The 2015-2016 school year was my first year as a Technology Integrator. When I first began, both the position and I were new to the district. My understanding when I started was that some schools had “Tech Teams” and some didn’t, and even the ones that did couldn’t really tell me what the purpose was. Until I could get a handle on what was happening in the schools in regards to technology and innovation, I decided to hold off on beginning any kind of team.
This year, following in one of our high school’s footsteps, I decided to start teams that focused on personalized learning and different innovations, and I called our teams Innovation Teams. Currently, I am the Technology Integrator at three elementary schools, and each school has teachers and administrators that are a part of the team (one team, three schools). Teachers are on the team on a completely voluntary basis, and they are receiving no additional compensation of any kind for their extra work. Everything they do is to make themselves better for their students and profession, and I am super proud and humbled to be working with such a dedicated group of educators.
We began with a book study on what I knew to be a fantastic read in The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. I’ve read the book multiple times, as well as assigned it as a class textbook for my UWO class, and I strongly felt that the mindset that the book describes was exactly what I wanted my Innovation Teams to embrace. We are almost done with the book, and there have been many ahas and that’s-what-I-was-thinkings along the way. I think that the idea of being open to new experiences, the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset, discussing an innovator’s mindset versus growth mindset versus fixed mindset versus a false growth mindset has been eye opening and has set the teachers on a self-reflective journey prior to really digging in to what we wanted to accomplish.
Once the book study was underway, we also pulled up articles and research on Flexible Learning Spaces, how to create one, what to expect from students, and the benefits of implementing them. For me, I felt like Flexible Learning Spaces was a fantastic way to create teacher buy-in. Considering I was a former elementary teacher, I knew that I gravitated toward initiatives that I could both see and that would make a difference in my classroom immediately if not sooner. My thoughts were that studying and implementing Flexible Learning Spaces would hit both of these targets. In order to allow for the purchasing of flexible seating options, each principal in my three schools decided to pitch in some funds for purchasing, and each teacher put their classroom up on GoFundMe to get additional monies. There was a variety of success, but all Innovation Team teachers have made modifications to their classroom in various degrees. Some of the teachers who have made the biggest changes have plans to blog on their new classrooms and successes in our new collaborative blog: Teaching, Learning & Innovation.
As teachers began working on their classroom design and figuring out what works for their students, we also began looking at personalized learning and what it means for students to have voice and choice in their learning. We have decided to put pacing on the back-burner for now since set school schedules don’t allow for as many pacing options in elementary, not that we can’t get there eventually, but voice and choice are easier to implement within the elementary curriculum. Currently, we are implementing the practice of creating a rubric with standards and allowing for choice based on the rubric. Our goal is to create more authentic learning experiences for the students. We are working our way there.
In one school, we implemented our version of a student led edcamp, which we plan on doing again with some tweaks to make it more edcamp-like. We are also looking into Genius Hour and what that looks like in elementary. Each of the Innovation Team’s teachers have gravitated toward a different part of what we have studied, but they are all moving forward. What has happened is that we are ending up with teachers who have become “experts” in different areas and it will allow our team to be stronger as everyone brings something different to the table.
I knew when I began the Innovation Teams that there were pockets of innovation and elements of personalized learning already going on in classrooms. I by no means think that I have brought innovative thinking to these teachers, but rather have put them together in order for them to feed off from each other and grow. I just provide them the support they need to move forward and the resources that challenge their thinking. My hope is that once others see what these teachers have accomplished (and in a relatively short period of time!) there will be a shift in thinking and we will be working toward a culture of innovation where innovation and personalized learning aren’t the exception or a special occurrence, but happen everyday and will be known instead as simply learning.