divergence · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · Innovator's Mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships

Five Characteristics of the Divergent Teacher

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The idea of divergence is occasionally envisioned as two paths diverging in the wood, perhaps thanks to our friend Robert Frost. However, the idea of divergent teaching is much more than choosing the road less traveled. To clearly define what a divergent teacher is, I (Mandy) adapted the psychological definition of divergent: (of thought) using a variety of premises, especially unfamiliar premises, as bases for inference, and avoiding common limiting assumptions in making deductions. Therefore, the definition I’ve developed for divergent teaching is:

The ability to recognize our own assumptions, look for limitations and challenge our own thinking in regards to teaching and learning. It’s taking an idea and creating new thinking that will facilitate student learning in new, innovative directions for deeper understanding. It is diverging from the norm, challenging current ideas, looking for a variety of solutions, and being willing to fail and grow. (Divergent EDU, 2018)

Divergent teachers create experiences that encourage learners to consider and explore new ideas within a culture where all individuals (educators and students) are supported to step beyond their zone of comfort by developing new ways of thinking and promoting more in-depth learning. In education, we often place emphasis on convergent as opposed to divergent thinking. Although both are critical to the process of learning, fostering divergent thinking promotes the creation of new ideas or unique wonderings, while convergent thinking is necessary for engaging in critical thinking and being able to analyze problems using information and logic. More than ever, in today’s world, we need to empower learners to explore new possibilities and ideas by fostering divergent thinking, expanding on creativity. Carving out time for learners to ponder their curiosities and explore their wonderings inspires our youth to stretch their thinking to ideate. Following ample time to consider various ideas, learners then benefit from reflecting and retooling their work which entails convergent thinking. In my (Elisabeth) book, Take the L.E.A.P., Ignite a Culture of Innovation (to be released in January 2019), we will explore this concept more deeply in addition to how we can foster the conditions to empower learning and inspire a culture of innovation.

We (Mandy and Elisabeth) came together as a result of our shared passion for challenging conventional thinking and sparking innovation through fostering a growth and an innovator’s mindset within a supportive culture that embraces responsible risk-taking, deep reflection, and the ability to demonstrate tenacity as we experience and overcome failure, leading toward improvement.

Divergent teachers have certain characteristics that differentiate them from others. While the definition requires them to challenge current ideas and their own assumptions, there are additional qualities that are ingrained in their divergence. The combination of these attributes results in a well-rounded, innovative and divergent thinker.

Deeply Reflective – Divergent teachers recognize that significant growth cannot happen without taking time for deep reflection. They know how they reflect best, whether it’s through writing, meditating, or driving quietly in their car on the way home. They have strategies in place to allow them to take the time and hold reflection in high regards as one of the reasons they are who they are professionally. Deep reflection goes beyond what could go differently in a recent lesson. It also leads an educator down the path of discovering how their own beliefs and assumptions affect what they do in the classroom or how they perceive and communicate with others. Understanding the difference between surface-level reflection and deep reflection is an integral part of divergent thought. Once you understand what you believe, how it affects what you do and how you are perceived, it is easier to change your behavior and push yourself forward.

Voracious Learner – At all stages of our journey, we embrace learning as an ongoing process. There is no finality, but instead continuous growth. Divergent teachers learn in multiple ways; through reading, reflective writing, peer observations, collaborative conversations, seeking meaningful feedback, and considering how they can improve through goal setting. They are cognizant to learn from their mistakes and retool to move toward growth. With the understanding that transformation doesn’t happen overnight, they frequently immerse themselves in opportunities that foster 

deep learning and then employ new findings to the classroom. In doing so, they identify what works best for their learners and share with colleagues to contribute to the culture of learning.

Tenacious – Tenacity is a hallmark of anyone who assumes the risk and is passionate about moving forward. To fail and repeatedly get back up and try again takes the kind of tenacity that requires a significant amount of strength, reflection and personal growth to achieve. Sometimes failing can be difficult especially if what we tried is particularly far out of our comfort zone or something we really wanted to go right. This trait of a divergent teacher keeps them moving forward when others might quit. Demonstrating tenacity inspires others to understand that just because something is challenging, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth our continued effort. Our goal is to persevere while lending encouragement and support to others as well.

Mentor – Divergent teachers have a sincere appreciation for uplifting and adding value to others to elevate education. They grasp that it’s essential to inspire collective efficacy, producing a positive, long-lasting impact on learner achievement. In addition to providing support through developing trusting relationships, they demonstrate help-seeking as well, contributing to the understanding that we all have strengths to contribute. We often reference collaboration as a necessary component of effective teaching and it is. However, collaboration should be the baseline expectation. Mentorship brings an additional quality to collaboration that focuses on not only the give-and-take of collaboration, but also the guidance, support, and high expectations that only a mentor can provide

Courageous – Divergent teachers understand the importance of taking thoughtful risks. However, just because they understand the unmatched learning that can occur when risks are taken doesn’t mean that they don’t fear taking risks. They may still feel anxiety (especially if they work in a compliance-based culture) but they are courageous to move forward anyway because they understand the reward outweighs the risk. This characteristic often has the potential to spark courage in others too. When we are transparent and demonstrate the risks we’re taking, along with our vulnerabilities, we inspire others to join hands with us, collaboratively creating enhanced learning experiences for our youth.

As we strive to transform learning experiences, developing unique opportunities for students to engage in divergent thinking and leverage their strengths to shine, we benefit from employing the characteristics of the divergent teacher. Embracing these five characteristics has direct implications on the culture of learning, and we simply cannot afford to remain complacent. Innovation and divergence are more than an act, it is a way of thinking and being. Stretching ourselves encourages learners to do the same. As you move forward in your learning journey, which characteristic will you focus on and employ to grow as an educator? 

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Mandy Froehlich is the Director of Innovation and Technology for the Ripon Area School District in Ripon, Wisconsin where she supports and encourages educators to create innovative change in their classrooms. She consults with school districts and post-secondary institutions around the country in the effective use of technology to support great teaching, as a Google for Education Certified Trainer and has presented on similar topics at conferences such as CUE, TIES, FETC and ISTE. Her first book, The Fire Within: Lessons from defeat that have ignited a passion for learning (#FireWithinBook), discusses mental health awareness for teachers. Her book based on an organizational structure she developed to support teachers in innovative and divergent thinking, Divergent EDU: Challenging assumptions and limitations to create a culture of innovation (#divergentEDU), is set for release late 2018.

Elisabeth Bostwick is a teacher who’s passionate about sparking curiosity and unleashing creativity to empower learning. She continues to be a leader in education as she avidly seeks alternative methods to innovate in the classroom and support systemic change for learners to thrive. Driven to elevate education and support educators in their journey, she consults with school districts to support cultivating the maker mindset, leveraging technology to enhance learning, and fostering a culture of innovation. Elisabeth presents on these topics and more at conferences including ISTE, NYSCATE, and Model Schools. Her first book, Education Write Now Volume II, Top Strategies for Improving Relationships and Culture, co-authored with nine other passionate educators, will release in December 2018. In early January 2019, her second book, Take the L.E.A.P., Ignite a Culture of Innovation (#LEAPeffect) will be released.

Change · divergence · growth mindset · Mandy Froehlich · Mental Health Issues · reflections

Finding The Passion Needed For Great Change

I was in the grocery store the other day and I did something that I very rarely do, I picked up a magazine and read the cover. I’m usually so busy reading edu books that I don’t typically look at anything else, but the Oprah magazine for this month caught my eye. The article was called What Would You Stand Up For: It’s your time to rise and be the light you want to see. That article, coupled with my newest obsessions in the Heath Books, The Power of Moments and Switch: How to change when change is hard has given me pause as to what I’m really doing with my life. Kind of the “What’s my overall purpose here on Earth” question. The BIG why. Pretty deep thinking to have been brought on by a magazine, but I’ll take it.

I have lived my entire life with the desire to do something that actually matters, and also with the all-encompassing fear that one day I’ll wake up and realize I’ve done nothing to make a difference. I think that many educators live with this same feeling at different levels. It may even be the reason they went into education in the first place. I think that when you enter a profession that is more like a calling (teaching, nursing/doctor, police officer, many public servant jobs), this feeling is deeper rooted than most other careers because you need to give so much more of yourself, and your actual “payday” is when something happens and you know you’ve made a difference. Like when you have worked with a teacher and then watch as their thinking does a 180, or when that lightbulb goes off over a student’s head and they finally get that difficult concept that up until that point had been eluding them. We need the money from our jobs to pay our bills, but our success is measured in the lives affected versus our bank account balance. We want to make a difference.

For many of the stories in the Oprah article, the people featured are making that difference in whatever endeavor they took on. Typically, the change happened when they had experienced some kind of tragedy, hardship, or trauma and they had that moment…that one epiphany…that created a relentless determination to create a different world so others didn’t need to go through the same experiences, or if they did, they knew they weren’t alone. I began to think about how it does seem like that’s a common catalyst for great change to begin. What I don’t understand is how we can be more proactive instead of reactive. Why does it take the feelings of hurt in order to motivate people?

In education right now, I feel like many of us are spinning. It’s like that feeling when your kids first start walking and you’re running around in circles trying to save them from their own unbalance so they don’t crack their head on the corner of the end table as well as scrambling to pick anything up that you didn’t know they could reach all the while mentally trying to take note of the electrical sockets that you forgot to plug and then the issue of just trying to keep another human alive. We are being battered with school shootings and politicians who have never set foot in a classroom and an increase in behaviors due to mental health issues for students as well as policy and implementation and technology changes. As far as I’m concerned, we have hit that critical point where most people begin to relentlessly pursue change, even though I can’t say that I understand why we need to get to that point to do so. But, we are so busy trying to find the unearthed electrical plugs that we have no energy to think about how to move forward.

If we want to be change agents, great creators of change, we need to find the thing that sets our soul on fire. We need to stop spinning and focus on where our passions lie and where we can create the biggest waves. The beginning of the Oprah article was what caught my attention:

When you find it, you know it: the issue that sets your brain aflame, the one you’re incapable of shutting up about, consequences be damned. And those consequences are often all too real – discord, danger, or at least some very difficult conversations. Maybe you haven’t happened upon your burning issue yet, or maybe you’re facing a thousand other everyday battles, feeling too overloaded to make an impact, but there are countless ways to get loud about the topics you care about, or to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone to make your message heard. Here’s hoping no one’s unlucky enough to get in your way.

-The Oprah Magazine, April 2018

I have found mine in discussing the mental health issues that our teachers are facing and how to create organizational change to support teachers (therefore supporting students as well) but everyone needs to find what lights them up. I know there are people out there who don’t want to hear about it, and I can tell you that there’s nothing that will fire me up quicker than someone who doesn’t want to recognize this issue. That’s how I know it’s mine. I have no idea if I will make a major change globally, but if I make a difference for one in doing the absolute best I can, I feel I’ve done something which is more than nothing. I think we all need to look for this thing…this one passion that we can’t ignore. If we want to create change, widespread organizational change, we can’t wait for a catastrophe for it to happen. We need to make the decision to find the one thing that lights us up and go with it. For me, I know that if I take this on, it’s the only way I know I won’t wonder one day if I made any difference at all.

steve jobs

Climate · Culture · divergence · growth mindset · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · Innovator's Mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking: When the supports are in place

This is the fifth installment of the #hierarchyseries. You can find the first post here.

Hierarchy of Needs Infographic

The purpose of the Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation and Divergent Thinking is to give a more concrete look at what supports need to be in place to give educators the best chance at thinking innovatively and divergently. Realistically, in looking at an organization, reflecting on these particular support systems is probably going to be more about plugging the holes that might be found in the foundational levels rather than creating them from scratch. For example, you may have teachers with a growth or innovator’s mindset already but may need to “patch” the areas that are predominately a fixed mindset by working with those educators on recognizing growth mindset and swinging their pendulum in that direction. While the idea of the hierarchy should help districts put the supports in place, it still does not “create” innovative and divergent thinkers and teachers. Instead, it gives the base support so educators can focus on new learning, thinking, and doing versus using brainspace for worrying about other issues around them.

The act of becoming innovative is not something you can be forced to do, nor is it something someone can give you. It is a personal choice to move outside your comfort zone and try or learn something new. Again, even with the Hierarchy complete and solid, that is only the support structure. A person still needs to make the decision personally to want to be innovative.

Innovation can be messy
As we move toward more innovative approaches, we need to learn, relearn, fail, try again, and use our knowledge to develop our new thinking. Rarely is true innovation a straight line to the end, and even when we get to the end, are we really done? Once an innovation continues to be used, doesn’t it just become part of the status quo? So, we need to continue the process of moving forward with innovation in order to not become stagnant.

Innovation is personal
I grabbed onto this idea from George Couros. Innovation is personal to each individual. What is innovative to one may not be innovative to another who has already been doing it, and that is ok. Everyone is on their own personal learning journey. Also, innovation is not “either you are or you are not innovative”. The idea of innovating and thinking divergently is a continuum, and each person falls somewhere on that continuum. That’s why when looking at the people around you, it’s best to try to discover what you can learn from that person and how they think differently than you versus trying to compare the amazing things you to do the amazing things they do.

Innovation involves failing
The quicker you accept that it is going to happen, the quicker you’ll begin your journey. Failing is not always easy, it’s not always fun, and sometimes you just want an idea to work. All of that is understandable. However, if failing stops someone from moving forward and trying again, then that’s where the problem lies. Our failures do teach us what doesn’t work. They are valuable and help us figure out what might work when we try again. That kind of learning cannot be replicated by being continuously successful all the time.

Divergent teaching will stem from divergent thinking
Divergence is the act of thinking and doing outside the box, moving outside your comfort zone, acknowledging and challenging assumptions, being forward-thinking, using known and recognizing/learning unknown information in decision-making. Divergent teaching uses divergent thinking in all aspects of teaching; from lesson planning to the moments working directly with kids. A teaching thinking divergently will try a new idea with their students instead of scrapping it because they wonder if they can handle it (assuming and forward-thinking). They will actively seek out new information on their own and not wait for the district to provide all their professional learning. They will allow students to try a new technology that they don’t know themselves because they trust their students will learn to use it without their help (recognizing unknown information in decision-making). They will be willing to make quick trajectory changes when they know that it will be better for student learning.

When the Hierarchy is in place, this gives educators the chance to move toward this kind of thinking and teaching. If they are worried about what their leadership will say if they fail (holes in climate/culture and effective leadership), they are less likely to try the new idea they had. They are less able to expend energy in bettering themselves as professionals because they are too busy with being concerned with the holes in their foundation. Providing people with the support they need in the foundational areas is imperative when expecting them to be innovative and divergent teachers.

The Hierarchy is not something that can be put to rest when most of the holes are filled. It is a structure to be constantly cognizant. One hole can create a host of issues in other levels. A change in leadership, for example, can create a domino effect hole throughout many foundations of the hierarchy, just as a change in leadership might be just what the organization needs in order to fill some of their holes. The Hierarchy is not a finished product, but rather a constant work in progress, similar to the way innovative and divergent thinking are never truly complete. We will always need to continuously improve to move forward, and that kind of innovation and divergence comes from our own motivation to be the best people we can for our students.