Do as I Say, Not as I Do…

Why is innovation critical? The other day, General Motors announced that it will be laying off 1,100 workers in the Lansing area. Their plant that currently produces the GMC Acadia is cutting its third shift, and all of those jobs are going to Tennessee. This is the fourth layoff they’ve announced since November 2016. Here in Lansing, we have also endured Oldsmobile – a company born and bred in the Capital City – closing its plant and ceasing to exist as a product. Michigan’s auto industry and its struggles shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone who lived through the Great Recession. And while in many ways GM and Chrysler are doing much better, it’s easy to look around and see the effects of the Great Recession on the local economy. Across the board, more and more jobs are being lost to automation and advances in technology – not to “bad trade deals” as a certain leader has alluded to…

Listening to the YouTube Live this week, a couple of things stuck out to me:

“The jobs that can be automated eventually will be. That’s why we need innovators.” – George Couros

I couldn’t agree more. There is vast opportunity for new jobs, to solve complex problems, to fill an existing need, and to generate a lot of money for local, state, and national economies. Obviously on a micro level, a new job that fills a need could be very lucrative for someone, on a macro level, in order to stay relevant we must change and innovate. And yet…we are still working on outdated machines and within models that were designed to solve 20th century needs. It’s pretty crazy when you think about it.

A place where I see this dichotomy is in education – in professional learning specifically. George referenced that a lot of the problems in education aren’t from the teachers themselves, but from their leadership. I (mostly) agree with this. We ask a LOT of teachers – collect an inane amount of data, differentiate, be innovative, integrate technology to a high level, reinforce social skills, teach curriculum, support all learners all of the time in culturally-relevant ways, etc. While all of these things (aside from the overwhelming data collection…) are essential to supporting students and helping them learn and grow, it can be really hard to do, especially when you’re being asked to do things you’ve never done before. Having leadership that models and brainstorms with you ways to be more innovative and feel like you have permission to try new things.

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We had a PD day not long ago on implementing our new math curriculum. Rather than giving people time to share ways they have used the different components in their classes, the PD was focused on the “nuts and bolts” and reviewing (for the umpteenth time!) the online resources available. While that is helpful for some people, other teachers benefit from hearing how their colleagues are changing their teaching strategies.

Another example I see time and time again is asking teachers for feedback – on a paper survey – and only at the end of a session. While feedback is an incredibly powerful tool, it needs to be done throughout the process, and there are ways we can utilize technology to make it more efficient.

I loved Sarah’s thoughts around good leaders providing support and space for their teachers. It’s kind of reminiscent of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – we need to feel cared for and loved before we can do anything else. Teachers need to know that their leaders have their backs and they have the opportunity to capitalize on their strengths and fly. When I was still in the classroom, I was never afraid of trying a new technology out with my students because I knew that they would figure it out – and teach me something new in the process. Teaching 8th grade students about the Constitutional Convention (prior to the Hamilton craze) could be somewhat challenging to make it meaningful and relevant for them. So I worked on ways to create innovative learning experiences. We made videos that parodied reality shows – Real Housewives of Colonial America for example. Students had to really KNOW that material in order to create a coherent and accurate video. But, I wouldn’t have had the courage to do that if I didn’t have a principal who understood that my ability to connect with students on their level was a strength and I needed the space to be able to do that.

How do we move more leaders and teachers in this direction? I truly believe a culture shift in how we define professional learning opportunities is crucial. Teachers willingly give up their weeknights and Saturdays to engage in Twitter chats or attend EdCamps because they have control over the type of learning they experience. These types of learning opportunities also provide teachers the time they so desperately need to really think through challenges, create innovative projects and lessons, to collaborate, and to connect. Additionally, there needs to be an expectation – and accountability – that the provided time is really being used for that purpose. While there is value in spending 5-10 minutes “venting” about the problems, it’s not the most productive use of your 60 minute PLC time – EVERY week. Or half listening while grading papers and responding to email while your colleagues are speaking – it’s rude and unprofessional. I get it; I taught middle school for 4 years, often had 180 English essays to grade, etc. But at the same time, we would not accept that behavior from our students, so why do we think it’s okay for us to do that? Teachers and administrators need to change the culture of professional learning – space and support – but also accountability and professionalism.

What say you? How can we create more innovative learning experiences for teachers and administrators?

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