Blog Post


What Makes an Innovative Educator?

By: Jen Schneider, Millard Public Schools

As a middle school teacher pursuing my PhD, I have been studying how teacher education programs prepare their students for teaching in innovative classrooms. What I have discovered is that there are some
primary characteristics that show up in innovative educators. Whether it’s
a kindergarten teacher at a parochial school or a principal at a rural public
high school, innovative educators encompass these traits.

What is an Innovative Educator?
After meeting with educators around the world both in person and virtually, I was able to find and put together qualities that make a teacher an “innovator”. First, it’s not just about using technology. Technology is simply a tool that can enhance an already innovative mindset. Without qualities that make a teacher an innovator, technology is simply substitution!

Compiling interviews with teachers, administrators in K–higher education
schools, I found that it is all about the four C’s (plus one)! The teachers that
are innovators in their districts and schools are creative collaborators and
communicators that focus on critical thinking and learner-centered curriculum.

Innovative teachers tend to “think outside the box”. Integrating technology to enhance lessons is part of this creative element. Although substitution is sometimes a part of technology, the most innovative teachers are using technology to transform and redefine what students are creating and doing. Having students create stories using Stop Motion is one creative way to show elements of plot, characters, and setting.

Innovative teaching is all about collaborating. It’s really easy to close
your classroom door and just focus on what you are doing with your students. I love going on social media and seeing our innovative NETA members (using the #yourneta) showcase all the incredible things they are doing in their classrooms! This is collaboration. Sharing your stories with a global community, letting your students have real, authentic audiences to share their work with makes you an innovative collaborator. Don’t be afraid to brag. Innovative teachers share their stories and develop strong relationships on and offline with other innovative educators, administrators, parents, and students.

Along with collaboration comes communication. Innovative educators
communicate learning goals and share their stories with parents, teachers, students, and the community. They also reflect. A huge part of being an innovator is being able to improve upon iterations of your teaching and practice while reflecting on transformative goals and progress. You should also foster an environment where students have time to reflect. This shouldn’t be an afterthought, and it’s not just about tests. Innovative teachers give their students time to reflect and share their own goals with their learning community: teachers, peers, and parents.

Sometimes curriculum is what gives hopeful innovative educators the most problems in taking that leap forward. Teaching the state or district mandated curriculum while still being “innovative” may seem like a daunting task, but innovative educators empower learner-centered environments while still reaching standards. Think about what tools (technology or analog) your students can use to solve a problem or reach a standard. Are there objectives and standards that some students have already met? How can innovative teachers stretch student thinking and
learning to propel the whole learning community forward? You may think that the things in your classroom aren’t necessarily innovative. However, if you are working to exhibit these characteristics, you’re an innovator!

Please share your stories on social media with doing what you’re doing with your students in your classroom. We can all learn from each other and embrace the four Cs (plus one) in classrooms around Nebraska and the world. ❖

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