Overcoming Pockets of Innovation

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post titled No, We’re Not Toning it Down. The message I was trying to convey in that post was one about empowering innovative teachers to take a stand against those requesting that they “tone it down”. The premise was that these teachers were being asked to “tone it down” because they made others look bad, or perhaps it was a sense of fear that this would become the new normal in their school and they would be required to follow suit. An uncomfortable notion for many.

I still feel strongly about the points I raised in this post, but after reading a section from Learner-Centered Innovation by Katie Martin, I want to shift some of the onus for adapting a growth mindset from these reluctant teachers, to school administrators and leaders. In her book, Katie mentions that she has identified three types of change in schools.

  1. Pockets of Innovation
  2. Device-Centered Innovation
  3. Learner-Centered Innovation

Each one of these observations caused me to deeply reflect on the changes that I have witnessed. Like Katie, I have seen firsthand each one of the changes that she identifies in the schools I’ve taught, the ones I visit in my current role, and in conversations with stakeholders that I work with on a daily basis. I could easily write a post about each observation, but I don’t want to do that here.

It’s the notion of pockets of innovation that really struck a chord because, as I mentioned above, I have blogged about this before and Katie’s observations have provided me with greater depth and breadth as to changes that are necessary to overcome pockets of innovation. I agree with Katie in that those changes rest more deeply with the administrators and leaders.

Isolated pockets of innovation exist in schools when individual teachers have a desire to change while the staff as a whole lacks a clear understanding of the goals or why change in necessary. There is no shared vision of the desired teaching and learning. In these schools, teachers often work in isolation and teach in their comfort zones without collaborating regularly with their peers. They are neither supported nor pushed to change pedagogical practices. – Katie Martin, Learner-Centered Innovation

Let’s compare this section from Katie’s book to ideas I presented in my post from June of last year.

I suggest that the teachers being asked to “tone it down” have the support of administrators; they DO! Most administrators know that these are exemplary teachers. They know that these teachers not only recognize the need to provide opportunities for students to hone a different set of skills than when their parents went to school, but that they have eagerly accepted this challenge, and are delivering programing to meet these needs.

However, there is often little vision regarding how to move these practices forward into the greater realm of a school-wide culture because there is a lack of a shared vision, and, as Katie identifies, no clear understanding as to why change is necessary in the first place. With a proper foundation in place, innovative teachers would be far less likely to hear the words “tone it down”, and it may remove most of the negativity and tension that may otherwise exist. In fact, they would most likely hear “show me how”, instead of “tone it down”. Think about how empowering the words “show my how” could be for these teachers compared the feeling of isolation generated by “tone it down”.

Moreover, I mentioned in my post that we need to seize the incredible opportunity we have to capitalize on the talents of our innovative teachers. School leaders need to do more than privately express their gratitude for what innovative teachers are doing for THEIR students, they need to create opportunities to harness the potential for these teachers to reach ALL those in the school community. Katie maintains that, “without time and opportunities to discuss new thinking with their peers, innovative teachers in these situations remain isolated, and their ideas fail to spread beyond their classrooms to impact the rest of the school community.” Administrators need to tap into the potential of the innovators in a school, and create opportunities for them to help shape the school culture. These are likely the individuals most willing to open their doors and share with their colleagues, but this likely won’t happen if there is no one leading the change. Both Katie and I agree that this needs to be done to create equal learning experiences for all students. Administrators and leaders are there to support all students within their school. Empower others! Get them out of their pockets of innovation.

_One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters._

1 comment on “Overcoming Pockets of Innovation

  1. Pingback: This Week in Ontario Edublogs – doug — off the record

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