Innovation for Innovation’s Sake

It was a great summer for writing, blogging, remaking course materials, getting ready to adopt new paradigms. I felt like I couldn’t fully let go of summer without acknowledging that, and trying to put a cap on it with a final blog post. I felt like maybe I needed to put down some goals, but then, I’m realizing that I really hate sharing goals publically. More on this below.

I left the school year, like many teachers, ready for a break. But there was something more to it than that. I had been feeling a bored, unchallenged, and not really sure what I wanted to do professionally. I’m sitting on the doorstep of twenty years of teaching, and I was asking myself questions like, What should I do for the second half of my career? Is it time to go back to school? Time to consider pursuing administrative certification? Do I need to go teach Middle School for a while? What am I really doing here? How can I keep going, perhaps for 10 or 15 more years?

And, I asked many of these questions with a great deal of trepidation. I was asking what I needed to change about myself. Change, evolution and personal growth all get good lip service particularly in the educational world. People say, What are your goals this year? How are you going to grow? Yet, we don’t have any systems in place to really enact this. I imagine that like myself, many of you keep files of old lessons, unit plans, binders of course materials. Many teachers started their years by opening files to access that first unit of the school year. Deep inside, there’s that caution: Why change what isn’t broken? Why change for the sake of change? Or, if you’re going to change something you better have a good reason!

Some of these fears, questions and doubts were reflected in Starr Sackstein’s blog for Education Weekly, “Twitter Chats Can Build Collaboration for Systemic Change.” In her blog, she draws on results of mid-career educators and their fears and doubts about their career. Please go read it here.

There are even more deeply embedded aspects of our culture and institutions that prevent change. Last week during a curriculum writing session, I suggested several ideas about changing the school day, teacher assignments, and compensation of teacher time. At each one, I heard, “The union won’t like that.”

So, inside, while I wanted to find a new direction, I was fearing change.

Even as I asked myself these questions, I still felt like I had a lot I wanted to accomplish. I knew there was more I could do for others and for myself as a person.

Still, all of this was a bit vague and shadowy. So, I was having a Dante, beginning of the Divine Comedy kind of moments.

One of the things I spent time watching this summer on Netflix (next to Stranger Things) was the second season of their show Chef’s Table, and the new iteration of the show, which focuses on France. The most powerful episode for me comes in episode 1 of season 2, focusing on Grant Achatz. In this episode, Achatz describes his need for creativity as an important part of his work, and especially for sustaining himself over the years. He’s continually reinventing recipes, his restaurant, his food, and his delivery. It’s through these changes that he finds energy and passion for his work. This theme of change and creativity is very much present in the French Chef’s Table. Go watch!

Watching this show set a path for my summer. Listening to these chefs spoke directly to me. Their thinking about their craft echoed my own. I heard my own needs to create, to innovate, to be original. When they spoke about changing, I heard a permission to do away with the old and change, not simply for the sake of change, but to change because for many people, creative, inventive revolution is necessary to feel inspired and to keep moving.

These two vocations have much in common. I can see this across so much of my practice. When I have three sections of a class and have to teach the third section the same lesson that I’ve already taught two times, I would always change it. I couldn’t do it the same way. My files, both paper and electronic, are cluttered with variations of lessons from year to year, or add-ons to units where I had a new and different idea (see my post on blowing up my IB class). Without realizing it, I’ve been reinventing and creating throughout my career, but perhaps not always cognizant of why.

Much of my summer since that late June watching of that episode of Chef’s Table has been focused on creating for myself and getting ready to help my students create in the coming months. Helping students to do this isn’t so much a goal as I new way I hope to move through the classroom spaces I want to make.

Let’s have the best year of innovation ever!