For several years, I have used the Teaching Innovation Progression (TIP) Chart to guide my coaching conversations with teachers. It gives such a concrete view of teacher actions and student behaviors in a student-driven classroom. The chart is broken into four areas of concentration: Research and Information Fluency, Communication and Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, and Creativity and Innovation. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to dive deeper into each one and look at it from varying perspectives. The first focus strand will be Creativity and Innovation.
Every person is born with creative potential. In student-driven classrooms, students are given the opportunity, space, and encouragement to stretch and build those muscles. Tony Borash, of Advanced Learning Partnerships, summarized the TIP Chart for this area by stating, “Students develop original ideas and create products by applying critical thinking, research methods, communication tools, and collaborative processes. Teachers provide experiences that allow students to create unique ideas and products.
In a time when educators are forced to focus on testing and standards, creativity often gets pushed to the side. It doesn’t have to be. It may require some extra thinking and planning, but increasing creative and innovative thinking can, and should, be a part of any rich standards-based curriculum. One of the easiest ways to foster creativity and innovation is by increasing student choice.
1. Own your fears, so they can’t own your classroom. Change is inevitable in the world of education, but never so much so as in the last few years. It has left teachers overwhelmed, underfunded (nothing new there), and a bit fearful. They are expected to raise standardized test scores, integrate technology, adapt the curriculum to new standards, teach character education, make learning engaging, and oh yeah, remember to love the kids. We’ve all heard that we can’t keep doing something just because it’s the way we’ve always done it. The problem is, it’s fear of change that often keeps us locked into the current routines. Let’s take technology integration. A big fear is that the students will know more than the teachers about technology. This might be true, but it might not. That’s not the issue. The issue is that teachers need to accept the fact that their students really might know more. And that’s perfectly okay. It’s great even because then those students can be given a leadership role in showing the teacher how to do something. They will take more ownership in the classroom, and the teacher will show that she/he values student-centered learning. When students see their teachers open to new ideas, they will be more open, as well. Open minds are the key component to innovative minds.
2. Set goals to try something new on a regular basis. If you just say that you will try something new, chances are that it won’t happen. Set short term goals, and long term goals, and don’t be afraid to change them. And then, here is one of the most important parts. Schedule a time to work towards that goal. Actually, put it on your calendar, and stick to it. Even if you only devote thirty minutes a week toward a goal, just do it. Any activity is better than no activity. This applies to the students in your classroom, as well. Teach the why goal setting is vital to their learning, and then show them how to write effective goals. This would be a perfect place to introduce Genius Hour (aka Passion Projects, 20% Time). Student creativity can be unleashed in a Genius Hour project of their own.
3. Be a team player. “Innovations are typically team efforts that are best led by passionate improvement co-champions.” (6 Ways The Best Leaders Innovate And Bring Great Ideas To Life By Michelle Smith) I foster my own personal and professional development by collaborating with other people. Twitter and LinkedIn are two of my favorite (and easiest) places to connect. I can ask questions, discuss ideas, and gain knowledge all while building a powerful network. Smith also encourages us to “Reach across functional boundaries and tap into the talent of others.” This works in the classroom, as well when you allow students to collaborate, and make passion-based learning a norm. The students will become more innovative through working with their peers. Thinking outside of the traditional classroom walls, allows students to work with peers across the hall, across the district, or across the world. Technology definitely makes the world smaller and more collaborative.
4. Intentionally facilitate learning to enhance creative thinking skills. We can all increase our level of creativity and innovative thinking. These aren’t isolated skills that we can assess our students on a standardized test. They are, however, the best skills we can nurture to help them be successful after high school. I have heard, “I’m just not creative” often from other adults. I think that is false. We all contain the ability to be creative, we just need to find where that creativity takes root. Again, this is where 20% time, genius hour, passion projects, etc. come into play in the classroom. Not only are students driving their own learning, but it is in an area where they can allow their creative thinking skills to bloom. They get to be creative in what they learn, how they learn it, and how they showcase their learning.
5. Smile. I understand that this last one might sound a bit hokey, but stick with me. It really is part of creativity. Be open-minded, take risks, embrace failure as progress, and have fun doing it. And if you can do all of these things, you will smile as you become more innovative. Life is just better when you are having fun living it.
There is something immensely satisfying and empowering from creating something. Often, the paths to innovation are crooked and unclear. I’ve discovered the freedom in giving myself permission to travel those paths to the unknown. Let’s makes those experiences possible for our students, as well. Empower students and encourage them to free themselves from preconceived notions – to be risk-takers. Through empowerment and freedom comes true creativity.