Innovation is Not an Option; It is a Must!

Innovation is Not an Option; It is a Must!

As my former principal used to say, “Success is not an option; it is a must.”

I’ve carried this mindset with me to my current teaching position because I feel that I can and have to do much more for DCPS. We need all students to be successful, and I believe that innovation is the answer.

When I traveled to California for my first trip as a Citybridge Foundation Education Innovation Fellow, as we visited schools using blended and personalized learning practices, I was reminded of the following lines from the DCPS Capital Commitment:

“Our five-year strategic plan, A Capital Commitment, provides a roadmap for building DCPS into a high-quality, vibrant school district that earns the confidence of our community. With this strategic plan, we recommit DCPS to providing every student with a safe, academically challenging, and inspiring learning experience by 2017.”

In California, we were exposed to teachers, leaders, schools, and communities who are changing their teaching and instructional practice in order to improve results. We saw teachers who are creating well-organized and planned stations to personalize student learning. We talked to and listened to education leaders who are modeling teaching for their staff so that they can improve their teaching practices and reach new levels of leadership. We met with families who are involved in their schools so their investment can positively impact their children’s progress.

Being able to observe, listen, and live this innovation experience has been enlightening and empowering. In fact, it has probably been the best experience of my educational career. Now, I am ready to see how our strategic plan at DCPS can take place in my own school.

Here are a few innovative teaching practices I plan to bring into my classroom this year in hopes of being a catalyst for innovation at my school:

1. Provide students with a safe space to come to every day, and develop a shared vision for our children. In our school community, both parents and educators want their children to be safe and free from harm. We have made a lot of progress toward this goal in DCPS:

Engaged parents are essential to eliminating the achievement gap, and we work with our parents to help them become powerful advocates for their children and their communities. As teachers, we can do more to work directly with parents, helping them become leaders at home, in the school, and in their communities. I have seen different methods for accomplishing this, and every teacher and school can find one that fits their school and their academic goals.

Ultimately, the parents in California and my parents at Cleveland Elementary School in D.C. have a lot in common: They love helping in their schools because they are demonstrating to their children that they care about their educational success.

2. Keep coursework academically challenging. Every student sees challenge differently, and it is my job as a teacher to respond to what they need. By bringing innovation into my classroom through personalized learning, I am able to teach 20 students who each work at their own pace.

It sounds ambitious, but I have found a personalized learning model that works: In my classroom, students rotate across differentiated learning stations on a specific schedule. Stations often include: (a) small group instruction by the teacher, (b) collaborative or independent practice, and (c) self-directed online activities.

3. Utilize new online learning programs. Online programs are the “inspiring” part of the innovation-driven learning experience that we need to bring into DCPS. There are many companies creating and launching data-based online tools that empower us, the teachers. Parents and caregivers can also learn to use these programs to better understand what their child is learning in school and help him or her. These online resources, available both in school and at home, give parents an opportunity to be present and engaged in world of learning with students. Coordination and communication with families is key: If we are excited for and responsible in how we use technology to improve learning, the future of education is ours to create.

Written by Sara Arranz

Sara Arranz

Sara Arranz-Ramiro is a pre-kindergarten Spanish Immersion teacher at Cleveland Elementary School and an Education Innovation Fellow.

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