How to be an Innovative Educator in your classroom


Innovation is a bit of a buzz word around town in education at the moment.  You would expect a reference for a strong educator to contain ‘highly innovative’ or something similar within the description to their pedagogical approach within the classroom.  But what is innovation?  Wikipedia describes innovation as shown below:

Innovation is a new idea, device or process.[1] Innovation can be viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, inarticulated needs, or existing market needs.

But from who’s perspective and based upon what? An innovative teacher needs to just introduce new things into their classroom that improve the teaching and learning experience for someone.  It does not have to be a completely new idea.  Look at Wikipedia.  An interesting, innovative idea where anybody can add to a body of existing knowledge and anybody and accept or deny its validity (with evidence).  When it first came on to the scene I remember strongly warning my students not to use it as a source for research.   According to Wikipedia my schools official motto used to be…

You can smoke as long as you do not get caught…

This is now fixed but now I understand it is actually more comprehensive, up-to-date and has less inaccuracies than some other well known sets of Encyclopaedias.  From this idea, many people have used Wikis to create a corporate body of knowledge.  It is a tried and tested idea but if you were to use this idea in your classroom to create a class Wiki on the breakdown of Romeo and Juliet it would be considered an innovation within the classroom.  Don’t know anything about creating a wiki?  You can do the same thing using OneNote.  One scene per page.  Original text in black annotations in any other colour.

romeo and juliet So where do you start if you want to become innovative in your classroom?  As with all good planning start with what you want the students to learn.  This is the what.  Let say we want the students to compare the 1960’s with 2015. Now the How.  You have three choices.  The first is go out and search for the best way for them interact with the knowledge so quality, long term learning can occur.  The second way is get together with some colleagues and brainstorm.  Third, and perhaps the riskiest one, ask your students. Great you are nearly there.  Lets pretend we are going to get the students to produce a Sway comparing one occupation from1960 with another from today.  A great plan but you know nothing about Sway.  This is as far as it gets for most people.  Too hard so we go back to page 56 of the text book and we answer the 10 boring, and limited, questions at the bottom of the page. To be innovative we need to ignore what we do not know at the beginning and work it out as we go along.

It is OK that you do not know it all Make sure you have a great professional learning network (PLN).  These are worth their weight in gold and a whole lot more.  A PLN will be able to answer all your questions and more, they will offer constructive feedback and  push you outside the box, out of the room into the world of unlimited possibilities.   How to get a PLN is discussed here. If you can not find the answers through your PLN ask the students.  Some may have already created a Sway.  If you can still not find how to create a Sway use YouTube.  I sometimes think this has more answers that Wikipedia!!  Lets say you have tried all these avenues and are still at a dead end.  The last (or sometimes the first) port of call is having a ‘lets explore’ lesson with the students.  Anything they can not learn in the first half hour is often not worth knowing.  We all know that students teaching students (and teachers) is a great way to go.  By the due date you will be an expert and it has not taken any additional time out of your day.

The Box 2Another way to learn about some of the amazing things out there are to give students an open slate.  Tell them what you want them to learn and let them work out how they can demonstrate their learning.  Creating a rubric with the class is a great way to do this as the students understand the skills and knowledge you want them to demonstrate and they give ideas of what this looks like.  You can also hold an ‘outside the box’ discussion where students are not allowed to put the ‘normal’ ways of presenting information at school (essay, report etc).  The wilder the better.  This is even better than being innovative yourself.  You are letting the students be innovative.  Offer incentives for the most imaginative (and effective) way to demonstrate what they know and can do. Being innovative in the classroom is not time consuming and often you will get better engagement and outcomes from the students.  Take a step back.  Let the students take control for a while.  You may even learn something.

Being Innovating does not mean you have to be overly creating or spend too much of your time creating new stuff.  It does mean your students will be more engaged in the lessons and better, deeper learning will be occurring both in and out of the classroom.

Work/Life Balance; How OneNote can restore your life

HandsLike most educators I work hard.  My work/life balance is often more WORK/life.  My family, health and mental wellbeing suffer and the demands of being a teacher seem to increase.  Since using OneNote I have found that the balance is coming back.  As a tool for sharing, record keeping and planning, OneNote can help restore your work/life balance to where it should be. By using OneNote for student records I save myself heaps of time.  First there is no photocopying class lists or copying down up to 300 names into some teacher record book which costs me a bundle. I just cut and paste from Excel spreadsheets which are produced from our timetable program.  Ten minutes work and I have all the class lists I need for the whole year.  Even better, when I get a new student into my class or one leaves it is very simple to adjust my table.  Not messy and easy to do.  I also link the students with their individual OneNote notebooks and they have a page where I can record any emails with a click of a button.  Markbook My students use OneNote as their exercise book.  This is a great time saver and has its own built in history.  I do not need to collect books.  I just sync my own OneNote and all my students work is there.  I can see when they worked on their notebook and I do not have to chase students to collect books if they are absent.  Even better I do not have to lug books around and my back is much better for it!  A great thing is if I am tired and can not get through the marking in one night I do not need to hand books back and collect them again at the end of the lesson. The students notebooks are their portfolio of work.  I can show parents development and it is super easy to flick a parent an email to show them what I am talking about over the phone.  This is much quicker that arranging a parent meeting that drags on for 45 minutes! students Using OneNote as a textbook is an amazing timesaver and helps me to be a better teacher.  I can update it on the spot or, if I am in a rush, I can cut and past what I want directly from the internet.  It allows me to differentiate easily and it is not sucking up my time as my colleagues and I can all work on the same task at different levels.  This gives me access to multilevel scaffolding in the same time it would take me to plan a single task or lesson.  Even students can get into the act.  They learn how to summarise and review materials.  Reviewing last lessons practical is also a lot easier if I get them to watch a video they created on OneNote last lesson.Textbook As a tool for planning, OneNote excels.  I can easily share it with my staff or we can work on it together as a shared notebook.  A simple thing to create and modify unit plans which can be ‘tweaked’ as the unit progresses so it is all ready for next year.  I can link online material easily and as it is on my computer I do not have to plug in the URL as it takes me immediately to what I want to look at. Planning The way it should beYour time is valuable.  The last thing you want to be doing is spending it either at work or, even worse, at home doing school work.  Microsoft OneNote is an amazing tool that can help restore the work/life balance. There are a heap of amazing websites that can help you get started but I recommend as a great place to start.