The Innovation Train

Everyone get on the innovation train. I think it’s like a lot of things in life. You find yourself following the same routine…it can be the trap of school. Many of us attend the same building, follow the same timetable and see the same students throughout a year.   Maybe it’s a situation where it’s not just for a year but years…the same building, same timetable and/or teachable subjects. There is the strong built-in possibility for repetition. This is routine in the bad sense of the word. Innovation, I see as a practice of revisiting what we’ve already done without hopefully having to totally reinvent the wheel. The word that keeps coming up for me is mindfulness: Am I paying attention to good teaching practices? Are my students being empowered (I might have said engaged before but I recognize now the distinction between engagement and empowerment)? Is my classroom a place that students don’t look forward to going to? The question is about mindfulness, but innovation is the answer—at least in part.

I still have questions, notably about the diversity of learners in my classes and how to address their needs justly. But I’m now on this train with a lot of others who are along for the journey, hoping to pick up as many as we can along the way, able to figure out together the answers to as many challenges as we might encounter to innovation (and to good teaching practice, student empowerment, positive student attitude, etc.) along the way.

Russ Skinner

Grant Park High School

Cluster 1996

My Love Affair with Twitter

6 months ago I hated twitter… I have resisted it’s appeal for 99% of its 10 year existence. ( by the way, Happy 10th birthday Twitter!) The French song by Stromae- Carmen, summed up my criticism nicely.

I now realize that the song recounts the pitfalls of an uninformed approach to twitter,and certainly the dangers of an unguided use of any social media platform. Much like the song suggests, I thought it was an unhealthy tool for shameless self-promotion,used by the famous, to become more famous and the rich to become richer… I scoffed at it’s educational potential. I believed it caused its users to base their self worth and importance on their number of followers and that it reduced life to a popularity contest. I now realize it was a superficial understanding and that it has a much larger potential.

Several years ago, after hearing several colleagues jump onto the bandwagon, I decided to check it out. I created an account, I followed a few people and several news outlets. At first it was lackluster on my end, but I thought it was an interesting way to get real time news updates. I appreciated that it allowed for access to social movements such as the Arab Spring, the Idle No More movement and real time access to critical news such as social protests and natural disasters happening around the world. I never posted anything and used it only to consume news. It was great for that, I thought, but not much else. 140 characters allows for very little.

During previous professional developments I could not be sold on the idea of Twitter, and continued my criticism and fight against social media in general. A fight I was sure to lose. My students would not choose my methods of learning over theirs. Earlier this year, after reading and hearing George Couros extol the virtues of Twitter, I decided to invest some time, improve my profile and get to networking. At the very least, I thought it would help me understand my enemy.  

Investing time in Twitter caused a veil to be lifted from my eyes. A new world and a new language appeared before me.  I realized that many of the elements of technological literacy used by my junior high school students were a part of Twitter. From hashtags to embedded codes, from net citizenship to networking, from SMS to apps, Twitter summed up the framework for this new language; the language of social media.

Having had my head in the sand for so long, it was a steep learning curve but one that has helped me love and get excited about teaching and connecting with students again. One that has allowed me to share, encourage, ask questions, find inspiration and perhaps inspire. One that has allowed me to reconnect with students at a time where I thought humanity was doomed.

It took George Couros to show me the positive side of Twitter. His advice allowed me to maximize and enhance the use of my smartphone all the while interacting with students through this powerful device and creating genuinely engaging teachable moments about digital footprints and online ethics. I couldn’t believe I had only been using my smartphone to send the odd text message for all these years!

To learn about Twitter was to become more technologically literate at the least. At best, it summed up and made use of the most recent and important developments in social media and technology from the past 10 years. It allowed me to speak and experiment with this new language. It also meant free professional development anytime, anywhere. The upside seemed appetizing, so I dug in.

The criticism of Twitter is still strong among my colleagues, but I now I believe resistance is futile. We can struggle against it, or we can embrace the change. While living as a monk in Thailand, I was told that when facing the winds of change, it was better to bend like a flexible blade of grass then to stand rigid as a tall tree in the field of life, as the tree could too easily break or be uprooted. In this instance, in this battle, I felt the wind pulling at my roots. I now choose to be flexible. My focus has changed from opposer to embracer.  

As a teacher in 2016, in a globalized world, one where communication takes place as much online as it does offline, perhaps increasingly the former, Twitter has become a force to be reckoned with. And I now stand ready for the reckoning. The wave is washing ashore, our students were born in an era of high speed internet, smartphones and speaking a language and using tools that were becoming unfamiliar to me. Their future will involve this language whether I speak it or not, whether I like it or not.

Furthering my interest in this phenomenon, I followed a student’s invitation to join Instagram. Much like Twitter, it has been a big eye opener as well. I have seen it live as a kind of Jr. Twitter. Or a Twitter for kids. Its format is simpler, and perhaps focuses on photography and visual arts which adds to its appeal for younger users. Both platforms have allowed me to reconnect with students, on a level I did not think possible.  It has shrunk the generation gap that I was experiencing years before. It has given me a voice with younger learners and I do not regret moving towards this integration. School can be cool and fun and new and enticing again. Even at my age. All you need is a smartphone. Students love teaching me how to use it.

During our last session with George Couros, I was excited to see that many concepts I had learned through Twitter would be transferable and would integrate nicely with another love of mine:  blogs….

The learning continues…

And in the words of my favorite rapper:“Le combat continue….”

Thank you George.    Thank you #winnipegsdItll.    Thank you Twitter.

M Stéphane Gautron

Enseignant – École Sacré-Coeur

cluster 1965

Innovation in the Classroom

Over the last few months I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about innovation and what that looks like in a classroom.  Initially, when I was invited to attend the ITLL meetings and realized what this acronym stood for, I thought someone must have made a mistake asking me to participate. Why would a teacher like me, who often assigns students to assist with classroom technology, be a good technology leader?  It wasn’t until George Curous made the comment “teachers  don’t have to be experts at everything” which made me realize that it’s okay to learn from my students.  In fact, when I reflect back on my 15 years of teaching , it has most definitely been the experiences with my students that I have been most insightful and taught me more about teaching.  My students have taught me that not everybody learns the same way and I have to give them the opportunities to learn the way that benefits them the most.  I’ve also learned that developing relationships with my students better helps me identify and understand their needs.

Another question that has really resonated is whether my children or I would want to be in my class? After thinking about this, I reflected on my school experiences and about the kind of teachers that made a positive impact on me as a learner and a person.  There are two teachers that I recall influencing my learning, and it was mainly due to how they took genuine interest in connecting with me and encouraged me to strive to achieve my best, which demonstrated their belief in my abilities. These teachers were also innovative and attempted to connect the classroom objectives to real life. In one of the classrooms, I recall learning about community by creating our own classroom town. This was almost 29 years ago, but it’s one of the few classroom experiences I remember enjoying and learning from.

I believe that throughout my career, I have discovered some innovative ways to connect with and teach my students, however, the last few months of professional development, collaboration and reflection has encouraged me to view things from a different perspective.  It has also made me think about what type of classroom experiences I would want for my own children. Overall, I want them to be excited to learn, engaged in their learning and empowered to voice their opinions and ask questions.  I look forward to learning and implementing new and innovative ideas to move myself and students forward.

Carrie Brown

Literacy Support Teacher

Dufferin School

It’s Better Late than Never…

Just like this entry (a little late)…Innovation may come much later in a teacher’s day-to-day practice. Although there are, of course, many teachers who are innovative, there is always room for growth. As educators, we are always learning; and as learners we need to apply new things to facilitate and engage our minds to new horizons.

Upon sharing my learning with other colleagues, many of them have asked, “Does innovation mean technology?” The answer is no. George Couros says it best, stating that “Technology can accelerate or amplify innovation, but the technology is not the innovation. The thinking is.”

Yes, technology can help the learning process and yes, it is definitely a helpful tool, but innovation is the journey we take to get to the results. Answers to the hows and whys are beneficial to the learning process, which I believe, fosters growth.

Recently, I’ve shared a short Ted-Talk video clip with our staff members at one of our lunch and learn meetings about “Reimagining Classrooms: Teachers as Learners and Students as Leaders” by Kayla Delzer. This short, yet inspiring clip, shared several inspirational insights into her world of teaching and values. “What is right for kids, is right.”  And she is RIGHT.  Our students, our kids, live in the 21st century…we must teach like we are too. We need to adapt, create, integrate, communicate, differentiate, engage, motivate, inspire, construct, and collaborate.

…and Twitter might just be a starting point.

I’ll admit, joining the Twitter world was quite daunting…didn’t crack the egg until a month or so after joining…but it was a starting point. And from there I’ve learned a lot.

I wouldn’t have found this video if it wasn’t for Twitter. I probably wouldn’t have tried SeeSaw, Quizizz or EDPuzzle if it wasn’t for Twitter either. I’ve explored hashtags and currently follow inspiring people that provide a mini-PD session at my fingertips.  Social media is not going away, so let’s learn to work with it and teach our students about digital citizenship where they can create a positive (and significant) digital footprint.…before it’s too late. 

Maria Manzano,

Grade 5/6 Teacher,
Dufferin School,
Cluster 2010

Further Reflections

When reading George Couros’ book, I was especially captivated by his thoughts on innovative leadership and his focus on facilitating far reaching change in schools rather pockets of innovation in the odd classroom. Change that creates schools full of classrooms that are challenging, innovative and empowering for students is needed.

I believe that in order for teachers to change and improve their practise when they are already extremely busy and overtaxed with their job there a few things that need to happen.

Teachers need…

  1. Support from administration
  2. A professional/mentoring relationship with an innovative leader
  3. Patience (real and lasting change can be slow)
  4. opportunities to collaborate with other innovative teachers
  5. reflection time

Georgia Wells, Children of the Earth