As Education Innovation Fellows, we will soon be implementing pilots in our classrooms to try to solve specific problems we’ve encountered. But I feel like I need to test pilot my test pilot, so that when I test my pilot, I’m sure my pilot will not crash. YES, you read that correctly.
Let’s face it, innovation is a messy process. Basically, as you attempt to solve a problem in a new, engaging, creative, and more personalized way, you should expect and accept that there will be problems—no matter how much you plan.
However, one thing most teachers will never forget is their first year. I mean, how could you? For the most part, we did everything right—but at the same time, we got everything wrong. It was messy; parents were upset, students rebelled, and administrators questioned if they had made the right decision to hire you. Then you found your way; and even though it wasn’t perfect, it was good enough. That’s exactly why comfort zones are such strong pillars to lean upon—but they rarely produce the outcomes we all yearn to accomplish for our children.
As I move towards more personalized, project-based learning for my students, here are some key takeaways I’ve gathered about this new, uncomfortable space I am about to enter:
1. Calculate your risk.
- Define the (student) learning outcome.
- Define the (teacher) learning outcome.
- Define the objectives needed to solve the problem.
- Define the procedures, tools, and assignments needed to reach the learning outcome.
2. Start small.
- Choose a small group of students with varying learning abilities.
3. Use the design process.
- Allows students to share their interests through strategically-mapped inquiry.
- Dig as deep as possible so that students can articulate their vision in the best way possible.
4. Set a floor.
- Set time, behavior, norms, and completion expectations.
- Ensure that students are knowledgeable of their current data.
- Message that the project (if completed correctly) should further their achievement, not hinder it.
- Clearly identify the supports you will put in place (e.g., how will resources, peer mentors, teacher mentors, and teachers be used?).
6. Inform stakeholders.
- Parents are just as important as administrators—n fact, maybe more important. Message the importance of this new innovative work; and how the findings will be recorded, shared, and used to implement & influence future students.
- Believe that it will happen; and display your enthusiasm for every success and failure learned.
- Create an atmosphere of honest, students-centered dialogue.
[This blog post first appeared on March 2, 2015 on the Education Innovation Fellowship blog here]