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  • Jennifer Smith

Innovations in Education: How Starting Small Can Lead to Big Change

Change. We all know it must happen. How we teach our children now is no longer suited for citizens of the future. Yet, most schools continue to do what they’ve always done and teach how they’ve always taught. What are we waiting for? Are we waiting for the “right” method? the “right” step? the money to initiate change?

How long are you willing to wait? Are you willing to wait until AI takes over the world of education? Until students only learn information via computers? Until someone determines there is no longer a “need” for personal interactions? This time is coming. In fact, many are already using online programs either supplementally or instead of traditional school. Look at the Khan Academy’s success if you need an example.

What are we to do? Start small. As teachers, we can initiate small changes within our schools to get the ball rolling. Why not use our creativity and innovation to ignite the flame now? What ideas do you have? What ideas are manageable to try this week? What can you do this year? What can you try with colleagues? How can you manipulate the schedule to your advantage? Can you garner a few colleagues to help support a small shift, idea, or change? Start now. When ideas work, people are energized and inspired to take action themselves.

Find a like-minded group of people and start conversation. In the faculty room, during your lunch, even on the playgrounds during recess, engage other teachers. Start saying, “what if” and “why not”. You might be surprised with the number of allies you find.

My colleagues and I started small. A group of us became very energized by interdisciplinary units nearly a decade ago. And our conversations never stopped. We were constantly challenging each other with idea brainstorms and “what if” statements. What if we stopped classes and took an entire month to study climate change? What if we redesigned the schedule so that we controlled how much time we taught each discipline and shared our time? What if we took the kids on world tour for the entire year and taught lessons according to each stop? Yes, we did a little bit of dreaming.

Eventually, we wanted to expand some of our more realistic ideas into a three week middle school midmester program that we called Academy. We shared the concept and inspired other teachers to join us. Before we knew it, our entire fifth and sixth grade teams were on board to ditch our current curriculum for a month and try new methods with Academy. It became a small movement within our middle school.

With administrative support, teachers bonded over the design of the program, courses, and assessment. Teachers were energized as they crafted multidisciplinary courses based on their own passions and interests. Students were excited by the opportunity to self-select courses according to their own interests. We launched our experiment in May 2019 after a year of planning. Courses included titles such as, Spy School, Farm It, Fake News, and Myths, Monsters, and Mosaics. Students wrote plays, built garden terraces, interviewed a Washington Post editor, and visited art museums. The program was an extraordinary success. And now this year, Academy will not only continue, but we have expanded it to include our seventh and eighth grades.

We never imagined our entire middle school faculty would be on board to usher in such change within a two year period. You never know what the winds of change will be able to accomplish. Now, what are you waiting for? What innovation will you try this month? this week? or even tomorrow? Do what you can, now. Learn from it. Expand upon it. Share it. We’re all shaping the future. With every small step, we make progress.







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