#IMMOOC Am I a “school” teacher or a “classroom” teacher?

About twenty-two minutes into this past week’s conversation with Kaleb Rashad, George Couros raises the question about the difference between a “classroom” teacher and a “school” teacher. Co-host Katie Martin responds by offering the explanation that in many instances teachers live and work in silos that separate them from their peers and from many of the other students on their campuses. Rashad joins in the conversation by adding that there is a benefit to viewing every student on campus as my student and every fellow teacher as someone whom I am meant to lead.

The context is a discussion about the value of trust and the benefit of relationships and the roles that they play in creating a culture of innovation.

I teach at an early college high school that is in its third year. Our students are simultaneously working on requirements for their high school diploma and their associates degree from a local community college. We are, in fact, located on the campus of Tarrant County College, in Arlington, Texas. We have just launched our third cohort of 108 students and will graduate our initial cohort in 2018.

I teach a required technology applications course, and on my campus every student is my student. With only 108 ninth graders, I see everyone, every day. As a result, they are quite literally all my students. I have taught on larger campuses and in situations where there were students who had not take my course, and I can tell you that it makes a huge difference in the culture of our campus that we all teach everyone. We have a vested interest in the success of every student, and it continues even after they move on to the next grade level.

I don’t know if the size of our cohorts (110 -120) was originally designed to create this kind of situation or not (I will be asking about this.), but if so, it was a genius move that is to the benefit of every student. This makes the relationships much stronger, resulting in a greater atmosphere of trust — and, if Couros is correct,  it will enhance our ability to grow a culture of innovation.

I guess my point is that I did not choose to be a “school” teacher instead of a “classroom” teacher. That decision was made by the design of the school in which I teach. I am, however, reaping the benefits of that role both in the relationships that I have with my students and in the leadership opportunities that I have with a small faculty of about 16 fellow educators. Had I been given the choice, (and certainly after hearing Rashad’s passionate plea in favor of the option) I would have sought out the role of “school” teacher, for sure.

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#IMMOOC Am I Really Innovative?

New AND better. That’s how author George Couros defined “innovation” in his book The Innovator’s Mindset. So am I  an innovator? Is my classroom an innovating classroom? Are my students learning how to be new and different? Those are the questions that I’m having to consider in week 2 of my participation this colossal presentation1professional development opportunity called #IMMOOC. More than a thousand teachers are reading, blogging, posting and thinking together about this thing called “innovation”.

Let’s start with the first question because that is where it has to begin. With me. Am I an innovator? Seventeen years into my career as a teacher (Yes, I started late. It was a mid-life thing, according to some people at the time.) I have considered my evolution from imitator to innovator. Like many educators, I spent the first few years of my career getting my feet on the ground and pretty much imitating what I saw a lot of teachers doing in their classroom. At a point — I would say, about five years ago — I made a conscious choice to become less an imitator and more of an inventor. That was my first step toward becoming an innovator. In the beginning, I was just “new”. I did new things, adopted new strategies, and tried new ideas. I was not better.

Then, at some point, I realized that I was slowly moving away from the herd and I was blessed with administrators who were cautiously allowing me some room to roam. The box that I taught in got bigger. (We talk a lot about thinking outside the box, but the reality is that we have to continue teaching inside the box of standards, permissions, and resources.) Slowly, I was becoming better than I was, too. Then, one day, I realized I had become an innovator — new AND different.

A second question: Is my classroom a place where my students can learn how to be new and better? Not yet. Not completely, but that has become my passion as an educator. I have come to feel it a daunting task to teach technology applications in an innovative manner and to create an innovative tech apps classroom. I honestly believe I could do it more easily in language arts where I spent the first fifteen years of my career. It is a process, but I am making big strides to reforming my teaching strategies. One example? I spent fifteen years integrating tech into my ELA classroom. Now, I integrate ELA (and math, social studies and science) content into my tech apps classroom in an attempt to bring a new level of relevance to the technology applications curriculum. I am approaching — and my students are learning in — a place where we are doing the job better.

I loved what Couros said when he wrote, “innovation can come from either ‘invention’ (something totally new) or ‘iteration’ ( a change of something that already exists…” (p. 19). I don’t have to be a victim of the “paralysis of analysis” as I sit and wait to be innovative because I can’t be the first person to do something. If I do something that is new and better for me — if my students do something that is new and better for them — we are innovators. That is within my reach. That is within the reach of every educator regardless of the size of their box.