Stop innovating, start teaching!

For me, there is nothing more exciting in education than an enthusiastic and dedicated teacher doing everything in their power to maximise the learning for their students. With the array of resources and ideas available on the internet through the collaborative nature of forums such as Twitter and other social networking sites, there has never been a more dynamic time in education.

Yet in our desire to be innovative and on the cutting edge in order to inspire and engage our students, I believe we often sacrifice the quality and overall impact on outcomes in our haste to jump onto something new. Let’s face it, in our desire to be ‘innovative’ all the time, surely there must be a negative offshoot which no doubt impacts on our students.

For the people who know me reading this post, they will probably find it hard to believe it is me saying this. I am always looking to try new things and love nothing more than seeing the students lap up a new challenge. But every time something new has been introduced, it has been carefully planned, thought through, debated, justified and integrated because it was going to support, not overtake, the learning focus.

A crucial element often overlooked is time. How much time are you giving your students to firstly become proficient with the technology before you are moving them on to something new? Are they being given the opportunity to master the concept and take it places you would never have imagined? With the crowded curriculum, time is often the first thing teachers will cut back on.

At my school, we have embarked on a number of programs that have taken years to develop, yet are never the same from year to year. For example, our digital storytelling program has been running since 2005, yet no two years have been identical. In our desire to continually improve the organisation, effectiveness, student outcomes and overall product, the program is continually revisited. Yet the overall structure of the program stays the same, allowing routine and a clear understanding of where we are heading to be established for the students and teachers.

This consistency has allowed the students to master skills which has ultimately lead to the incorporation of other technologies. Some of these include developing a podcast site to share their work with the world (iSchool), and the use of Blogs and Wikis to support the process of making their films. But all of these developments would not have come about if we did not have an engaging concept to start with that could be built upon. Every effective teacher uses the same principle – come up with an engaging topic or idea, then investigate the best tools for scaffolding student learning.

I still recall the discussion with our school leadership team where we debated whether the concept was becoming ‘tired.’ Yet with the introduction of new and more effective tools, the students are improving their quality of work, and as a result, their overall outcomes. So if you have a great concept, stick to it, but reinvent it as the need arises.

So, let’s stop handing the kids the ‘toolkits’ before we have created a challenging ‘worksite’ for them to be used and get back to focusing on ‘quality workmanship.’

A checklist of thoughts to consider before implementing a new program;

  • Am I prepared to support and allow the time for the students to investigate these tools?
  • Once the student has mastered the tool, where could they possibly take it next? (Hopefully somewhere we never expected!)
  • Where is your school heading with ICT?
  • Are you taking other teachers with you, or are you creating pockets of innovative use in your school?
  • What does this mean for the students? That is, when they leave your exciting classroom, are they entering a time warp back to the 1970s in some of the other rooms?

Disagree, or have any points to add to the checklist? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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