Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Innovative Practices: Changing Minds vs. Creating Cultures

Photo by Richard Shaw
This has been an excellent month for learning.  As usual, with great learning experiences come deeper questions and challenges.  I was lucky enough to work with An Estuary's Summer Institute, which included a group of teachers from all over the country.  This was a talented group of teachers that are dedicated to developing themselves, their staff,  and the teaching profession.

One of the questions that kept arising in our session was how to get other teachers and staff members to "buy into" new and innovative teaching practices.  It can be a scary place for teachers when they feel like they are all alone in their school, trying new practices, and being the odd man out.

My experience has shown me that it is more powerful to create a culture of innovation rather than changing people's practices.  What I mean is that when you are in an environment where teachers are not expected to be innovative, it usually doesn't work to tell them they need to change.  No one likes to hear this, especially if they feel successful in their current practice.  

So why not create something new, a culture that doesn't already exist, and then invite others to participate?  How can you harness the power of connections and relationships to create real change? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Make Suggestions Solution Oriented 

Even though you have some new tool or idea that you think is great, trying to get all the teachers on your floor to adapt it without reason might be a hard sell.  I never suggest anything to our teachers unless it offers a solution to a problem they are having.  I listen to what teachers want, then I help them find the tool that works for that task.  The conversation usually looks like this: You wish you could get quick quiz results?  Oh, have you tried these apps? No? They are awesome-want me to show you how I used them?

When teachers are able to see how something applies to them, impacts their students, or offers a solution, they are much more likely to try something new.  The key here is that you need to build a community in which teachers talk, listen, and problem solve together.

2. Tap into Strengths

Just like our students, each teacher brings something unique and special to their instruction. I know teachers that lecture all day long, but have the most incredible relationships with students.  How can we tap into those strengths and build a stronger culture of innovation?  

One powerful way you can help involve teachers is inviting them to add their strengths to your lessons. Ask them to co-teach or help with a lesson where they can bring these qualities elements.  Not only is this an amazing professional growth experience, the kids love when you disrupt the normal flow with "guests" in the room to add new flair.  Personally, my closest colleagues have been those I have taught alongside. 

3. Shut-Up and Smile  

Whenever something new is created there are skeptics.  That is normal, natural, and (for me) motivating. If someone isn't on board, just shut-up and smile.  Most likely you will not change their mind in one conversation.  Your efforts will be better spent being an example to your school community, taking your own risks, sharing your experiences, and always leaving the door open for the skeptics. 

If we want to create this culture, we have to model it.  Be purposeful in your practice.  If you lead by example and model innovation, your students will be the spokespeople for the work that happens in your class.  Other teachers will begin to seek you out because they want to be a part of this new culture. You won't have to recruit if you invite them to join you on their own terms.  

At the end of the day...

Teachers want to grow and are inherently drawn to reflection and self-improvement. Similarly, they are usually discouraged when others try to implement changes, as our teaching practices are a personal part of who we are as professionals.  Making space for teachers to dive into something new is much more rewarding than trying to get them to change what they already know. 

How are you working to make innovation the expectation, rather than the exception? What do you do to encourage, support, reflect, and build this culture together?

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