Tuesday, July 17, 2012

4 Top Takeaways from the Innovation Summit 2012

By Jared Heath

Another successful School Improvement Innovation Summit has come to a close. The
list of keynotes and breakouts reads like the “Who’s Who” of education, but I’m going to go out on a limb to say that the near-celebrity status of these speakers was not the crown jewel of the conference. I won’t say that there were more ideas than educators can handle, either. I won’t even say that attendees learned all-new, never-before-seen material. They didn’t.

I would wager to say that they got more than that.

The great difference between these presentations and all the ideas that we have read about in studies and discussed in staff meetings and PLCS is that the presenters are the people who had the guts to do it. And I’ll be the first to say that I was not always the first to implement the “latest and greatest” when I had a classroom. It often came across as faddish. Flavor of the week. “This too shall pass” was an attitude that I took to many staff development sessions. So the educators that participated in the small and highly collaborative summit of innovative leaders got something a little more: They got the people who have been there—to that pinnacle of innovation—and have come back to tell us about it.

Here are three takeaways that I got out of two days packed full of innovative ideas and collaborative discussions with principals and curriculum development leaders:

1. This Is Not “One More Thing” to Do

I finally had the epiphany—far too late for my students of yester-year, but perhaps just in time for yours—that all these innovations and ideas are not simply “one more thing” for my classroom. As Dr. John Barge, superintendent of Georgia (yes, the entire state), was speaking, I realized that the ideas espoused at the conference were meant to entirely replace what I had done in the classroom.

Of course we’re all familiar with Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So when these ideas came, it had never occurred to me to stop doing what wasn’t working.

Innovation and professional development is not a poorly planned house that receives incessant additions, modifications, and updates that are either built on the same old foundation or plopped down on the ground with no foundation at all. Innovation can sometimes be about burning down the house and digging a new hole and starting over somewhere else. I know that it is radical; I just never knew that it could possibly be worth it. And it is.

2. In This Business, It’s All Personal

Personalized professional development. Student-based teaching (as if it were ever anything else). Personalized assessments. We get that, right?

Except we really don’t. My staff development sessions were “personalized” for me (according to the powers that be), because they were focused on ESL teachers. But they were never focused on Mr. Heath’s class with Maria and Nikoli and Amos (thus named because no one could pronounce his Japanese name) who represented three drastically different levels of English with varied preferred types of learning. I had learned (eventually) to teach to each of these students. Not each type of student. Each student. But I had to learn it despite my training, because my training taught me that if one size fit all the teachers, then it had better fit the students, too.

3. We’re All in This Together

As a teacher, I was just as much a student as my students. Of course I was going to give them the same model of instruction that my supervisors gave me.

That is why innovation sometimes—sometimes—means more than doing parent/teacher conferences and having individual time with the students and giving them creative sections every day and providing a word bubble and…. Sometimes it means starting over. Looking back, I can now point out days that I wish I didn’t have to teach while being surrounded by four walls so often.

And a bonus takeaway…

4. We’re Scared, and It’s Not a Bad Thing. But It Needs to Change.

You love your students. I know you do, because there’s no way you’d still be here at this pay rate for this long. Completely restructuring the very way that we think about teaching our kids can be scary, because we don’t want to fail them. It’s not as dangerous—for them or for us—to go forward knowing that there are some things that don’t work rather than moving in an entirely new direction where—who knows?—nothing will work.

It is great to be that scared for the pupils who depend on you. But it’s also time to be brave and show them that they can move into uncharted territory. Uncharted territory is really all these kids know. You can show them how to navigate, how to adapt, and how to use skills to find new answers to new questions rather than using a textbook to find the right paragraph to 15-year-old questions.

I’m excited for next year.

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