Imagine if a student today time-traveled to the classroom of 1917. Our time-traveling student would be out of place culturally, and yet the classroom itself might not be terribly different. In the classrooms of 2017, chalkboards have been replaced by whiteboards, overhead projectors by LCD projectors or even some type of SMART board, but are students still sitting in rows and turning in worksheets? Or they creating, producing, and collaborating?
When one of my own kids brought home a classroom syllabus from school, I felt deflated as I read it. The paper looked as if it had been typed — on a typewriter — decades ago. The teacher had scribbled out percentages on the paper and handwritten over them before sending it through the copy machine. Students will complete 30 homework problems each night (with the answers in the back of the book) — not exactly engaging, transformative, or innovative. I have difficulty imagining that the students in this classroom are inspired to learn more on their own or are looking forward to another day of lectures, rows, and drilled practice.
In the introduction of The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros (@gcouros) writes,
We forget that our responsibility isn’t solely to teach memorization or the mechanics of a task but to spark a curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own.
To become leaders.
We forget that if students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.
Why is it so difficult to innovate in education today? Students have access to more information in their pockets than I had in an entire school library, yet they are often told to leave their phones in their lockers, or they’re blocked by school firewalls on all kinds of websites.
While some teachers become early innovators in their buildings, it’s rare to see an entire building of innovators. One key difference between a handful of innovators and an entire system that values innovation lies in leadership. Innovative leadership is still uncommon in the world of education. After leaving the face-to-face classroom to work as a lead instructor at Michigan Virtual, my new supervisor told me, “I see my job as being the person to remove barriers for our teachers.” I thought she was messing with me. I’m sure I looked highly skeptical after years of feeling roadblocked in a large public school system. But she was true to her philosophy, and it’s a philosophy I keep at the forefront as I now lead teachers within our organization.
What would be possible for classroom teachers if all school leaders took the approach of removing barriers for their teachers? How would that ultimately change a classroom experience for students?