Innovate inside the box!
Tonight’s conversation reminded me that we all have the ability to innovate within the structures in which we work. Sometimes I feel that we all try so hard to do something ‘new’ and ‘innovative’ that we forget about all the good things we used to do! This year, I’m trying to incorporate ‘new’ good old ideas.
Part of my work as an educational technology co-ordinator is attending monthly principal meetings as well as helping facilitate meetings with our district pedagogical leads. Instead of ‘doing’ presentations this year, I’m challenging myself to model effective uses of technology through structures and strategies that the leaders can use back in their schools and classrooms. My ‘innovations’ are not new, rather I’m going back to ideas I learned and used long ago, like Kagan co-operative learning structures, but I’m endeavouring to apply them in new ways and explicitly teach leaders why I used those structures and how they can be used in various learning contexts.
For example, at the last principal’s meeting, I wanted to engage school leaders in deeper conversations around their priorities for leveraging technology. Using our district’s Digital Literacies Scope & Sequence, school leaders used the ‘Spend A Buck’ strategy to identify school priorities areas. I purposefully gave them the Spend A Buck template as a Google Drawing inside a shared Google Folder. Doing this digitally may seem just like a substitution for using pen and paper, but I wanted them to experience using Google Drawings as many hadn’t seen it before and the shared folder allowed us to be able to see what other school’s had as their priorities so we can look to create opportunities for collaboration. The feedback I received from the activity was really positive and many of the leaders made connections about how they could either use the spend a buck strategy with their staff or classes or how their students could use Google Drawings in their learning journeys.
Change = Opportunity
Today I had the pleasure to go into a junior high classroom to see how one teacher’s willingness to take a risk has evolved into a new way of organize learning in her classroom. As a district technology coach, I am leading a community of inquiry on technology for learning. I knew most of the people in my community of inquiry were already tech-savvy, app junkies like me so providing ‘training’ sessions wasn’t going to work with this group. I needed to find a way to help us explore research based practices to use technology to support student-centred, personalized learning for all students.
So I started my community of inquiry with a book study on Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. When I read it last summer several points resonated with me. Horn and Staker’s (2015) definition of blended learning insists that student control over time, place, path and/or pace is critical for blended learning. The element of student control really stuck with me. We had been embedding technologies into learning environments but the element of student control was absent for the most part. Their models of blended learning and practical examples also stuck with me. I was hoping the book would have the same effect on my group members.
I was so relieved when one member contacted me after reading about the station rotation model of blended learning and said she needed to do this in her Language Arts class. She had such as variety of ability levels in her classroom and needed a way to allow her more time to work with small groups and to differentiate learning for students without it being obvious if someone was working on something different or at a different pace than others.
Today I got to be part of her class and see her station rotation in action. In a short few weeks, she had set up a new routine of students working through three stations. One station is always teacher guided and usually focuses on guided reading and reader response. The two other stations vary depending upon the group need but one group uses online tools and resources related to the outcomes they are working on. I saw groups of students engaged in their learning as they had control over the pace and path of their learning.
After talking to the teacher after she mentioned all the other changes that had taken place because she decided to use stations. For example, the previous classroom layout wasn’t as conducive to movement and stations so the layout was revamped to make way for more group work. I am so impressed with her ‘just do it’ attitude and willingness to try something new.