Innovation is happening in schools across the country. Blended learning is no longer a new idea and technology is being used across all disciplines preK-12. Innovation is not a synonym for technology but more a direct connection to creative thinking and how to spark motivation with creative instructional content. Digital content and opportunities for active and collaborative learning are on the rise. Innovative educators are encouraging students to infuse the 4’Cs of instruction (Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity) into lessons to make connections between the digital tools, content, and teaching/learning. As an educational leader, one way to support digital learning and innovation in a school setting is by identifying the best innovators within your school and giving those individuals voice to infuse ideas, creativity, and excitement into the school.
To do this, educational leaders must shift thinking to be more like today’s startups that tend to focus on big ideas that make the risk worth taking. In reading George Couros’ I remember a line that read. “Often the biggest barrier to innovation is our own way of thinking.” To be truly innovative, collaboration is key and therefore, educational leaders must create avenues for educator voice. I agree and try to make that happen in Milford.
When teachers are given a collaborative opportunity to learn and grow or feel the principal is approachable and supports them, they feel valued and that positively enhances job satisfaction that lights the spark for innovation. Building leaders are vital to the development and sustainability of educator voice to establish an innovative culture in schools. Recent state and federal mandates focus heavily on student achievement and it often is an expectation that school leaders focus primarily on curriculum, assessment, and accountability. However, if school leadership solely focuses on student achievement and data, critical factors like fostering innovation and educator voice take a back seat and are essential in the development of a successful schools.
So how do school leaders ensure that more educators have a voice in innovation?
Both teachers and administrators must be willing to move past the us versus them mentality that characterizes many schools and districts. Both parties also must be willing to put in the necessary time to build the relationships and trust that will allow educators to feel safe in voicing opinions and administrators to feel comfortable sharing control. Seeking out the voices of all teachers on a regular basis (not just during staff meetings or an annual survey) is a critical step in launching innovative ideas. Leaders will not hear the voices without being visible and seeking opinions.
One idea we launched in The Milford Public School District was to allocate money for teacher ideas. We took the idea of “Shark Tank” and self-advocacy and looped in innovation. We called this initiative the Hawk Nation Technology Digital Learning Request. The goal was to provide educators a voice in digital tools and initiatives and to support student learning. Technology in the classroom is too often is a one-time expense instead of an ongoing financial investment. So, who better to talk about and develop these innovative ideas, than the teachers themselves? Utilizing educator voice to inform sustainability decisions is a recipe for long-term success and will breed further by in for initiatives.
The Hawk Nation Technology Digital Learning Request was an opportunity to apply for an initiative to support digital learning in the teacher’s educational environment. Requests could be for an individual teacher or a grade level/content team and requests could not exceed $1,500 per teacher or grade level/content team.
The steps in the process:
- Identify a goal/objective of your proposal and how technology can support this initiative in a creative or innovative way. This could be an area of need, a creative/innovative project or program, or a content area that can be supported through digital learning. This initiative could range from hardware, software, subscriptions, or professional development teachers felt will support students’ learning through digital technologies.
- Review the ISTE standards to ensure the idea/request is supported by the digital learning standards.
- Complete the application Google Form answering step 1 and 2 by a designated date.
- All proposals were reviewed by the technology steering committee and decisions made before the end of the school year. All approved proposals were ready to implement for the opening day the following school year.
Educators turned in over 80 proposals for consideration that ranged from hardware (i.e. Chromebook, iPads, science probes) to learning tools (i.e. Osmo, Tiggly) to online tools (i.e. Newsela, keyboarding without tears, Journalism subscription) to professional development opportunities. 42 proposals were accepted. Some were funded with the pool of money and some through creative thinking and dormant resources we had in district. It was inspiring to hear the educators excited to launch innovative ideas in their classrooms. Equally inspiring was hearing how teachers felt supported, heard, respected, and valued in their desire to use digital tools to enhance instruction fluidly and with flexibility.
The benefits of this initiative include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Increased access to online information. (the bullet below doesn’t need to say “students”)
- Students having the tools and ability to easily access to vast amounts of online information.
- Increased opportunities to communicate and collaborate with peers around the world.
- More personalized learning experiences for students.
- Increase in student ENGAGEMENT and motivation through the use of new, exciting technology.
If school leaders want educators to be more creative in their day-to-day work and lessons, they must encourage more innovation by giving those educators a sense of value by listening and then supporting innovative ideas. Innovation is a team sport. It requires excellent collaboration among all leaders and educators in a school or district to launch and support new ideas. Collaboration through teacher voice is an important component of school success and developing an innovative culture in schools.