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Adopting New Ideas

As educators we are overwhelmed with resources, professional development, and information. There are times when we are blown away by what we see or read that others are doing with students. While it is extremely important to continuously grow, we must be sure not to redefine who we are every time we discover something new.

Carl and Russell just met Dug, and are obviously mesmerized by the fact that he can speak. As Dug explains where his ability to talk came from, he is distracted by an off-camera squirrel.

This scene from 2009’s Up has become synonymous with distractions. Are you trying to redirect your kids, but their eyes keep drifting back to the television? Squirrel. Are you having a heartfelt conversation with your spouse at dinner, but they keep eavesdropping on the first date at the next table? Squirrel. Are you holding a faculty meeting, but the whole staff is checking their phones for weather updates regarding the possible upcoming snow day? Squirrel.

The wonderful thing about technology is that it has shrunk the world. Through YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, TED Talks, blogs, and a host of other communication platforms, we are able to see what teaching looks like across the globe. No longer are we confined to textbooks and the four walls of our schools.

So what is the problem?

The problem is that when we try to replicate what an educator is doing somewhere else, we may fail to recognize what was done with students prior to what we saw and that not all students need the same thing.

What better way to emphasize the first point than with another movie clip.

Jeff Godblum (Ian) lectures Richard Attenborough (John) about the dangers of how he achieved the rebirth of dinosaurs. Ian speaks about the power that John is yielding, when he states, “It didn’t require any discipline to obtain it.” He continues, “You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility.”

When teachers and principals are too quick to implement something they recently learned, they discount the time and effort it took from the originator to perfect it. To assume that any successful educational idea, protocol, system, innovation, or process can be copied and replicated at any school is naive.

What you don’t see when you are enamored with a presentation is all the errors that were made beforehand. All the feedback sessions that were had behind closed doors. All the practice it took to get it right.

The second, and more important, aspect to consider are your students. Every school is different and every child is unique. It can’t be assumed that just because a system was successful in a school with similar demographics as yours, means it will work for your students.

So, should you ignore anything great that your hear about?

Absolutely not. Here are a few suggestions when trying to incorporate something you recently saw and are very excited about:

  1. Share it with colleagues at your building. Collective buy-in beats operating from an island.
  2. Look at student survey data if you have it or create it if you don’t. What do students think is going well and what do they want? Carving out an extra 30 minutes of enrichment time a day when students feel they are struggling to keep up with curriculum in current length classes might not go over well.
  3. Read 2-3 other ideas around the same topic. A quick Google search will yield articles and information about the topic you are interested in. You may find data to back-up your enthusiasm. However, you might find that the case you were so fired up for is an outlier.
  4. Reach out to the presenter/author. With social media, most people are extremely accessible. They may be able to share starting points, pitalls, and resources.
  5. Go slow and take your time with implementation. Nothing happens overnight. Get feedback along the way. If you followed steps 1-4, there is some real potential. Don’t waste the opportunity by doing too much too soon.

Being moved by a speaker or book is an amazing feeling. We got into education to help kids. It feels natural to want to jump right into something when we feel like it will benefit students. But, it is important to understand that behind every great idea came a great deal of planning, feedback, and mistakes. And, be sure you are thinking about what is best and will work for your students. Lastly, always remember that in order to achieve success…squirrel.

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