The MY Story of Innovation
This is a story about how I got to “this place” in education. It is a wonderful adventure of growth, frustration, and teamwork. During the past months I’ve been learned the strategic steps and theory of human nature. It’s helped me devise an innovation plan to change the culture at my school. The story begins with understanding why people hold on to their comforts, and end with letting do of the past for a new culture of learning. Here’s is a look at my innovation journey.
I’ve always been curious about the mind.
My parents, taught me all about what I would come to understand is a learning theory. My coursework at Lamar University showed me what to do with it. I became fixated on bringing my school into the 21st century using the tools I was learning each week. The Lamar program is a model of a significant learning environment, which I wanted to share with my coworkers. It wasn’t my job exactly, but I led, and others followed.
I devised a plan to help them prepare for teaching differently. I used in combination, a three year technology integration plan to intentionally bring tech into teaching, with an implementation plan to help teachers get started. The plan (a technology integration professional learning plan) began with a reminder of what we were trying to achieve as teachers.
The Origin of Changing Culture
The plan to integrate technology into classroom teaching had a history. It was what motivated my work in the school for nearly five years. As the technology director, I built an infrastructure that could support the needs of 21st century learners when they finally arrived. The plan was heavy in Constructivist theory, and backed by research about trends in education. It was designed using the COVA learning approach, on the heels of a successful blended learning project – a German class, using the same design.
The course served as a testing ground for my first significant learning environment. I believe the environment in which we learn is as important as what we learn. Since that test, the entire Foreign Language department has been restructured to offer four languages in digitally, in addition to a traditional Spanish course. I call that success.
Learning through the Lamar Masters program (Digital Learning and Leading – DLL) gave shape to what I believed – my personal learning philosophy. I gathered more research to support my plan, which boosted my confidence. To that knowledge I added big scary goals, and tools.
The experience of creating a blended learning course introduced me to backward design, where the endgame is the beginning of the plan. Using that approach, I imagined a school where kids wanted to learn and took command of the process. If I could get teachers comfortable with using technology, then show them how to teach with it, they could step away from the front of the classroom and let the students take ownership of their learning. It was a lofty goal.
Through many videos, books, conversations, and assignments, I learned that to change a culture, behavior must change. To change behavior, hearts must change. To change hearts, I had to create something my co-workers connected with, that led them back to why they became teachers. To do that, I had to help them see how the world had changed.
Learning about how people think, their mindset was the first of many pearls of wisdom that guided my plan design. I learned the value of support. Through partnerships with other Lamar students and support from people at work – my plan grew. But a great plan is nothing but an idea unless it’s implemented.
I learned about strategic design tools that helped plant my ideas firmly in executable order, complete with measurable actions and outcomes. I organizing ideas in a 3 column table and used the principles of “understanding by design” . Most important was defining motivators in the 4DX model, which is the basis of the Three Year Plan. I revisited these motivators time and again, hoping I had reached my teachers’ hearts. This became my Achilles heel.
Swept up by the whirlwind – no, the firestorm – that stole my focus, at times I lost touch with what I now know is the most important part of the plan, the “why”. With practice, I will do better. From my efforts I’ve learned these tools are the insights to human behavior. To master them is to change a culture.
At times I struggle with communicating my ideas. I think everyone does. My innovation plan was tangible, it was straight forward professional learning, delivered in a new way. It’s tough to get a message across when so many ideologies exist. The obvious purpose was to help teachers gain some skills. I found it hard to get some people to slow down and listen to the reason it mattered. But I kept trying. I made time to listen to them and understand their needs.
The plan was executed as designed. Feedback was positive and more action research is pending. I have developed several online classes for new employees. I am hopeful the trend will continue as new teachers join us with expectations like my own.
Cultures evolve slowly. Surprisingly, everything will have changed one day. Five years ago my vision began and today teachers are teaching with technology. Some have given their students freedom to learn. Many teachers are modeling what I know will help our school survive its growing pains.
In the image of Lamar’s graduate program, my innovation plan was designed with choice, ownership, voice, and authenticity. Just as I wanted to make my work responsibilities the foundation of my coursework, so too, did teachers as they learned to use technology in their own classrooms. Through the technology PL plan (my innovation plan) I created a significant learning environment (CSLE) for our staff to model to their students.
I have to admit, during my time in the DLL program my other responsibilities occasionally overwhelmed me. I fell short of what I hoped to do personally to garner support for my plan but in spite of that, the plan was very successful. My communication efforts were weaker than intended and my follow-through was less formal than what it deserved – lessons from which I have learned. But I know how much teachers learned and appreciated having the opportunity to grow in skills. If I could change anything, it would have been my own focus. Unfortunately, my work is not completely in my control. As the Director of Technology I must prioritize, as does every employee. Over time, I believe professional development with become as important as the work we do as teachers.
Sometimes I encountered gatekeepers, people who rallied to keep the old world alive and well. It reminded me that cultural change must happen naturally. So I set my targets on those willing to look ahead. I see small victories in the classrooms; teachers using new tools and taking risks – some even letting students lead the way. These moments are what I bring to mind when I doubt the value of my hard work. The proof lies in the change that I can now see, months later, when every teacher, even the apprehensive learners from a year ago, are integrating technology into teaching. I call that success.
Will this story have a sequel?
I’ve taken everything I’ve learned at Lamar University and applied it in my own school. The lines are blurred between courses and I can’t distinguish one class as having more influence than another. I’ve stretched myself out of my comfort zone to the point of no return. My innovation plan, blended learning course, and online classes are examples of my leadership. I will persevere, calm my whirlwind, and focus. I intend to continue pushing forward the agenda to change how we teach, so Generation Z, and all that come after, can successfully learn in 21st century style. Successful salespeople know that most people give up after just a few sales calls. Those who hang in there, five, six, seven times, reiterating their message, eventually win the sale. Soon, I will share this information with new members of our staff, including new leaders. I plan to continue until I see the change I know is needed for great schools like mine to not only arrive, but thrive in the future.