I get how innovation is defined as new and better but I am struggling to find a way that I can define what I do as innovative. I always thought that I was pretty innovative because I never conformed to anyone else's curriculum. I have always painstakingly designed my own curriculum because I felt as if simply following someone else's would not be me. I believe that in order for me to be the best teacher for my students, I have to be me. I cannot be Mr. So-and-so. I always say that we all have different teaching styles and that's ok. It doesn't make one way better or worse, just different. I believe that being your true self and sharing your own passions in your teaching will make the connections you make with your students stronger and more authentic.
That said, I am struggling with the idea that although I may be doing things in a new and better way from how I previously did makes them innovative in my field. Even though I feel like I am always looking for ways to be better and make my mark in my career, I have a hard time believe that I might be the only one to have come up with an idea. I often feel as if there must be other educators doing what I'm doing and that I'm not that special. A good teacher, sure, but cutting edge- debatable.
Here's an idea that I had and really I just adapted from another activity that I found in a book. In learning a new language, communication is king. To that end, it is important to offer the students opportunities to use their new language in an authentic way. Meeting new people is inevitable and so often we have our students engage in a dialogue in which they ask each other's names, where they live, how old they are etc. This is usually boring because in most cases, these kids have been together for years and so they know their names already, everyone is more or less the same age and they all live in the same town. Result = answers are all almost identical. I came across an activity in which students were given a worksheet with different people from different areas and had different ages. They had to pretend to be these people and simply fill in the worksheet. Ok, so that was better because they had to pay more attention to names, ages and where people lived and it increased their vocabulary but it still seemed a little boring. What I did was tell the students that they were going to be given a new identity and had to meet and greet with everyone in the room. The worksheet didn't have as many different characters as students as I had, so I created additional ones. Each student was given a slip of paper with their new identity and was asked not to share the details until they were asked specific questions. They all had a worksheet with only names and then had to fill in the rest of the details as they "met" each other. This activity was a big hit. After this informal meet-and-greet, I did the same activity in a formal setting so they would know how to interact in different social settings and I included different nationalities and professions to add to their vocabulary. Can this be defined as innovative? On a personal level, I would say yes. But I'm not so convinced nobody else ever had this idea so I really don't know if I could take the credit.
Even though I may not feel like I can apply for membership in the Elite Innovator's club, I do feel that I do have many qualities of an Innovator's Mindset. Some I think I can easily attribute to myself are:
1 - Empathetic - I think that I often put myself into my students' shoes because I always say that I wouldn't ask them to do something I wouldn't do myself. I often offer examples of what I might be looking for, using previous student work and my own. I tell them to take my work and make it better because I know they can.
2 - Risk Taker - I have many times thrown out an entire unit plan because something came up a class discussion or in the news that seemed to be more relevant to my students and so I rebuild a unit. I will try anything at least once if I think my class can benefit from it. If it doesn't work out, it was only one day, my kids won't be ruined and it's not just a learning process for them!
3 - Networked - Although I have had some reservations about technology and social media, one of my classes a few years ago walked me through the whole set up process of Twitter and showed me how it worked and I have them to thank for all the educators I have connected with. It has proven to be an invaluable tool and I don't know what I'd do without it now.
4 - Reflective - This characteristic has served me well. Being able to look back on what worked, what tanked and what was ok but could have been great if I only did x,y, or z has helped me become more organized, more in tune with my students and most of all made me realize that I'm also human.
Can I claim Innovator status yet? Not sure. If we're being honest, the best I could say is maybe but I still have a ways to go.