I’m participating in George Couros’ Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course (#IMMOOC) over the next few weeks. Each week I’ll write a blog post as part of my participation and share it with you. Hope you enjoy them!
I travel all over the country training teachers in strategies that can help transform their teaching. One of the most frequent questions I get asked as a staff developer in these sessions is, “This is great, but what does it look like in… [insert content area here].”
Teachers don’t want to just KNOW how to implement a new technique or learning strategy in their classrooms, I often find that if they can’t conceptualize how it will look and translates to their content area they usually don’t get around to implementing it with their students. There are a lot of reasons for this, but it’s my opinion that it’s basic human nature.
I don’t know many teachers who are not control freaks. That classroom is our kingdom. At the secondary level, students come and go throughout the day, but our classroom is where we live all day long. It’s natural to want to be comfortable in this element and not to venture out of our comfort zone. So we stick to the tried and true. We stick to how we were taught. But in doing so, we lose out on innovation. I personally have done this. I often train critical/close reading strategies to educators around the country, but after I was initially trained I did not try it with my students for a FULL YEAR because it was out of my comfort zone. I didn’t know what it looked like and how it would go, so I shied away from using the strategies with my students. It wasn’t until I decided to finally try out these strategies that I discovered how powerful they were!
Simply put, I had to learn to be OK out of our comfort zone and when I did, magic happened in my classroom. Here are my tips to help you go beyond the comfort zone and make your own magic happen in the classroom.
Take a risk
I’m not saying throw out your entire curriculum and start over. Start small. Focus on the next upcoming unit. In the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, he quotes The Center for Accelerated Learning who said, “Learning is creation, not consumption. Knowledge is not something a learner absorbs, but something a learner create.” Our students have been conditioned to receive knowledge like baby birds receive worms from their mother. They wait for us to drop that knowledge on them and then we get frustrated when they can not apply those skills. We have to give them opportunities to create. Where in your upcoming lessons could students create? Instead of the teacher explaining content, could students research and explain it to a partner? Instead of the teacher lecturing about grammar, could the students create games or short videos explaining the concepts to each other? Just tweaking ONE part of a lesson can take a risk that is going to directly impact the students.
Don’t be afraid to fail
This one is so hard for teachers because, in addition to being control freaks, many of us are extreme perfectionists and our own worst critics. We are so uncomfortable admitting to students we aren’t the experts on everything. We have to give ourselves a break and realize that failure is part of the learning process, and if we’re going to take risks we’re going to fail. So if a new activity I tried crashed and burned I have two options. On the one hand, I can proclaim it a huge failure, never try it again and run straight back to my comfort zone. On the other hand, I can ask students to help me reflect on why the activity was a flop, how we could change it to be successful, and then try again.
Which leads to the most powerful part of trying something innovative and getting outside our comfort zone: reflection. I am a huge believer that the most important part of internalizing something new is to reflect and process. As a teacher, I spent ten to fifteen minutes at the end of each school day honestly reflecting on how the day went. Before I dove into planning or grading papers I would mentally go through the day and make notes on what went well, who needed a little more attention the next day, and what I could do in the future to make the activities and plans I’d used with the students better. A lot of days I felt like the worst teacher in the world, but after I reflected I always felt better because I knew how I would try something different the next time.
Pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone is, well to put it simply, uncomfortable. We don’t like to be there. We question ourselves. But if we never do that, we lose out on huge opportunities to give our students new and better experiences.