In What Ways Might We Empower The Voices Of All Learners To Create A Culture Of Innovation?

This post was written by Michael Buist and Tara Martin as part of The Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC).

Do yourself a favor. Watch this video, at least the first 45 seconds.

Why are these events unsettling? Do the actions make you frustrated? Of course they do. How dare someone cut a delicious cake into such random pieces. It’s downright criminal to mix Skittles and M&Ms. Who folds paper like that?

Or are you intrigued? Are you wondering who made the rules these people are breaking?

If you are intrigued, then maybe you’re an innovator, a questioner, a skeptic. And that’s exactly what our students need. We are in the business of creating the most memorable experiences for all learners – students and teachers – in our schools; therefore, we need to empower all the stakeholders to speak out and voice their opinions (arguments?) for innovative practices.

While brainstorming the ways we might empower ALL learners to create a culture of innovation, Tara and I asked the following questions:

  • What might the most innovative school in the world LOOK like?
  • What might the most innovative school in the world SOUND like?
  • What might the most innovative school in the world FEEL like?

For the purpose of this blog, I will consider the questions above from the student standpoint. While Tara, Curriculum Facilitator, from Lawrence, Kansas, will emphasize answers from the teachers, faculty and staff viewpoint.

What Might the Most Innovative School in the World Look Like?

For students…

The most innovative school in the world could look like a science fiction novel” (paraphrasing Mai Lihn, Knox Gifted Academy 5th grader)

Just imagine the classroom of the future. Interactive computer screens. Virtual reality pods. Transporter rooms. Imagine the furniture. Hover chairs. Tables that transform based on specific needs at the touch of a button.

If we empower our students to speak up and give them a voice, we can create this learning environment. It might not look exactly like the classroom described above yet. But if we don’t put our number one customer at the heart of the design phase of schools and classrooms, then we’re destined to create static, uninteresting spaces that meet the needs of no one.

“People collaborating. People blueprinting. People building. People planning.” (Nate, Knox Gifted Academy 5th grader)

For a second be a fly on the wall of Nate’s most innovative classroom. Do his ideas seem too far-fetched? Not really. In fact, Nate knows that collaboration and planning are what teams of people do everyday. He also knows that developing these skills at an early age will empower him to build upon these and utilize them in the workforce of the future.

For teachers…(from Tara)

I asked my professional learning network on Twitter, “What might the most innovative school in the world look like?” Here’s what a few of them had to say:

As the educators above responded, I couldn’t help but think of an article I read from The Business Insider The 13 Most Innovative Schools in the World in 2015. At the onset, the article Chris Weller describes how the “look” of an innovative school can vary quite a bit.

“It can be a floating school in an impoverished region, like the one in Lagos, Nigeria. Or it can be a school that’s blind to gender, like Egalia, in Stockholm, Sweden.” Click here to see the full article.

As I read the above article, I didn’t see any students taking long, laborious tests, or practicing with worksheets, but rather learning by doing and quite possibly the will, do as Jared Speight mentioned above, record their journey in a digital portfolio. Wouldn’t that be a nice shift from standardized tests? While the innovative schools might take on many “looks” one common thread seem to be ever present, the teacher was NOT at the front of the room lecturing but rather engulfed in the learning process. I believe the most innovative school will, as George Couros says, “operate as if we should all be “learners,” as opposed to the students being the only learners.”  

What Might the Most Innovative School in the World Sound Like?

For students…

It sounds like a beautiful hum of ideas.” (Mai Lihn)

“Planning. Collaboration. Communication.” (Nate)

Since our students have a voice in this innovative classroom, we must honor their ideas and let conversations happen, let questions be answered, let answers be questioned. We must allow them to collaborate and to struggle with disagreements and experience successes. This hum of ideas enables students to own their learning and take responsibility for the directions the classroom is heading.

For teachers…(from Tara)

The sound of an innovative school from a teacher standpoint, would be collaborating, sharing their learning via social media, blogging, developing podcast reflections, vlogging, etc. All of these mentioned outlets for sound require the teacher to reflect. Therefore, among the hum of an innovative school is one of a teacher reflecting and sharing their learning. I’d imagine this hum would sound much like what Tracy Sockalosky described above–that of the #IMMOOC Twitter feed.  

What Might the Most Innovative School in the World Feel Like?

For students…

It feels like a surge of excitement, inspiration, and a well of good feelings.” (Mai Lihn)

“Better than worksheets, like my classmates and I could do anything. Energizing. Positive. Exciting. Creative” (Nate)

It’s 2017. Everything should feel better than a pile of worksheets. Nate recognizes the importance rote learning, regurgitating information limits his potential. Remove the worksheets and the classroom feels alive. So let’s dip into Mai Lihn’s well of good feelings and sprinkle innovation in our classrooms.

For teachers…(from Tara)

The culture of an innovative school is one that not only students but teachers, staff and the school community feel empowered to, as Justin stated above, “pursue their interest, goals, and dreams.” All stakeholders would feel a “spirit full of energy, enthusiasm, and imagination,” as Tracy mentioned. In fact, Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf say it like this in Lead Like a Pirate, “Culture first, culture last, culture always.” In an innovative school, the culture of learning and risk-taking will be ever present and felt by those who so much as step inside the building.

Our Vision

If we want to create a culture of innovation that empowers the voices of all learners, we must be willing to embrace the idea that there are no one-size fits all. In fact, “innovation” in and of itself means as George Couros defines, “something new and better.” If our culture promotes and empowers all learners, it will be ever changing its “look.” However, the principles stated when answering the questions above, will likely be visible no matter what the shape or contents of the building.

For what are we waiting? This innovative culture in education is not something to hope for in the future; it’s something to attain right here and NOW! It requires us to ACT! Are you ready?

In what ways will YOU empower the voices of all learners to create a culture of innovation?

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