An Action Plan for Innovative Teaching
Reviewed by Laura Von Staden
In this relatively short book, Gretchen Morgan argues why we should innovate, gives us a plan to innovate, and further argues how doing so not only changes the educational experiences of our students, but also teaches them 21st century skills including collaboration and problem solving.
Part of Morgan’s argument to innovate focuses on the fact that the world is a vastly different place than it was when we were in school and that the current reform measures, which primarily hinge on doing the same thing better by setting higher standards and increasing the accountability of teachers, is not working.
In fact it can’t, Morgan argues, as it focuses on a standardized education (vs. focusing on individual strengths).
Under the current structure there is a single skill set that is valued and desired of all students; however, the jobs of the future are going to require skills that are not based just on what students know, but on how they might create and use the knowledge that is now at their fingertips. They will need to be intrinsically motivated, curious, persistent, risk-taking, life-long learners – skills our current educational setting is doing a poor job of developing in our students.
What teachers need to innovate
Morgan, a former teacher and principal who is Director of Innovation for the Colorado Department of Education, goes on to argue that teachers are creative, dedicated professionals who are not only capable of assessing, evaluating, and using individual student strengths to help them develop the skills they need, but are the only ones who can.
She discusses the mindsets and rules that teachers must have and live by to innovate successfully: 1) learning trumps ego; 2) don’t let great be the enemy of good; and 3) be measured – don’t take on too much (p. 37-38). She then lays out a framework (an action plan) for use by teachers wanting to innovate.
In the following chapters she outlines how to carry out the plan, for which templates are provided in the appendix. Much of what Morgan highlights in her plan fits well with teacher classroom action research, an important part of a teacher’s professional role.
Converting current practice and inventing new strategies
Chapters 7 and 8 —”When Should You Convert Existing Practices” and “When Should You Invent New Practices” — provide several tables of examples detailing specific classroom teaching practices and how they could look different in the innovative classroom.
This section discusses the importance of working with colleagues, being vulnerable, providing and receiving honest feedback, and being willing to risk failure in order to move your practice forward. In this section Morgan also discusses design thinking in education and helping students to take ownership and responsibility for their learning.
In Chapter 9 Morgan finishes the book by giving her formula for educational reform, 4(2+3) = 1 where:
1) The 21st Century demands something different;
2) Teachers need responsible ways to innovate;
3) Teachers can convert existing or invent new; and
4) Teachers are dedicated professionals who can try, fail, learn and work together to redesign school.
Tools to craft innovations
In addition to the forms provided in the appendix, Morgan sprinkles questions throughout the book for teachers to consider along with space to answer them as they work their way through the provided action plan. This is a good book for teachers who want to innovate in their classrooms, especially through action research, and aren’t really sure how to go about the process. The step-by-step instructions and forms are very helpful in that regard.
Dr. Laura Von Staden is a Middle School Special Education Lead Teacher in Tampa, Florida. She serves on numerous committees both at her school and within her district and works closely with the local university where she is a Professional Practice Partner and master mentor. Dr. Von Staden also facilitates both online and face-to-face Professional Development for her school district.