Building a New Model Together

Let’s stop fighting change. Instead, let’s build on the best practices we’ve developed over centuries as learners, and embrace next practices that reflect our world.

Let’s stop fighting the tests. Instead, let’s build new measures that show student achievement at a much higher level that any test could demonstrate.

Let’s stop fighting each other on what platform, device, or company is best. Instead, let’s build resources and tools that work across any and all platforms, in order to give all teachers and leaders a chance to work with another inspiring educator.

Let’s stop talking about what we can do to shape the future of education. Instead, let’s build it and inspire a generation of innovators.

Here are 10 ways we can create a culture of innovation in our classrooms and schools, and spark creativity and innovation in our students.

#1. Be Expert Learners

I put this first on the list because we have to be master learners. We have to understand the science behind learning and the four stages to learning anything: attention, encoding, storage, and retrieval. This first principle building block of learning allows us to help students to be prepared for anything. In Liz Wiseman’s award-winning book, Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work, she writes:

In a rapidly changing world, experience can be a curse. Careers stall, innovation stops, and strategies grow stale. Being new, naïve, and even clueless can be an asset. For today’s knowledge workers, constant learning is more valuable than mastery.

We have to be expert learners, so our students can be expert learners. If we fail to grasp this shift, then we rely on being content experts when the content is already constantly changing.

#2. Stay Informed or Get Left Behind

What are you feeding your brain? What are you reading? What videos are you watching? What YouTube channels do you subscribe to? What podcasts are you listening to?

How are you staying informed as a learner and leader? How are you staying updated as a parent and educator?

If you are not informed then you can only make decisions and plans for you and your students with outdated information. Here are some quick things you can do to stay informed:

  • Get on Twitter. Follow these educators. Browse the hashtags and choose three that are relevant to what you do (or want to do) and follow the hashtags and join the chats if you can.
  • Read the work of Peter Diamandis and subscribe to his newsletter. You’ll be informed on how things are changing in the world.
  • Download the Flipboard App. Choose everything you are interested in to follow as a subject/topic. Check it every day or every week to learn about those topics and read newly curated articles.
  • When you find an article from Twitter or Flipboard that really speaks to you, sign-up to follow that writer. Chance is they’ll have more great stuff you’ll like in the future.

#3. Go Beyond Connection to Collaboration

Let’s make things at conferences. Let’s build products at Edcamps. Let’s innovate when we connect instead of talking about what we could do. 

The conversations are moving from Twitter and Facebook to Voxer and Google Hangouts. Teachers and leaders around the world are now creating projects together, starting movements together, researching together, and building products together.

Connection is great (don’t get me wrong), but in order to inspire a generation of innovators, our students have to see us as creators and collaborators as well.

Find a problem (we all have many!). Find others that share that problem by connecting. Talk. Plan. Then build a solution together!

#4. Forget About Labeling Learning

Differentiated. Blended. Personalized. Individualized. Flipped. Passion-based. Inquiry-based. Problem-based. Project-based.

On and on go the terms for learning. When really, it’s (as Bo Adams says) all about the learning. We can label learning, but it seems to be a futile exercise that excites only those that want to pretend like they are doing something new.

Do students have attention? Are they encoding the information in various ways? Are they storing it in their short-term, working, or long-term memory? Are they being given opportunities to recall that information and apply it?

That’s learning.

A recent article points out that the concept of different learning styles is one of the greatest neuroscience myths:

“Perhaps the most popular and influential myth is that a student learns most effectively when they are taught in their preferred learning style,” writes Howard-Jones.

“Learning Styles do not work, yet the current research literature is full of papers which advocate their use. This undermines education as a research field and likely has a negative impact on students,” he wrote in his paper for Frontiers in Psychology.

The aforementioned evidence against learning styles is compelling. In 2004, Frank Coffield, professor of education at the University of London, led research into the 13 most popular models of learning styles and found there wasn’t sufficient evidence to cater teaching techniques to various learning styles. And a 2008 study by Harold Pashler, psychology professor at UC San Diego, was scathing. Despite the preponderance of the learning styles concept “from kindergarten to graduate school,” and a “thriving industry” devoted to such guidebooks for teachers, Pashler found there wasn’t rigorous evidence for the concept.

Let’s focus our attention on the actual learning, and not labeling what type of learning our students are doing.

#5. Focus on Building Great Relationships

In previous posts we discussed how we learn and why we learn. And beneath all the changes that we’ve seen, there is still something very human about learning. It is social and relationships matter. I think George Couros sums it up perfectly:

“We can no longer take the most human profession in the world and reduce it to letters and numbers.”

It doesn’t work. We’ve tried it. Students need to be inspired by their teachers, challenged by their teachers and develop relationships with their teachers. Sir Ken Robinson puts it this way:


#6. Don’t Just Adopt Technology, Embrace It

If you think technology has reached the tipping point in how it’s impacting learning, you are wrong. It’s only just beginning. With the pace of change (especially in technology-related fields) ramping up, it’s important to have a mindset that goes past adoption. Embracing technology means being a learner first, then figuring out how to use it with purpose.

When students see teachers using technology with a purpose, they want to use it with purpose. I see the work of students in Don Wettrick’s Innovation Class and it’s all about passion and purpose. Students are developing patents, creating sellable products, and launching movements all with technology. Be that inspiration that your students need, by being a learner first and embracing the changes in technology.

#7. Fight Weak Data with Better Measures

We all know that standardized test scores are not the best way to measure student success. But guess what, they are the easiest way. We also all know that what we measure matters. And the “measuring of achievement” is not going away anytime soon.

Let’s find better measures. If your standardized test scores are low but every student is graduating, going to college, a trade school, or getting a job once they leave–what does that say about your school? If students are getting rave reviews from internships, helping the community with programs, and impacting the global community with projects–what does that say about your school? If students are filing for new patents, inventing innovative procedures, and leading online movements–what does that say about your school?

Our kids cannot be reduced to numbers in a spreadsheet, or we’ll inevitably be replaced by those that can “data dig” better than we can (hint: computers). But worse, when we use weak data to support and showcase what our schools are all about, we completely miss the most important piece of learning. Joe Bower said it the best:

Some things in life, however, are not made to be measured. While my height can be accurately described as 6’1” without debate, my personality, character, intelligence, athleticism and learning can not be meaningfully reduced to a symbol. When we reduce something as magnificently messy as learning to a number, we always conceal far more than we ever reveal.
The most important things that children learn in school are not easily measured. The most meaningful things in life may, in fact, be immeasurable. The good news, however, is that the most important and meaningful things that we want children to learn and do in school can always be observed and described. This is precisely why it is so important to remember that the root word for assessment is assidere which literally means ‘to sit beside.’ Assessment is not a spreadsheet — it’s a conversation.

#8. Empower Your Colleagues with Solutions

I was going to title this section: Replace Complaints (and Blaming) with Solutions. But it is more about empowering each other to find solutions than it is to stop complaining and blaming.

Here’s the deal: We are all human. We are going to complain.

It is very natural for us to blame other when things don’t go the way we want them to go. Yet, none of that complaining and blaming matters. It doesn’t help. It hurts.

I love how one of our elementary school principals this year made the focus for the year on “finding solutions.” That’s it. That’s the mission. If there is an issue, or a problem, or a situation let’s be mindful enough to find a solution.

If we are going to inspire a generation of innovators, we are going to have to be problem-solvers ourselves.

We are going to have to empower our colleagues to take action and have the right attitude. It’s not going to magically happen. The greatest gift I ever received from a colleague is when I was complaining about my students’ attitude towards my class. I had a “woe is me” attitude and couldn’t believe they weren’t engaged. When my friend (and peer) called me out, I had to think about solutions. That simple message led to the 20% Project in my class. It would never have happened if I didn’t have empowering colleagues.

#9. Take Your Classroom from a Space, to a Place, to a Home

I’ll never forget the conversation I listened to as a new teacher. It was in a faculty meeting and one of our Art teachers stood up to talk about the culture at our building. There was a lot of complaining about student behavior, and a number of newly imposed rules for the hallways and classrooms. Yet, his words hushed the crowd and made us all think. He said:

“If we want students to respect us and respect the school. We need to take this from a space, to a place, to a home for our students.”

If your school and classrooms feel more like a space or a place for students, then what’s the purpose of them learning in the classroom instead of in a cubicle in front of a computer? When our classrooms look like cemeteries, our students tend to follow suit. Lined rows of desks. Teacher up front. Students bored out of their minds.

And the best part is that 92% of teachers say they know the learning environment impacts student behavior and achievement, yet most feel like they are not in control of what it looks like and feels like. Let’s change that this year, and make our places more like homes.

#10. Allow For, Support, Make Time For, and Praise Creative Work

What we allow for in our schools and classrooms will ultimately open up avenues for new ideas to develop. If we don’t allow for inquiry, choice, collaboration, digital tools, failure…then usually only the people in charge are allowed to have ideas.

Similarly, a constant complaint I hear from teachers and students is that they don’t have enough time. It drives stress levels up, and brings innovative work to a halt when we create curricula and schedules that are jam-packed with content and pre-determined lessons. When we make time for reflection/self-assessment (look at Hattie’s work), sharing, and making/tinkering our students (and our teachers) actually go out and TRY new things.

Next is support. Take for instance a school that solely focuses on standardized assessments. The teachers are not supported by the administration by bringing in new ideas or curiosity to their profession. Then it is increasingly difficult for teachers to support students when they create or make. Often they’ll never get the opportunity. Yet in schools like Wissahickon (where I taught) I was supported when I wanted to try something new in the classroom. Online and global opportunities like the Flat Classroom Project weren’t looked down upon. And when my students wanted to try something outside of the box or run with a project idea, I jumped at supporting their innovative work through ideas like Project: Global Inform. Support is a key ingredient to help those new ideas actually work.

When we change what we praise and look for in a classroom, students begin to adjust what matters. When we praise failure, look for resiliency, and assess the process (instead of only the final product) then students are empowered to share their work and grow as learners in a variety of ways.

Introducing: The Innovative Teaching Academy



Innovation starts with action. It starts with being intentional about how we lead, how we learn, and how we teach.

But, we need a supportive and challenging community to help in the transformation.

We need resources that are time-tested, and we need to talk with people who are going through this journey at all different stages and steps.

The Innovative Teaching Academy is a six-month online learning experience that gives you the tools, resources, support, and community needed to break the mold of traditional schooling.

The Innovative Teaching Academy isn’t just a course. It’s a master class and coaching system designed to take you through step-by-step lessons and work through the principles and strategies needed to make a greater impact in education and reach more people.

Best of all it provides the accountability and support system we all need to thrive.

  • Easy-to-follow lessons? Yes.
  • Supportive community of education leaders? Yes.
  • Built-in accountability? Yes.
  • Unlimited personal coaching with the Academy Team? Yes.

The academy is grounded in proven principles and strategies that work. It’s broken down into simple, step-by-step lessons that allow you to walk through each of the six phases of innovative teaching and learning.

Each lesson will leave you with an simple action item and schedule so you can methodically implement what you’ve learned.

No guesswork.

No reverse engineering.

No more hours searching the internet for something that makes sense.

I can’t wait to share more details with you on March 26th! Sign up below to be notified when it is live!

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Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • I wish every school district would adopt a mission statement of “all about the learning” and live by it…imagine the places it would take us (and our students)!

  • Sue King says:

    Great piece, as always! Thinking a lot about ‘learning’ and ‘curricula.’ While visiting w/my daughter, she was talking about wanting/needing to continue learning even though she doesn’t have classes to go to now. She told me about all the different podcasts she listens to (Things You Didn’t Learn in History Class, one by a woman who writes books about science – but in an entertaining style & about unusual topics like studying connection of insects and war). Her passion for learning and the self-directed nature struck me, as did the potential for embedding important skills & competencies into learning that engages kids at all ages. I also wondered about how she became the “lifelong learner” she is. I am pretty sure it did not grow out of her education, but maybe her early access to limitless experts and information via the internet.

    Lots of space for innovation at every level of schooling! Could you add a #11 that says ‘Do not wait until you have it perfect to make changes in courses or course ‘curriculum.’

  • Thoughts on adding Reddit to number #2 and #3? The “front page of the internet,” that gives us our everything and anything tool that is somewhat underutilized in education, but utilized in so many other industries.

  • Excellent way of telling, and nice paragraph to get information on the
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