Powerful. Reflective. Personal.
These are the three words that I can use to sum up the reading of Chapter 2-4 of Dr. Katie Martin’s Learner Centered Innovation. It seems to be the very purpose of this book that as one reads it, they personalize it–and focus upon their own experience on a day to day basis. The relevance of this style of writing allows for the message to be internalized, and thereby reflective in the very nature of it. A true model for us as educators and our relationship with students. What is our message? How are we building a culture which personalizes the learning? Is our end goal authentic learning, or evaluation? (“Doing well on a test is NOT an end goal”--page 101, LCInnovation) With all that can “hold us back” in realizing this learning environment, what do we do to move past the obstacles and build (in the words of Dr. Martin) an “Innovation Ecosystem“.
“Culture is not the most important thing, it’s the only thing” -Jim Sinegal (p68, LCInnovation)
The creation of an Innovation Ecosystem seems to me to be of utmost importance. In a system which seems to be designed for “…people to comply and implement programs and policies…“, are we implementing proper policy? Theory X seems to dominate the culture in which most of us educate children. Developing a Theory Y system which inspires students to be “self motivated, involved, responsible, and creative” is paramount, but receives lip service and hastily implemented staff development with little follow through. An answer to this conundrum in my district is found in the style of change outlined on page 117 in “Pockets of Innovation”. I am blessed to be surrounded by a group of like minded individuals who formed a group we refer to as the “Bump Gang”. We meet on Friday mornings and discuss ways in which our lessons can be “bumped up” to be more innovative and in line with the theories of an Innovation Ecosystem. This half hour every week allows us to share, collaborate, reflect, and go out to implement high level, relevant lessons. Although our vision is not “shared” as official policy, we are making inroads as more and more staff joins us before school on Friday mornings. Our vision and values are to one day influence policy in our district which truly values this learning culture. In time, the system throughout our district will change to become an environment of true “learning”, not just “teaching”. Within the Bump Gang lies the answer to developing an Innovation Ecosystem–collaboration and sharing. Get out of the Silos and talk to each other!
In our school district, we recently worked on creating the characteristics of an “Ideal Iroquois Graduate.” This falls in line with Dr. Martin’s vision on page 103:
Although I found this exercise to be revealing and refreshing, I am hoping we can make the leap from “talk” to “action” in bringing these characteristics into our day to day instruction. Shifting the paradigm in this direction requires staff to let go of the fears found on page 86. A shared vision requires true belief in the ability to take risks and “fail” in our journey toward innovation. An Ideal Graduate must necessarily come from a multitude of Ideal Classrooms in their daily experience within a school.
What does this look like? Put simply, incorporate Dr. Martin’s “10 Characteristics of Learner-Centered Experiences” on a daily basis. Of course, all 10 can’t be done every day–but, if they are the NORM of the room they will be become the culture. Not an imposed culture, but an expectation that has grown organically through daily interaction between students and teachers. Every lesson should be reflected upon to discern whether of not it allows for:
Personal learning, ownership in their product, goals/accountability which measure characteristics other than standardized goals, Inquiry which stimulates questioning, collaboration, authentic/relevant display of their work, critique/revison/reflection upon their work, proper modeling, and enough challenge to make the student “struggle” with the hope of building within them the long sought after “grit”.
Sounds easy! Nope.
It isn’t. But, if we as educators can find ways to incorporate these characteristics into our lessons we will see the growth. They will become second nature as they have to many of us in our journey as educators. The Catholic-to-Buddhist Continuum described on page 115 is pure gold when it comes to assessing our individual classroom. We need not be at either extreme at all times, but finding the way to gracefully move from end to end of the spectrum will create an ideal learning environment in my opinion. Empowerment and inspiration are not easy to attain, and if it were easy–everyone would be doing it. Moving toward it through the models Dr. Martin shared in chapters 2-4 point our compass in the proper direction.