As our Innovation Tech Cohorts begin, we are immersed in ideas. At the summer brainstorming sessions, groups identified multiple areas of curiosity and passion. Empathy. Kindness. Empowerment. Self reflection. Collaboration. Key phrases have emerged over and over again. However, how do we move from idea to reality? How do we ensure that we pursue innovation and keep students, vs. adults, at the center? Are we being risk takers and change makers? Every group that has met so far is wrestling with the transition from theory to reality.
"Change Makers", a team at Riverdale Heights Elementary School, grappled with these very concepts this week. Their brainstorming umbrella enveloped the question 'Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?' Always keeping that idea at the center of the discussion, they looked for indicators on what that would look like in their school. They rallied around the importance of having students feel accepted and cared about by the adults in the building. The concept of community is critical to learning and growing. In order to get the ball moving with a caring community, adults must first model this belief in order for students to see how we then want them to treat others. This community focus must then move from adult to student behavior. We want students to initiate and drive kindness, empathy and caring within the school environment.
Which takes us to the hard part of the conversation. I don't think anyone would disagree with anything already discussed. But, how do we get there? How do we work through the 'mess' to empower students? We want students to experience the power of intrinsically driving their own learning within this caring school. Teachers started discussing behaviors and landed on this goal:
"Adults and students will be able to demonstrate kindness and acceptance
towards others as a caring community."
From here, they broke the goal into steps, identifying a place to start.
Their discussion shifted from what they will be doing...to what they want to see from students. Erin Merrill, sixth grade teacher, asked if the end goal could be "We want students to feel accepted and part of the learning community." She is right. We do want students to feel. And, as a result of what they feel, they will then be motivated to act. Student actions will allow us to gauge overall impact.
Fast forward to the end of the year. What will students be doing? What will they be leading? Discussing? Initiating? What will our school look like? Hard questions. But talking with the end in mind, will help us work backwards to create this innovative plan.
Innovation? Yes! Risk Taking? Yes! These teachers are willing to wrestle with looking at situations from multiple angles. Their desire to step out of comfort zone with how it's been done in the past is invigorating. It might be only a few classrooms at the beginning. Maybe it starts with meeting with interested students over lunch. It might move slowly. But, their innovative caring community is beginning to take shape and move forward - one step at a time.
" I read ideas and get inspired by them, but there's no follow through and I don't have the support and resources I need to implement them in my classroom. This cohort will give me the accountability I need to take the risks I want to in my classroom."
Jackie (first grade teacher at Riverdale Heights)
is an instructional technology coach for the Pleasant Valley School District. As a dreamer, teacher, librarian and reader, she looks for ways to help students find their voice and connect with others. @hopewelllibrary