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Josh Stumpenhorst: Learning should be inspired, not required

By Team ISTE
June 30, 2015
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A previous version of this article was published on April 27, 2015. 

Josh Stumpenhorst isn’t considered an innovator because he’s racked up a bunch of awards. He’s an innovator because he pushes limits.

What makes this history and English teacher stand out is how he connects to his profession. And at his Wednesday keynote, Stumpenhorst will expound on ideas from his recent book, The New Teacher Revolution, to push you beyond your status quo, as well.

Expect him to offer a counter intuitive view of some of education’s traditions and time-honored truths. But don’t worry — Stumpenhorst has walked the walk, so you’ll glean practical advice, not just pie-in-the-sky ideas.

Pushing the envelope

For Stumpenhorst, exposure to others’ ideas on social media was the watershed moment. He changed the way he grades to a standards-based rating and ditched the homework assignments.

“People harp on unmotivated students,” he says. “My whole philosophy is about relationship building with kids. I believe in the power of a good relationship, giving a kid power, choice and autonomy.” 

It’s a radical change for a man who used to bury his students in nightly assignments to help them grasp the lessons.

“It’s a form of survivor bias,” he says today. “That was the way I was taught; I got through it so I kept doing it as a teacher.” But when Stumpenhorst’s own kindergartner was assigned homework every night, Dad had a new vision — and pushed back. “Kids go home to differing environments,” he notes. “How arrogant of a teacher to steal that time, that childhood. Learning should be inspired and not required.”

Innovation Day

With Stumpenhorst’s influence, Lincoln Junior High School in Naperville, Illinois, now boasts Innovation Day, when students are encouraged to learn about anything they are interested in, be it dance choreography, claymation videos, novel writing or science experiments, for example.

The only rule is that students have to learn something and share what they created or learned. That’s it. Innovation Day is tied to open house, and Stumpenhorst says the school has never had more parents attend or more positive reactions to any other program.

The school also offers genius hours (aka passion periods) once a week when students can investigate and create anything they want. As long as they’re learning autonomously, it meets the goal.

On a personal level, he actively blogs at Stump the Teacher and is the lead on the Disruptor Channel.

“The things kids create are mind boggling when you get out of the way and let them do it,” he says.

His keynote will inspire you to do just that.

Oh, and about those awards — in 2012, Stumpenhorst was named Illinois Teacher of the Year, and the Illinois Computer Educators organization named him Educator of the Year. In 2011 he was named an ISTE Emerging Leader.  

Want to hear more from Stumpenhorst? Don't miss his ISTE 2015 Closing Keynote at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday.