Back in 2017, George & Paige Couros teamed up with Dave & Shelley Burgess to create a division of Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. IMPress introduces us to books that dive deeper into the message of The Innovator’s Mindset & continue to showcase what George first brought us in DBC’s ninth book. (See the big announcement on a blog by Dave here.) As of this blog, there are seven books published under the IMPress label.
I am breaking a rule of mine by reading Learner Centered Innovation by Katie Martin first. I have typically read the books in order of their release (this is the second release from IMPress), but I had an amazing opportunity to meet Katie Martin at a What Great Educators Do Differently conference a few weeks ago in Houston, TX. (Blog about this experience is here.) Because I was meeting her, I wanted to dive into her book. I never expected it to take weeks to read it, but more about that in a moment.
To discover what this book is about, simply read this quote from Katie:
“Many of today’s kids will have to create their jobs and forge a new path. The world has changed so dramatically and will continue to do so at an exponential rate, and, to best serve our students, educators and institutions must evolve with it, or we will leave our students behind.”
Katie begins by sharing the beauty of two words: “What if”
She immediately pulled me in by pointing out the traditions in education (as related to the industrial age model) and how that is preventing innovation from taking root in more than just pockets around our schools, district, state, and world.
Evolution of the Teacher’s Role
She shares that our role as educators has evolved. It made me stop and consider if I have evolved with the times. Do I teach like my teachers taught me? Some of my very favorite teachers did the “traditional” courses… desks in rows and columns, the teacher at the front of the room using the whiteboard or overhead to display information, and the students taking all the information in from that teacher. Perhaps their classes weren’t edge-of-your-seat excitement, but I knew those teachers cared about me.
Early in my career, I definitely taught as I’d been taught. I still use storytelling (like my amazing 4th grade teacher), humor (like my 7th grade social studies teacher), and student choice (like my 8th grade ELA teacher).
Katie shares that one of our most prominent roles should be that of an activator. Here are some of the definitions I found for activate:
- to encourage development or induce increased activity; to stimulate
- to trigger, to actuate, to set off, to enable
- to excite
- to remove the limitations of by providing a license; to unlock
- to bring a player back after an injury
Even down to the sports definition, I want to be an activator for students! I want to encourage them, stimulate them, enable them to do more than they ever thought they could and then get them excited about doing it. I want to remove their limitations by unlocking endless potential in their minds and hearts. I want to make school fun again, bringing them back to the place of creativity and imagination that so many of our “traditions” in education squash like a bug on a windshield. I want to be an activator.
Testing or Learning?
Katie says, “We will never achieve the results we want by focusing on performing well on a test.” Let me repeat that for those in the back…
“We will NEVER achieve the results we want by focusing on performing well on a test.”
Guess what that means? All that time spent painstakingly going over released test items… better spent doing Project-Based Learning where those same problems are relevant to students. All the time spent reading and highlighting short passages using question stems from “the test”… our time is better spent allowing students to select their own reading material & having (wait for it) conversations with them about what they’re reading. You want to use question stems? Ask the questions and don’t expect an A, B, C, or D response.
I’m preaching to me right now, too. Do you have any idea how much time I spent reviewing at the end of each year I was in the classroom?! I flew through curriculum so I could be sure to have enough review time before the standardized test. What if I’d just ensured that students learned the content (and so much more) thoroughly the first time? Imagine the possibilities.
Here’s what I think (and it appears to align with Katie’s beliefs, too)… standardized testing isn’t the bad guy here. It’s the overemphasis on them that gives them a villainous role in education. Think about it… I’m thankful that my students in rural, high-poverty, small town North Carolina are expected to learn the same content and perform at the same level as rich, suburban kiddos. It wouldn’t be fair for the standards to be different for those groups of students; set the bar high, I’m okay with that! However, when we focus so much on the outcome of those tests rather than the process and growth, I have a problem.
This test season take the time to have fun! Play games, make learning authentic, give students an audience like never before… I truly believe that “the test” will take care of itself if students are having a good time while learning the content.
Professional Learning Communities
I remember hearing about PLCs for the first time many years ago. The idea that teachers were to work together to create lessons with common assessments and “share” students was insane to us. Until that point, we were in competition due to the aforementioned test scores. Several teachers didn’t want other teachers to know what they were doing successfully because that teacher might use it and (God forbid) the students down the hall might perform better than their own. If you’ve been in education long enough, you remember this and you know I am speaking truth.
Our PLCs turned into exactly what Katie talk about in her book. It was a checklist. The questions she shares… the exact questions we had to answer each week. It became a running joke because we knew those questions by heart the same way we knew the script for the end-of-grade testing by heart.
Thankfully, I was part of a PLC that was exceptional. We worked together, co-planned lessons, shared everything, switched up students for flexible grouping as needed, and when one teacher’s students performed better on a given objective, that teacher taught our students, too! I knew every student in 5th grade’s name and to be honest, I see some of those students now (many are high school/college age) and I honestly can’t remember if they were on my roster or not because I taught them as much as those in my class. It took a lot of time to get to that place; we had arguments, petty things mostly. We got on one another’s nerves. It wasn’t all rainbows and roses, but we were a rocking PLC. We celebrated birthdays together; our kids played together; we laughed together and cried together. We even did graduate school at the same time. The three of us left the school one after the other. I truly believe it’s because we didn’t want to do the job without the others; we had experienced a true PLC and struggled to replicate it. One became an administrator and moved to a high school during the summer months, I left halfway through the year to begin my journey as a media coordinator, and the third left at the end of that year to move to a middle school library position.
Katie’s book reminds us that the same things we know that are true about building relationships with our students is true of our colleagues. “We are more willing and able to hear critical feedback when it is coming from someone who we perceive cares about us as individuals, sees our strengths, and is willing to invest the time to help us grow.”
It took me over three weeks to finish this book. If you’ve been around for any of #DBC50Summer, you know that means something. Katie’s book covers so much ground. It’s all interwoven and connected to everything that has the potential to make education what it should be for children (and adults). In many ways, after reading this, I don’t even know that we need to do anything but submit this book to Congress and tell them that THIS is how we should be doing school and begin implementing it nationwide. I have to tell you… when you get your own copy of this one, carve out time to really read it. It’s not a “light” read; you need your brain fully activated (see what I did there) while you’re reading it. I have notes all over the margins of this book and didn’t even use a highlighter because I knew I’d need three or four of them as I read.
This implementation will begin next year. I still have several implementations of #DBC50Summer and previous #DBCBookBlogs to do and only a few weeks left to do them. In the implementation post Creating a Stronger Foundation, I shared that I created a template for 6th grade students to tell me about themselves. In Learner Center Innovation, Katie shares about a teacher who stopped asking students about their favorite color, etc and instead asked for an open-ended list – “The Top Ten Things I Need to Know About You”. I’m 100% doing this! I can keep the template I had created, but add ten slides at the end with students putting one thing I need to know about them on each slide. They can add pictures, videos, etc to that slide if they’d like. I love the open-ended nature of this as it will allow me to get to know them better and deeper much faster!
Remember to get your own copy of Learner Centered Innovation by Katie Martin! It’s the second book in the IMPress line, a division of DBC, Inc. You won’t regret it! And if you have the chance to see Katie in action, I highly recommend going! She is also an amazing presenter! Follow along with the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #LCinnovation!
I’ve got so much love for #LCinnovation! I’m legit nodding the whole time! Loved getting to meet @katiemartinedu at #WGEDD! Def found another soul sister educator! #InnovatorsMindset #DBCBookBlogs #EduEyeExam pic.twitter.com/0oZDjY5nQc
— Alicia Ray (@iluveducating) April 11, 2019