Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Innovation vs. Expectations

My podcast diet typically consists of the fun kids' science podcasts my kid can't get enough of, like Wow in the World and Brains On. On a rare solo drive this week, I listened to Rough Translation, a more mature offering, and it has filled me with questions. I strongly recommend listening to it (or reading the transcript) before you read the rest of this post.

What does this mean for all of the changes and innovations that are necessary to keep improving my practice as an educator? When I know that I am making improvements for my students, I need to have the courage to stick with it. I can't let the questions and scrutiny that comes with change cause me to roll back into the old way of doing things.

A few years back, I ran across a quote from Brian Tracy that basically said one hour of professional development reading per day could make someone an expert in their field within seven years. Most Americans spent seven hours a day going to school for at least 13 years. After all that time, they feel like experts in schooling and have definite expectations of what education should look like.

Innovation, by definition, doesn't conform to expectations. Education stakeholders are going to ask questions and have conversations about the innovations that don't conform to their expectations. Even if it isn't the intention, this scrutiny can lead teachers to have cold feet with their new ideas. In the case of Ghana's preschools, teachers continued to put up colorful posters and move out of the traditional rows of seats, but they stopped asking students the important questions that led to the gains in personal expression.

Students investigate
the concept of area
I've seen it in my community, too. All Idaho teachers are required to take a mathematical thinking course. Although teachers have been taking the course for around a decade, there hasn't been a big shift to the type of mathematical learning that the course advocated. I think a lot of this is due to subtle pressure from parents and the community to teach kids math in a familiar way.

Educating parents is difficult. My school hosted a math night last fall where I gave an opening talk to the families that attended. The big messages of my presentation were that anyone can learn math, counting on fingers is positive and helpful, and it is good to make mistakes. As soon as I was done talking, I sent the parents off to their children's classrooms. I now wonder what type of conversations happened in those classrooms as a result. It leaves me wondering how to best involve parents without creating anxiety about new approaches.

How can we engage all of our stakeholders in a way that allows innovation to thrive? Communicating with parents is an important part of the job, but all of the change and innovation over the last few years makes their expertise and expectations from their time as a student obsolete. I think this dichotomy between outdated expectations and moving forward quashes a lot of innovation in our schools. What is the balance between expectations and innovation? How can we honor all of our stakeholders while trying new and unproven ideas?

If you have thoughts and answers, I would love to hear them. I will continue to experiment and refine as I seek answers to my questions.