4 Tips to Mitigate the Risk of Implementing Innovation

I’m a first year teacher at a school in a rural district. I teach a self-contained special education class for students with autism and intellectual disability. So naturally, I dove right into creating a Twitter PLN and starting a blog as well this year. Then, I signed up for the #IMMOOC and I impulsively bought 140 Twitter Tips for Educators, Teacherpreneurs, Teach Like a Pirate, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk and Working With Difficult People. Currently, I’m half way through reading all the books and half way to getting my website at a beautifully functional place. I’ve never been more inspired and driven to bring my practice up to speed by engaging in innovation and personal PD.

In the midst of all the things I’ve taken on, I realized I’ve been cultivating some useful behaviors that help me sustain and validate my risky endeavors in a context in which innovation is NOT the norm.

Here they are:

1. Transparency

Tell it all and tell it often. When I talk to other teachers, administrators, related service providers or staff about students, I try to drop an invitation for them to come by ANY TIME and see what we’re up to. I prompt my parents to ask their child about x, y and z that we did in school so they hear it from me first. I post my lesson plans and the accompanying reflections on our common drive. (That wasn’t actually my idea – it’s the way our administrators monitor our timely completion of plans. But I think it’s a purposeful idea worth exploring.)

Why transparency? I like to head off potential conflict. And most conflict arises because of a break down in some sort of communication. OVER communicate. Because the anxiety of new and different can’t be eliminated but intentional openness can dull it.

2. Compliance

There’s lots of rhetoric out there about steering schools away from a culture of compliance, for both teachers and students. I even heard a wonderful description about replacing compliance with commitment on a TeachThought podcast. But, compliance is nonetheless is still a part of our reality and must be upheld when it’s expected.

So… do your paper work. Make sure your administrative expectations are met. Go to meetings. Meet deadlines. Change your bulletin board in a timely manner (if that’s a necessary evil in the culture of your school).

Why compliance?  Because if you want the privilege of professional autonomy in our current education system, you have to earn trust. The easiest way I’ve found to do that is by complying with professional expectations.

3. Documentation

This is tied into transparency but is in a distinct category because it serves a different purpose. When I say document, I mean it. Document your lesson plans (of course). Document your sources (journals, statistics, podcasts, master teacher advice) so you can draw on them when the inevitable “why?” comes your way. Save student work samples. Take videos of student activities. Actively reflect and note how you changed your instruction to be more meaningful based on your professional judgement. Save emails where you asked permission or advice on things.

Why documentation? Because a paper trail doesn’t lie. It shows that you were using your best professional judgement to do your best professional job. If you can’t show why you did whatever it is you did, it’s much easier for others to assume or extrapolate negative intent

4. Results

This is most succinctly explained by a Q & A on a #sldunktank I participated in recently…

Why results?  I would argue that a teacher with the wherewithal to take calculated risks because they want better outcomes for their kids will get results no matter what. Because this type of teacher (you) will change their instruction to meet the learning needs of the students. So, show that your idea gets (or got) the same or better results. It’s inevitable. And the best things about facts, is you can’t argue with ’em.

And remember, keep working toward the dream… just because we’re mitigating the risk now doesn’t mean there won’t be big rewards later.


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