In Katie Martin’s new book Learner Centred Innovation, one of the sections is entitled Are Traditions getting in the way of Innovation in Education? This is a question I have thought about a lot. In fact, as a reflective activity, a colleague and I share a Google Doc entitled “100 Things Schools should Stop Doing”. We are at number 54. This “list” and our conversations around it are a continuous work in progress and center on examples of practices both teachers and schools continue to implement that are potentially done merely out of tradition and are no longer effective in today’s educational context.
Traditions are hard to break and humans are creatures of habit. Teachers who may have been tasked with doing a “ten mark title page” to start a science unit as student themselves years ago, perhaps now assign their own students the same task without really considering the intent and whether this is the best use of a class period or if there is much deeper and more meaningful way to approach a new topic of learning.
You don’t have to look far into popular culture to see how the traditional notion of “school” is preserved. Movies, tv shows, advertising, and books… all further perpetuate the idea of traditional practices by continuing to depict schools as places of desks in rows, with a teacher at the front of the room lecturing with students carrying around their textbooks/notebooks, and cramming for exams.
When considering how to redesign a culture for learning and innovation in a shifting world and the evolving role of the educator within that, there is much to be considered. One large piece of that is letting go of some of the traditional practices that no longer serve the best interest of students in today’s context. In Learner Focused Innovation, Katie Martin discusses this as the need to “shed” outdated practices and improve teaching and learning. Reading this idea framed around the word “shed” jumped out at me. It reminded me of a metaphor used by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski who makes a parallel with lobsters and the need for growth and the effects of change below
Rabbi Twerski suggests: A lobster is a soft mushy animal that lives inside of a rigid shell. That rigid shell does not expand. Well, how can the lobster grow? Well, as the lobster grows that shell becomes very confining the lobster feels itself under pressure and uncomfortable.
So it goes under a rock formation to protect itself from predatory fish, casts off the shell and produces a new one.
Well eventually that shell becomes very uncomfortable as it grows…I think the lobster repeats this numerous times. The stimulus for the lobster to be able to grow is that it feels uncomfortable. So, I think, what we have to realize is that times of stress are also times that are signals for growth. And if we use adversity properly, we can grow THROUGH adversity.
Change, growth and taking risks are what keeps life interesting. Yet, in contrast, there is much comfort in doing things the same old way, knowing what to expect and the solace of the “known”. But as suggested by Grace Hopper, The most dangerous phrase in the language is, “we have always done it this way.”
Change is inevitable. Change is necessary. And change is crucial.
Many educators recognize the need for change, but sometimes it can be a daunting task considering where to begin. We must start with being open to change, being willing to take risks and being open to new possibilities. It takes a shift in thinking, a shift in mindset and a willingness to let go of practices we have traditionally done while being open to new ideas, new connections, and new learning.
For a classroom teacher in order for this to happen, it must start with reflecting on what is currently happening in our classroom. There are often things that teachers do with students that are tried and true. We do them because they work and we know they are effective or “best practice” in meeting the learning needs of our students. However, there are often other practices in place that may fall into the category of that’s the way we’ve always done it .
Considering taking a calculated risk and changing something that may fit into this category of #TTWWHADI is the first step. Imagining a better way is necessary and an exciting opportunity! For some, the key may be to start small and not bite off too much at once. The biggest mistake we often make as teachers is to take on too much change at once and end up doing many things superficially and not as well as we could be. Approaching change through the lens of, “ an inch wide and a mile deep” is often most effective in the long run.
This might look like changing the methods in which we present information or material to students. Dave Burgess’ book Teach Like a Pirate; Increase Student Engagement, Transform your Life as an Educator and Boost Student Engagement offers a myriad of suggestions of what he calls “hooks”, or practical ideas for crafting engaging lessons, along with prompting questions to get you thinking about your lesson and units in new ways. Or it might mean reenvisioning the way we teach something by offering students more choice. When we try doing things a little differently and give over some of the control over to our students, we model risk-taking for our learners and feel affirmed by our own stretches. Change begins by choosing ONE classroom-based initiative that pushes us a little out of our comfort zone. We certainly don’t need to change everything but we do need to change ONE thing and build from there. This might be using Lego Story Starter to generate writing ideas, implementing novel engineering instead of our usual Literature Circles, trying out vertical non-permanent surfaces for problem-solving instead of the math text questions or offering flexible seating options for students. Maybe it’s implementing Hour of Code, digitizing our monthly newsletter to parents, or introducing a new powerful app.
When we start small, and build on our successes, in turn, our confidence grows inevitably making it more likely to drive further change. When we endure the discomfort that letting go of traditional or habitual practices can evoke and instead invite change and innovation; we are empowered to continue moving forward. As we see with the lobster it is through shedding or letting go of some of the old and embracing the potential of the new that true change and growth can evolve.