Thursday, July 11, 2013

Innovation and Failure

For four years, I ran a pretty successful world history class. Students had the opportunity to do the work of historians in class. Critical thinking happened. Meaning was made by wrestling through conflicting primary and secondary source documents. And yet. My class wasn’t what I wanted it to be. There was more that was possible. My immersion in the Twitter-sphere had radically shifted what I thought a classroom would and could be. This year was the beginning of that craziness.

And it was hard. I failed. A LOT. And as the end of school wound down, maybe three weeks before we finished, I was in a pretty dark place. I was unhappy that the changes I made were noticeably not creating the changes in student actions that I hoped they would.

But. But.

As the year wound down, I had a couple parents - including one who was an educator - approach me and tell me how much they appreciated what had happened in my class this year because it was so different. That is was innovative and what students needed.

That was good to hear, and was the light at the low point for me. Because - and teachers know this - you don’t see the seventy to ninety percent of students that are doing what you ask and get it: you see that ten to thirty percent that isn’t. And I was seeing only the negative fruits of the changes I made in my classroom, not the changes that were more successful. This was the starting point.

But then, as school wound down and I had more time to exercise (prime reflection time for me), I realized that the bite of the failure that I felt so distinctly at the end of the year was actually okay. Or maybe not okay, but to be expected.

If you are going to try to innovate in your classroom, you must be ready to accept and learn from failure.

Anyone who says they have innovated in their classroom and doesn’t talk about failing is either a liar or not innovating. Period.

So yeah, it - for lack of a better word - sucked to feel that failure at the end of the year. But if you want to change decades of the status quo in education, you better be ready to feel that pain. And then, have a PLN to turn to to make next year better. For me? That’s going to be more project-based learning, an attempt to do away with tests, and figuring out what my classroom looks like when we’re 1:1 with Chromebooks. And that, my friends, is exciting. And makes the sting of the failures of this year lessened.

My classroom will be a better place for all students next year. Promise.