I am one of those people who craves change and sometimes actively seek it out. I one heard that, as educators, we should always be in the service of why. I feel like I ask “why” a lot as an educator. Not because I like to rock the boat, but because I am constantly trying to tweak my vision of education and I have a need to understand deeply. Asking “why” helps me to distill my vision down to the key components of curriculum and instruction so I can better impact student learning and design learning experiences that are lasting.
I read the Innovative Educator mantra in George Couros’ Innovator’s Mindset and I thought to myself, “oh my goodness, this is my everyday.” I was inspired and exhausted at the same time. I am simultaneously working within many of these indicators each day. But, I am an administrator and I know that the greatest impact on student learning doesn’t come from me, it comes from the teachers. So how do we encourage the Innovator’s Mindset in teachers? Is it enough that I model that innovation in my daily practice? Sometimes I wonder. There are teachers who are naturally drawn to sharing their expertise, collaborating, and networking. Some find that reflection comes easy and many are constantly reflecting and refining. However, there are many others who are either uncomfortable with these practices or feel constrained with school mandates. These are the educators who need a slight push. Modeling may not be enough for them. I bet some have a latent innovator’s mindset lurking within them. Harnessing that mindset is the challenge.
I learned pretty early on the value in meeting people where they are. When I was building a museum program at a public school I encountered a lot of push back and it was difficult to navigate the shift from teacher to curriculum director in the same building. I realized a big chunk of my job was actually marketing and that meant figuring out what made each teacher tick, basically rooting around until I found my “in.” Sometimes it required tremendous patience. Just like in a classroom we have to contend with the “not yet” in working with teachers too. There were plenty of times I had to wait for the perfect moment to introduce a new museum strategy or offer to model a lesson for a teacher. Sometimes it was as simple as offering the perfect resource at the perfect time. Other times it meant relying on my prophets to build capacity. We had quite a bit of money for professional development and sometimes I felt like it was always the same teachers utilizing those learning opportunities. It was ok, though, because I was building up those individuals to be resources for their peers. There were times I invested a lot in those prophets with the hope that others were hear a nugget about the learning or teaching in those classrooms that may spur action in others. There was also plenty of popping into classrooms to offer help. Lots of emails of encouragement. Frequently my office turned in to a place to vent and talk through issues. Eventually innovation happened, sometimes at a snail’s pace. I questioned what I was doing all the time. But, innovation happened. I don’t know if modeling being a networked educator, demonstrating reflective practice, or being willing to ask hard questions would have been enough to move some of those individuals. Sometimes it just takes time.
I have taken a lot of these lessons with me into other roles both in an out of administration. The movement to innovation takes time. It is sometimes a game of strategy. It is about marketing and building capacity and finding small moments to build on. It is about building relationships and looking for patterns and adjusting your practice as a leader every day.