The educational system in the United States is in need of constant innovation. Education is moving from the rigid classroom model into an environment that requires flexibility and adaptability. Education in the new millennium is a collaborative process, involving many people who work collaboratively in teams and have different perspectives and goals. Teachers in the classroom must change to meet these changes, if they are to provide quality instruction.
Education at every level includes creativity. Innovation in education requires constant collaborative effort with many colleagues — a “last minute” redo of an instructor’s lesson plan just because there was a better way around it, a creative change in the direction of a lesson because the children are driving the educational experience. Education can be messy and long, with countless books and articles and endless hours of one-on-one teaching, but it also has a clearly defined purpose and clear delineating lines, especially in the classroom. Learning must be not only interesting and exciting, but also appropriate for the age group for which it is intended.
Teaching and learning are inseparable. The classroom is where ideas and innovations are tested and shared; the very point of having an instructor teach is to open his or her mind to allow ideas and insights to percolate from multiple vantage points. In a world where we tend to congregate in one place, a classroom provides the opportunity to take risks, to engage multiple minds and multiple types of learning. Students in a classroom are given the chance to ask questions, to demonstrate their knowledge, and to engage in hands-on activities. By allowing them to take risks, ideas can be explored, truths revealed, and knowledge tested.
If teachers and educators were more willing to risk being unpopular and making unpopular choices, then much of our current educational problem could have been avoided. Unfortunately, most teachers do not recognize that they have a responsibility to help shape the mental makeup of their students. The fact is that when an educator does not provide students with opportunities to develop and use their intellect in meaningful ways, then that teacher is not doing his or her job. The problem with much of our public school system today is that teachers are stuck in a classroom culture where they are rarely trusted with being innovative or creative, and teachers are afraid of becoming unpopular.
Fortunately, educators have a new opportunity to make a positive impact on student learning by helping them become more innovative and creative. This can be accomplished through careful planning and effective strategies. Practices that work in other contexts can be easily adapted to the classroom, so that teachers can create a culture that fosters creativity instead of boredom and avoidance. Here are some practices that many teachers have found useful.
The most important factor in creating a culture of innovation in the classroom is creating an environment in which student achievement is encouraged. There are several ways to do this, including creating open communication lines between teachers and other Oii grantees, providing opportunities for Oii innovators to present their case, and supporting Oii activities and projects in the classroom. Students should be encouraged to come up with ideas and pursue them, but the most important goal is to support and encourage their creativity.
Teachers should also consider how they use technology in the classroom, especially in the context of group discussions. One way to do this is to give students an option to report their findings using technology. For instance, teachers may allow the student to bring in their digital camera and take photos as an example. They may also give students a choice to listen to a digital recording made by the teacher during group discussions, rather than reading out loud.
Another practice that teachers can use to encourage more creativity in the classroom is to start and end each class discussion with an encouraging question. An often overlooked practice is to engage introverts and extroverts alike. In a recent study by Raji Sehgal and Ning Lin of the University of Colorado at Boulder, extroverts were interviewed while introverts were not. The results of this study showed that those who begin and end each discussion with an introverted question actually increased their extroversion. Teachers can easily increase the amount of introversion and extroversion in their classrooms by engaging both groups in meaningful discussion.