I spent a great deal of time catching up on reading over the recent winter break and was inspired in particular by one blog I ran across that had not been on my radar screen previously. Grant Lichtman (@GrantLichtman) is an educator/author at the Francis Parker School in San Diego who spent the fall term visiting over 60 schools across the country looking at “how leading educators are implementing significant change to meet 21st Century challenges.” Grant’s premise is that “Education is at a crossroads. The rate of change in the world has caught up and surpassed the ability of educators to fulfill their core mission, that of preparing our young people for the world around them.” He goes on to say “In order for schools to evolve to consistently offer transformational education that is relevant to our post-Industrial Age world we must change the ways we are structured and oriented, and we must change how and what we teach.” I could not agree more with what Grant wrote so I read on and ended up reading all of his blog posts from his journey over my vacation. If you are unfamiliar with Grant’s blog (The Learning Pond), I strongly encourage you to check it out; his posts from the various schools he visited are both informative and inspirational.
After reading Grant’s blog, I was particularly struck with the number of “leading” schools he visited that had regular, ongoing discussions about innovative teaching within the faculty. It should not have surprised me since I have participated in similar conversations at my school and found the discussions to be hugely beneficial to me as a teacher and way more interesting than the pedestrian discussions that dominate most faculty or department meetings. As we all know, time is the most precious commodity at most of our schools and we tend not to dedicate a great deal of it to open discussions about “how” we teach. I know that teachers are eager to have these conversations, but without dedicated time for the discourse, they do not happen nearly as often as we would like.
I decided to take a risk and invited my colleagues to join me in an on-going discussion/collaboration about “innovative teaching.” I had to give the group (PLN) a name, so I settled on the Innovative Teaching Collaborative and sent out my invitation. We had our first meeting yesterday and started the ball rolling. A dozen our so of my colleagues were able to make it to the first meeting and several others e-mailed me that they plan on joining in but had a conflicting meeting (no surprise!) so they could not make the inaugural meeting. I opened by explaining the reasons why I was starting the group and then asked people to share why they came and what they hoped to gain.
While the reasons were varied, there were definite themes that emerged.
- Most wanted to improve their teaching and saw this group as a vehicle to self-improvement.
- The chance to share and collaborate on the “how” of teaching was not a regular part of their daily discussions and they valued and craved it.
- Most recognized that we need to change the model of education given the current climate and that change can be scary and hard.
The 45 minute period flew by and everybody signed on to come back again in two weeks and continue the discussion. My homework for the group was to come back in two weeks with an example of a lesson/unit/activity that they do or plan to do in their classes that they think is “innovative” and be ready to share it with the group. By sharing ideas and getting some free feedback, my hope is that we can start to address some of the reasons why people elected to join the group and create a a truly collaborative group that is committed to innovative teaching, whatever that might be!
I would love to hear what others have done/are doing along these lines, so please do not hesitate to leave a comment, e-mail me or connect with me on Twitter (@smacclintic). Onward!