Weathering The Storm
Rebuilding After The Unexpected
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The common saying "life happens" should be my mantra when it comes to my innovation project. I fully intended on inspiring and facilitating a small group of teachers in my district as they began using blended learning to create a more student-centered environment. Well, that didn't happen, but not for lack of trying, and to say that I am having mixed feelings about it is an understatement. To help explain where I am and how I am feeling, I think it’s best to compare my plan to a house in a storm.
Sounds strange, I know, but stay with me.
Let’s imagine for a moment that a house builder has just finished building a house (yes, I am the builder). The builder started with a great plan (my innovation plan), the plan was followed and developed into a quite impressive house (blended learning pilot program for teachers). In fact, the house was ready for a nice family to move in and set up home. However, the night before the family moved in, a tornado tore through the area and destroyed the house (my decision to change districts after 24 years in the same district).
So, what does this story have to do with my innovation project? I'm getting there.
The family was upset of course, but insurance would cover their loss and they began planning to rebuild. They even planned to use the same builder, but strangely, the builder experienced great relief when the house was destroyed because she had discovered something along the way that the home owners didn’t know. You see, the builder realized that although the ground looked perfectly acceptable to build upon, below the surface the foundation was, at best shaky, and at worst rotten. She knew that even if the family would have moved in and made it work for a while, the foundation would soon have begun to crack and before long the house wouldn’t have been inhabitable.
The storm enabled the builder to imagine new possibilities for a fresh start. Although she would have to start all over, there would be a second chance to rebuild on a sturdy foundation, this time with the knowledge needed to build a home that would last a lifetime.
So, where am I with my innovation project? Good question.
Basically I am at ground zero, and contrary to how it sounds, that is actually a good thing. My current district is the sturdy, healthy ground that I will need to start a blended learning initiative. There are several reasons that support the "sturdy ground" comparison. First, I have administrators that are eager to learn how a blended learning environment nurtures learner agency, allows students to learn anywhere, anytime at their own pace, and gives teachers the ability to know the strengths and weaknesses of their students through real-time data and personal relationships. Another plus is that I am no longer alone, there are four ILDS (innovative learning design specialists) in my department with the same common goal of leveraging our existing one-to-one program to intentionally create more student centered learning environments. We are also working closely with the curriculum department and campus administrators to reimagine the traditional classroom and provide teachers with the professional learning they need to innovate learning. This of course, gives me a perfect opportunity to use the knowledge, tools, experience and, most importantly the environment, to actually “rebuild” on steady ground. I have even convinced a few leaders to travel to other blended learning districts next year to see blended learning in action and inquire about best practices and pitfalls to avoid.
Did anything positive come out of the wreckage? Maybe small victories.
There were some positives that can still remain after the storm. I consider these to be small victories. The original blended learning pilot group of teachers from my previous district continue to at least keep an open mind and some are doing great things in their classrooms. I still check in with them from time to time and they still reach out to ask questions, seek resources and advice, and sometimes to just tell me about the 'small victories' they are experiencing in their own classrooms. I like to think that perhaps participating in the blended learning pilot program ignited a spark that will eventually grow into a flame that will influence other teachers.
What lessons have I learned? Many, but one really big one!
Sometimes I get discouraged and, in moments of self-pity, lament that all the work was for nothing, and I suppose to someone without a growth mindset (thank you 5302) that would seem to be true. However, I know in my heart that I can, and will, make a difference in my current district. If this program has taught me anything, it is that learning is an ongoing process and that the right culture and mindset are crucial to the success of any large scale initiative. Actually, one of the first nuggets of wisdom that I learned early on in the DLL program has turned out to be one of the most valuable lessons learned. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck explains that success is rarely the result of a lone person's work (Dweck, 2016). Attempting to implement my innovation plan alone has proven to be the most obvious factor in its demise. Although success sometimes rests on the name of a single person, in reality, it is the persistent, collaborative work of many experts coming together with a common goal that will ultimately lead to true success. So, it turns out it's not a good idea to try to build a house alone. There must be a community of believers willing to support and prepare the foundation with a healthy culture and mindset. And yes, sometimes you just need to move on to a place where the foundation has already been prepared.
Future innovation projects? Yes indeed!
I am positive that there are many more innovation projects in my future. I feel as though my current district is moving in a positive direction toward innovative approaches to learning. We recently read and held a book study over the book "Becoming Brilliant" (Golinkoff & Hirsh-Pasek, n.d.) and will be focusing on ways teachers can intentionally incorporate the 6 C's mentioned in the book into their day-to-day curriculum next year. We have also started the process of writing the TEA Technology Application TEKS into the district curriculum and will be helping principals learn to recognize and prioritize meaningful technology integration in classrooms. Although my innovation plan may not have succeeded in the traditional sense, I am certain that everything that I learned throughout the process will lead to success down the road. So maybe I can call it "delayed success", because I believe that all things happen for a reason and that students will ultimately benefit from what seemed like a natural disaster at first.