learning alongside them and I need their help in discovering the flaws. A great example of a successful GP lesson is the one my colleague and I developed together titled “Blood Passport.” This project required our students to plan a fictitious international trip to Africa that would ultimately lead to someone in the travel party be infected with a blood-borne pathogen such as Leishmaniasis. The project was designed so my students would learn the specifics of the disease while also discovering the geography/socioeconomics of the locale where they chose to travel.
As my educational transformation began, I quickly realized that it was easier to create a concept of an innovative classroom than to implement one. My administration recognized this and offered support in the form of educational resources and a space to talk out my problems. It was not uncommon for me to quickly run a question by my learning leader in between classes. I also had support on how to hold conversations with parents, so that I could clearly lay out the educational benefits of an innovative classroom.
I believe that teachers should be encouraged and supported in conducting experimental teaching in their classrooms, allowing us a to try out a new lesson plan or curricular ideas without fear of consequences. My best lessons, like the “Blood Passport,” stemmed from an idea that I was putting into practice for the first time.
As teachers become innovators in the classroom, administrators can take this opportunity to develop them into teacher leaders. A teacher who has gained the confidence to innovate because of encouragement from their administrator has tremendous power to influence their teaching peers. Though I teach at a traditional school, the Teach Plus Texas Policy Fellows have recognized that innovative school models designed through school partnerships made possible by the 2017 Texas Senate Bill 1882 can accelerate innovative teaching practices. We published the paper, “When Teachers Dream: Innovative School Models to Elevate Teacher and Student Potential,” to highlight existing school models and advance new teacher-designed school ideas.
I have now been a teacher for nineteen years and as each August draws near, I am even more excited for the next school year. I was fortunate to have a supportive administrator who discovered something in me I didn’t know I had and who helped develop those skills into the innovative teacher I am today. There are teachers in many of our schools right now who are seeking new opportunities to grow themselves as learners and leaders. We should encourage these teachers to blossom into the innovators they can be.
Kisaundra Harris teaches 11th and 12th grade anatomy and physiology at Tascosa High School in Amarillo, Texas. She is a 2018–19 Teach Plus Texas Policy Fellow.