The Innovator’s Impact: Digging Deep to Change How I Teach, #IMMOOC, Week 4

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The Innovator’s Mindset, p. 110

I’ve thought of myself as a “good” teacher ever since my second full-time teaching job (for new-comers to my blog, I’ve held 13 different education-related jobs in 10 years and six states). Before that I was green, still finding my footing as a new teacher, but I hit my stride at that school and found a confidence in my abilities that has carried me through all my transitions to where I am now.

There are a lot of things that contribute to that confidence – qualities that I list on my resume about connecting with students, building rapport, making real-world connections to curriculum, and so on… But there’s something else, too.

It’s my Input strength. I’m realizing lately just how much this one strength theme from StrengthsFinder 2.0 drives my career. When I find a topic that interests me, I dig deep. I collect and collate information. I watch all the YouTube videos, read all the blogs, take notes, and write my own blog posts to reflect on what I’ve gathered and learned. It happened a few years ago with StrengthsFinder 2.0 and exploring strengths-based education (still a big interest of mine, but I’ve gone about as far as I can without dropping a lot of money). It also applies to nerdy fangirl things like The Lord of the Rings (I’m that person who watched all the DVD extras, and I read The Silmarillion for fun). There’s just something inside me that drives me to find out as much as I possibly can about the topics that intrigue me.

That’s what happened when I stumbled on this world of “Innovation” in education.

It started pretty simply – a professor now working at my alma mater posted on a Facebook group we’re both in. That led me to his podcast (The Moonshot Edu Show), and I proceeded to listen to every single episode, fascinated by all the new possibilities in education that I hadn’t known about before. It could have easily stopped there – collecting information of interest but taking minimal action. I’d maybe make a few little shifts here and there in my teaching, but nothing too earth-shattering or noticeable from the outside world. However, one of the guests on his show was Don Wettrick… and teaching as I knew it turned on its head.

I listened to the interview, became interested in his work, and my Input strength kicked into high gear. I don’t know if I’ve watched all of his videos yet, but definitely a lot. His own podcast has been the soundtrack to my workouts for weeks, and my list of books to read is growing ridiculously long the more I listen. (Anyone have any spare Barnes & Noble or Amazon gift cards lying around?)

It was also around the same time that I randomly picked up a copy of The Innovator’s Mindset at Barnes & Noble (basically on a whim), ventured onto Twitter for the first time, and learned about the upcoming #IMMOOC, which I promptly joined. My little teaching bubble exploded into messages and practices of innovation coming from multiple sources all at once, and spurred on by my info-loving brain, I dove in headfirst. And since this is the kind of info that requires action, I couldn’t passively store it away as I have with other topics. So I began looking at what could change in my classroom to put these ideas into practice.

It was in the midst of this Input-driven frenzy that Wettrick posted his beta test for the Global Innovation Exchange Challenge. Since I was toying with the idea of doing Genius Hour in my class anyway, it seemed like a good way to get our feet wet with some outside structure to help. I had no idea what I was getting myself into…

But I’ve written about that already (see last week), so for this post, I’ll focus on responding directly to the third #IMMOOC prompt option for this week:

Who is an educator that has had a tremendous impact on you in your career that you met through social media or have dug into their stuff from afar? Why did they have an impact?

OK, so we haven’t really “met”, aside from a couple of retweets and Facebook Q&A’s. I definitely fall into the “dug into his stuff from afar” category. But the impact remains. To answer the “who,” I’ll let him speak for himself.

(Side note — it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to embed a Facebook video into WordPress).

So why did learning about him collide into the perfect storm of changing my whole view of teaching?

Because his work embodies answers to questions I’ve been asking for years. Because it moves my musings from hypothetical “what ifs” to a reality that’s not only possible but already happening in a real classroom right now. Students — teenagers — are doing great things! They’re embracing responsibility, action, and self-motivated learning for practical, purposeful situations in the real world. I’ve been saying for years that I want to see kids launch themselves purposefully into adult life, rather than drift aimlessly into it. I want to see kids excitedly embrace growing up instead of complacently avoiding it as long as possible. I didn’t really know how to help that happen, but Wettrick provides a model for at least one possible way, and it’s working for him. Not only that, but it’s a model that’s attainable within our current standard educational structure.

After seeing that, how can I go back to complacently teaching the same old ways myself?

I’ve encountered enough great teachers in my career to know that I can’t “be” them. I can’t simply imitate another teacher’s methods. I’ve tried that before and it doesn’t work. I have to find my own ways of connecting. But I can and do learn from those great teachers, and I’m learning a lot from watching Wettrick’s work. Here are just a few of my takeaways.

  1. Just do. This is the big one. Don’t wait for perfection – just try things and improve as you go.
  2. Be transparent. I’ve really appreciated how Wettrick opened a window into his class and let the world see his work. I used to try to keep my blog separate from my actual work life, worrying about what students, colleagues, and administrators would think if they found it. But maybe a bit of transparency and vulnerability is a good thing moving forward.
  3. Life skills supersede academic skills. I’m not saying that academics are unimportant — but the goal should be to prepare learners for life, not just more academics. Situations where students have to take initiative, problem identify, be creative, etc., can go much further in the long run for preparing for life than just grade-based academia.
  4. Passions matter – but so does bringing value to others. Help kids learn that they’ll go so much farther in life if they can see how helping others is beneficial for everyone, themselves included.
  5. Foster failure. I think this is my favorite. It doesn’t mean to shoot kids down or crush their dreams – but put them in a position to fail quickly, and then help them learn from it! Failure is a fact of life. It doesn’t go away just because it’s uncomfortable. So help kids encounter failure in a safe environment. And then help them pick themselves back up and move on.

I could probably go on, but I think it’s best just to leave it at that and let you explore more for yourself if you want. If any of this has piqued your interest, check out his StartEdUp podcast, the StartEdUp facebook group, twitter (@DonWettrick), or the StartEdUp Innovation website.

I don’t know where this going for me. I think there are a few more twists and turns in store for my career that I still can’t see yet, and I’m still wondering where I’ll land when the dust settles. But now this year will forever be on my resume and part of my story, and it’s crazy to think where that might take me.

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