The Renaissance Room

Maglev + Renaissance = Modern Teacher.

Seriously. Consider the connections and the truth in the above equation.

Modern teaching, quite frankly, often feels as if we are moving as quick as the Maglev, the fastest train in the world, while subsequently being expected to transform the train as we are on board.

Right. So the question is, how do we do such?

Take a look at the Renaissance, and you may see similar parallels to the education realm at this moment. Most noticeably, the Renaissance was, as it is today, a time period in which immense change must occur; change that is difficult, necessary, and transformative to all learning environments. Teachers are called to become the lead innovators in student learning environments, yet such learning environments are presently undefined by any conceptual notion perviously. Similar to the “Medici” family of Italy, a family which helped cultivate the Renaissance in a period of unrest, educators find themselves in an environment desperate for change, change that is often only noticeable in hindsight. Yet, the Medici family did not chance hindsight, and pushed the boundaries of conventional thought and design.

So how do we do the same? How do we, as educators, maintain our movement forward, while staying on board? These are questions I know I personally struggle with, as do many.

Because lets be real. It IS difficult. (Just look historically at the Renaissance.)

Consider the Data

The call for innovation can be derived from our data, data that is meant to inform us, not necessary drive us. Data that is valid, credible, and includes quality interpretations from multiple sources (i.e. demographic, perception, student learning, and processing) has the power to help us understand our need for innovation.  When considering the data, we must find a balance between direction and innovation. We must understand as educators the difference and timely need for purposeful data collection, reflection, and system diagnostics. Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 3.10.33 PM

Yet it can also hinder us if used incorrectly, and limit our innovational practices. Incorrect data collection (i.e. unreliable formats in or for a specific setting) or analysis (i.e. criterion vs. normative, large grain vs. small grain) can hinder any systems ability to foster and promote transformative learning environments. Such is a result of the formation of “associative barriers,” barriers which are assumptions to a question or form of data. With assumptions caused by the improper use of data, we hinder our ability to consider diverse perspectives, intersections for community involvement, and creative solutions. Truly, what results is a directional vision for a school, as opposed to an intersectional one which considers the many avenues, ideas, and intersects of resources and disciplines that CAN cause innovation.

How Innovation Occurs

As an educator, being fluent in data was one step towards understanding how I can evolve this unprescribed educational platform which I find myself in; one which has changed yearly since I began teaching a short time ago. I found early on, that the only means by which I can hold on, or stay on the “Maglev” of teaching per say, was by educating myself through means that were/are not provided for me conventionally. By doing such, I have learned that true innovation involves a great deal of risk, risk that has little direction, and is often difficult for “normative” stakeholders to consider. Yet, I have found that my ability to truly be innovative is directly correlated/dependent upon my surrounding environment.

In order for creativity to truly occur, the proper environment and culture must be available. The only means by which I may find “intersections” of innovation is by breaking down the barriers of assumptions in pedagogy, communication, and interaction between not only my students, but my colleagues. Likewise, a culture of risk is significant, one that does not fear failure. This begs the question, “is there true ability to have high-stakes learning in a realm of high-stakes testing?” This is a question I have been unable to answer, but one which I continuously attempt to answer through risk. Yet, this risk must occur by exposing myself to multiple perspectives. The result is, when approached with a problem, I may find a solution that is progressive, and help formulate “high stakes learning” in a transformative environment that WILL lead to success in high-stakes testing (regardless of the fact if you believe in high-stakes testing or not.)

The Reality of our Education

The truth is, when reflecting on our education system, education is limiting. We search for directions, and to hold a data driven culture which, at times, aims to fit the data for a need. It is easier that way. It is easy to search around us at schools and districts which “did it right,” because the direction such individuals took was successful. It is difficult to not follow a path that someone of success took before us, for there is risk. Yet, if innovation is “our goal, than experimentation is precisely what one must aim for” (Frans Johansson.) In order to not limit the education of our students, we must choose to forge a path that is experimental in nature.

So how do we push past the reality, into the renaissance of education? It requires a change of thought, and a transparency that leaves many fearful (including myself.)

Creating the “Medici” Effect

In order to mimic the effect of “medici,” we must do as aforementioned: use data to properly inform instruction, remove the associative barriers through risk, and continuously learn from multiple perspectives. I challenge educators and leaders to consider the following as we continuously move forward on this transformative, high-speed journey in education:Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 7.29.12 PM

1. Embrace your staff who think differently than you, helping generate “intersections” of innovation that one would not have thought of before. Consider the notion that if we, as educational experts, always view [problems] from the same perspective, we will notice the same aspects each time.

2.  An understanding by leadership that creativity takes time, and that innovative is critically related to time. We as educators NEED time to plan, to generate these ideas, to understand the intersections between contents in order to plan truly pedagogically transformative instruction.

3. A need for a “balanced view of risk” is important. As human nature has it, we seek to act in a time of poor performance. Which leaves you with the rather lacking statement of, “if its not broken, why fix it?” Truth is, we must begin to ask better questions such as, “How can I transform _______ ?”

4. Creativity is a direct result of passion. Show me your most passionate teacher, and I have no doubt I will see a true “renaissance” room. So how are we fostering the passion of our teachers? Do we give our teachers AND our leaders time to foster their passion, or are we hindering it by not even considering this question.Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 3.11.08 PM

5. Foster the ability to question, questions. Yes, as ridiculous as this sounds, we all must begin to ask questions in a more transformative way regarding our foundations, programs, support, etc. In order to do such, we must create constraints, consider diverse perspectives, and force a breakdown of conventional thought. Seek to move past your immediate network so that you may foster “intersections” of thought that are not normative to your given circumstance.

6. Yet, and most importantly, innovation can only occur when we promote and understand the importance of personal accountability. Change isn’t easy. We all know that, especially modern educators. Yet, we must be held accountable to asking the tough questions, and accepting that the tough questions NEED asked. We must question tradition, rules, and boundaries by questioning them in a way that centers upon YOU. I mean, no longer shall or should we say, “Why didn’t ______ provide me with _______?” We must forgo blame, and victim thinking. If we WANT innovation, if we want our students to learn, everyone must be reflective and consider the “I” in a problem, or situation. Consider moving from, “Well he was suppose to do that, so I can’t help you,” to “How can I help you in this situation?” Only then, can we can truly transform this Maglev journey while staying on board.

Final Thoughts

Renaissance teaching requires action. It requires teachers to have the time to pursue creativity, and challenge conventional pedagogy. It requires an understanding that this time period is asking, and needing a change in the art of teaching. It requires a need for “renaissance” leadership that allows for risk, time, and understanding that asking questions, better questions, is IMPORTANT in our movement forward. It requires us to move away from directional innovation which nearly seeks to mimic and is safe, to that of intersectional innovation which seeks to look past our immediate realm, into other realms.

So while we know we need a change, and change is hard, we also need to be aware that creating this “Renaissance” requires a cultural shift of “rebirth” in all stakeholders, just as the Medici family did before us. Simply put, if we provide this cultural shift in our own classroom, schools, and community, then students may begin to think, process, design and ultimately learn with “the medici effect” in mind.

Reader Note: This blog post derives from discussions between colleagues and myself regarding the book The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson. 

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