Jennie Magiera knows well the feeling of inspiration teachers get from attending high-quality conferences or participating in meaningful professional development. She’s felt the invigoration.
She’s also heard the conversations that happen on airplanes as teachers return home from these events. That’s when the “yes, but...” thinking begins and teachers start wondering how they can bring the exciting new things they learned into the structured reality of their classrooms.
Rest assured, Magiera’s got that covered.
Magiera, chief innovation officer at Des Plaines Public Schools in Chicago, is confident educators can bridge the gap between that dose of inspiration and classroom reality, and she’s got lots of tips for doing just that, some of which she’ll share in her upcoming keynote at ISTE 2017 in San Antonio.
“It’s the difference between planning a trip to Fiji and actually booking it,” Magiera explains. It’s a matter of deciding what you want to do and then figuring out a way to do it within the structure of school.
Magiera even coined a word to describe her solution – “edventures,” or incorporating experiential learning into the structures teachers have to work within. She maps out the concept in her book, Courageous Edventures.
It’s an idea that took root when Magiera was teaching in Chicago’s high-needs schools. She began to notice that the experiential learning common in affluent districts as well as charter and private schools was not an option for students in poorer districts.
“I wasn’t seeing a lot of teachers feeling they have the ability to take that risk. They feel confined to structures and expectations,” she said. After all, students don’t progress, if growth is slow or assessments tank, people will lose their jobs and schools will be threatened with closure.
“Edventures is about asking, ‘How do we create experiential learning while still working in the system and its subset of rules?’ In my job, I help colleagues be courageous to do new things while acknowledging present obstacles.”
Magiera notes it’s not about acting like the rules don’t exist, it’s about asking, “How do we do this?”
Step 1 is to avoid railing against the problems that students, teachers and families face and instead acknowledge and embrace them.
“Let’s live in our problems for a second and list the reasons we haven’t been able to embrace this approach,” Magiera said. “What is the cause for kids wanting to get out of class as fast as they can?”
Next, do some design thinking. Magiera notes that her students hated math and complained about it every day. She asked them why – and got an ear full. “It’s boring. It doesn’t make sense.” Her reaction: “Tell me more about why it’s boring.”
And they did. “You’re always talking at us. We’re always sitting. It’s always worksheets and then the exit ticket. It never changes.”
She listened. She got it.
Magiera began to rethink the school day. She didn’t have to stand in front of the class for 45 minutes. She could give the students what they asked for – videos, answers to why math matters, examples of how they could use it in real life.
“Living in the problem allows you to get to that edventure,” Magiera says. And students now have skin in the game and understand class time is about their passions. They feel heard.
Follow up your design thinking by picturing yourself as a student in your own classroom, then use that as a litmus test for what you have planned for students on any given day.
“Don’t just ask yourself the question. Actually go through the movements yourself. Taste the cake before you serve it to your guests. Make sure it’s a good edventure,” Magiera suggests.
Magiera’s yardstick: If she doesn’t want to do the activity, she won’t make her students suffer it either.
Finally, address the paradox of choice that tells you that if you can’t do it all, it’s better to do nothing. “A lot of times, we wait to change something if we can’t change everything,” Magiera points out. “The choice paralyzes us.”
Instead, write down all the things you can do, pick one and make that your center of mind for the next several weeks. “Dig in and do that well. Don’t beat yourself up that you’re not solving all the problems in your classroom.
“You don’t have to go on the entire edventure at once. It doesn’t have to be a 10-year journey – you can take a day trip.”
And that day trip, that step from thinking about visiting Fiji to actually taking action, that’s where the inspiration you gathered becomes reality and begins to feed the passions and desires of students.