As a golf fan, I can remember when the “long putters” were becoming all of the rage on the PGA and Senior Tours. Early on, it seemed everyone was trying them out to see if they were the next great fix to their respective golf games and careers. When you see the putters, they aren’t the prettiest looking clubs on the market. The putters drew people’s attention because they didn’t look like the conventional golf club. The clubs were different. And when it comes to golf, the appearance of clubs rarely drastically change over the years. Sounds a little like education doesn't it?
But that’s just it. The players were not experimenting to be different or to say, “Hey, look at me! I’m using a goofy looking 'long putter' to get attention and be different.” They tried them to see if it improved their games and lowered their scores. The players who became comfortable with the clubs and continued to use them did it because they started to see improvements in their putting. They eventually changed from the conventional putter to the "long putter" because they got better.
As we have started the new school year, I have been visiting classrooms and have seen many changes in design and practice. The changes are similar to the “long putters” craze discussed above. The educational design and practice hasn’t been done to change for the sake of change. The changes have been for the benefit of students and the benefit of the staff. While traditionalists in education may frown upon changes, the age we live in demands it.
One example of change that I recently experienced was in Annie Prenoveau's (@MrsPrenoveau) class. Annie teaches Algebra II and is an instructor in our GCS (Gahanna’s Commitment toward Success) program. Annie’s classroom made a transformation this summer. It went from the “traditional” classroom that we know (rows, metal chairs, metal desks) to a relaxing, comfortable learning environment for students. Not only has this changed the way the room appears, but it has changed the way she teaches. A collaborative environment allows teachers to become facilitators and assist with learning. Teacher are now not the only person in the room who holds all of the information. Collaborative spaces helps foster the distribution of information between student and teacher.
When looking to change design and practice, it is important to focus on specific areas to make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. The areas below enable you do just that:
Do the Data: You have to know why you are changing what you do and how it looks. If the why isn’t related to growth of students and staff, you are doing it for the wrong reasons. There is no reason to start down the path of obtaining resources and making changes if you don’t know the why of different design and practices. Collect your data. Do your research. Connect with your PLN.
Listen to your Crew: What are your students looking for? What type of environment do they need to succeed? They are the people who will be impacted the most by the changes. Focus on creating an innovative learning environment that will foster differentiation. While many of our students appear the same, they do not learn the same. Getting input from students will illustrate to you what type of environment you need for each class. If you are not getting input from your students on design and practice, you are not making the greatest impact with your changes as you could be.
Grind to Find the Resources: This is usually the biggest hurdle. Its tough, time consuming, and the most common downfall for great ideas regarding design and practice. It is easy for resources to become the biggest demise because it’s the easiest excuse. We can’t let that dictate changing design and practice. We need to utilize our connections and personal learning network to find resources. Sometimes it really all comes down to how bad you want it and much of an impact you believe it can make with your students.
As mentioned above, Annie changed her design but didn’t let a lack of funds stand in her way. She utilized donorschoose.org to secure funding for her ideas. She had many families and friends who saw her need and helped her. There are other sites available like www.gofundme.com, www.zerobound.com, www.classwish.org, www.adoptaclassroom.org, and RocketHub (www.rockethub.com) where you can ask for specific funds based on what you need.
That doesn’t even mention building relationships with local businesses and writing grants for specific projects. While it may be a little bit of work, as you can see from Annie’s room, its worth it.
Remain Relevant and Alive as an Educator: You have to be professionally relevant. If you don't, like anything else in life, there are consequences. Refusing to change or even consider changing design and/or practice can be percieved as if you don’t consider being relevant as a priority. Students see right through that. That is why the best teachers personalize their learning, learn from others, and find ways to make changes in design and practice based on student need.
While the “long putter” in golf has taken some heat lately in golf and lead to rule changes, players will continue to try to find ways to get better. Educators and leaders need to have the same mentality. We need to continue to test the waters in design and practice. Creating collaborative environments and using teaching methods that promote collaboration will help our students for life after school. As educators, the specific areas mentioned above are in our hands. It’s on us to provide opportunities to change. If not, our students lose out. Changing clubs and trying out different clubs doesn’t always work out in the end. But not even giving a change in design and practice a chance could leave you wondering what could have been. Don’t be like the guys who didn’t even try the “long putter” because how it looked. Be the person who at least gave it a try to see if it would make them better.