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 professional 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.