by Tiffany Wycoff

teacher with students using a tabletIn many of my LINC Cloud CoachingTM sessions last week, one or more teachers made the statement, “I haven’t tried this yet because I’m going to wait until I can start it fresh next year.” We were discussing strategies for blended learning innovation with the goal of creating more pathways for student agency and personalization. In all cases, teachers were on board with trying something new like station rotation or a playlist, but they were reluctant to start now.

Having spent several spring seasons in the classroom, I can understand why. In some places, spring brings showers and flowers, in other places warmer waters to surf, but universally spring ushers in the period of breaking up with the school year and a longing for summer break. It’s an extremely stressful time to teach as testing is upon us, students allow their brains to run ahead of them to vacation, and it takes all our teacher superpowers to keep the focus on learning in the midst of numerous end of year events.

So I get it. In the sunset of the year, it’s a hard sell to try something new. And yet, I would argue it is the best time to do so. If you are engaged in professional learning but reluctant to give it a go for this year, here are five reasons to toss the “next year, new start” story for innovation now.

#1: Engagement

We try so many things to keep kids engaged for the close of the year. From field trips to project-based learning, whatever it takes. But over and over I’ve seen the best way to drive up engagement, even in the lowest engagement months, is student agency. One of the primary goals of innovation in the classroom is increased agency through choice, voice, and individualized pathways. When we try a strategy like a blended playlist, we put students in the driver’s seat of their learning. We also build stamina and capacity for them to manage their workflow independently and keep the focus on learning when they have choice in their learning pathways. When we enlist students in co-creating these playlists, we take this agency and resulting engagement to a whole new level. What if we solicit playlist activities at the end of each week via Google form for the following week’s playlist? What if we put a “sponsored by _____ student” as a tag next to the activity with the most votes that made the playlist for the week?

#2: Trust

When we innovate at the end of the year, we are not only bringing a fresh strategy to engage learners, but we also have the opportunity to engage them as stakeholders in a different way. Instead of trying to build trust alongside trying something new, we can build off a foundation of existing trust. We can say to our class, “I have this new strategy I’d like to try, and instead of trying it for the first time with new students, I would really like to try it with you since we already have shared expectations of how we work together. Can you collaborate with me on designing this?” Now is the time for taking trust to a new level, putting into the hands of the students who have been on the year’s journey with us an opportunity to help us learn and grow as teachers.

#3: Low Stakes Feedback

The relationship we have with students now can make trying new strategies lower stakes. If there are bumps along the way (which there likely will be) we can solicit feedback from our students to iterate. This is much easier to do when we are not trying to set expectations and class norms alongside trying something completely new. While both are possible, spring innovation allows us to separate those a bit, to rely on existing norms to drive the innovative practices. The cycle of engaging students in co-planning the new strategy, trying it together, and sending a survey or other means of obtaining feedback is a powerful one to help us start the new year with a more polished model.

#4: Modeling Always Learning, Always Growing

It is hard to demand continued peak learning in our students when we are not modeling it ourselves. When we innovate at the end of the year, we are sending a message to our students that now is always the best time for learning. We counter their drop in learning energy with an increase in our own energy and commitment to learning. When we share this with students authentically, it is even more powerful. What would happen tomorrow if you walked into class and said, “I know now is a hard time of year and that summer is starting to pull your focus. So I thought it might be a good time to refresh by trying something less conventional together. Are you in?”

#5: Triple Urgency of Innovation Now

When we work with teachers to support 21st century classroom transformation, we start with the critical “why” factors.

  • The Real Future: We are no longer preparing students for a fairly predictable future but rather for one in which 85% of jobs in 2030 haven’t even been created yet and almost half of existing jobs may be gone by the time they enter the workforce. We must put 21C skills at the forefront of every teaching opportunity or we are failing to teach.

  • Connection: Every day a student is disengaged in school is one in which the majority of their day is spent in disconnection. We are in the midst of a social-emotional crisis with 25% of children between 13 and 18 years old experiencing anxiety disorders and a rise in serious depression and suicide amongst teens. When we implement models like station rotation or whole-group rotation with pull-out, we gain time for small group connection and 1-1 conferencing. We also increase engagement and connection on the whole for students when we increase agency and connectivity.

  • Teacher Agency: If we as educators do not take the reigns as the agents of 21C learning transformation, we will be the objects of it. We are standing at the crossroads of our profession; it will change — digital adoption will continue, new models of learning mandated, new grading policies made the norm. We have the unique opportunity to be the leaders of this change. If we pass on that opportunity, we must pause in serious consideration of who will lead it.

Depending on the calendar, there are at least 24 days, 156 hours, and 9360 minutes to recognize this urgency and make a connection that matters with a student this year. Sounds more like 9360 reasons to innovate this spring season!

Need support getting started? Learn more about how LINC, the Learning Innovation Catalyst, helps empower educators as agents of 21st century learning transformation.