7 Habits of Highly Innovative Educators: Lessons from The Oregon Trail – Habit 2

7 Habits of Highly Innovative Educators: Lessons from The Oregon Trail – Habit 2

April 23, 2018 Professional Learning 0

Now that you have begun to stock your cabinet, it is time to move on to habit number two
Ask Questions. Innovation, like travelling the Oregon Trail, is frequently an uncharted path. In order to keep making progress, it is important to ask questions along the way. Lots of questions! In particular, ask questions that challenge conventional wisdom.

  • “Is there a better way of doing this?”
  • “Why have we always done it this way?”
  • “What could we do differently to get a better result?”
  • “If we did this, what could happen?’”
  • and my favorite, “What’s possible here?”

These questions, though often uncomfortable, help challenge the status quo and lead to new, creative and innovative practices.

What does this habit look like in practice? An educator who exemplifies this habit is @genequezada – pedagogical pioneer. Gene does an exemplary job asking the kinds of questions that innovatively move his students’ thinking, his teaching practice and the entire culture of a school forward. Our youngest son, Ben, had the good fortune of being in Gene’s fifth grade classroom. It was through the effective use of higher order thinking questions and strategic use of thinking routines that Gene was able to begin to shift Ben’s thinking and move from concrete to abstract. Additionally, by allowing students to initiate their own lines of inquiry, Gene guided the students in cultivating their passions well before passion projects and 20% time were embraced by schools. Outside the classroom, Gene worked with a cadre of like minded teachers and visiting consultant Mark Church to ask many important questions about student learning. As a result of their questioning, they helped shift, at a grassroots level, the culture of teaching and learning at The American Embassy School – New Delhi.

How can you start to cultivate this habit?

  1. Question your classroom “questioning practices.” Good discussions don’t happen by chance. Ahead of your next classroom discussion, script three key, open ended questions that push student thinking to the upper levels of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. Another strategy, to consider, is to ask questions to which you don’t have the answer. By doing this your role shifts to co-learner. This shift not only helps to grow your thinking, but it creates a culture of mutual learning in your classroom. Also push your thinking by exploring the visible thinking resources at Harvard’s Project Zero.
  2. Ask a colleague to think with you about a problem of practice. Traveling the Oregon Trail like innovating can be a lonely experience. The next time you bump into something that you aren’t sure about, seek out the teacher next door or across the hall and ask them to think with you. Reaching out to colleagues can lead to many positive unintended impacts such as rich pedagogical discussions, unexpected collaborations and unique solutions. In addition, it helps foster a sense of collegiality in schools.
  3. Question an assessment practice. One of the quickest ways to shift your teaching practice is by thinking about how you assess learning. A good starting point is to look at your next unit and think about how you could create a performance based assessment that mimics the real world and is process or product focused. This commitment will then naturally shift how you are teaching the content. Alan November and Eric Mazur are two experts on assessment that helped shift my thinking about how to make assessment accurate, engaging, meaningful, and supportive of learning. Check out some of their thinking here and here.

Armed with these fresh ideas, I hope this information will help you continue your journey of innovation this week!  Work on putting habit two into practice by asking meaningful questions of your students, yourself and your colleagues. Then be sure to watch for the next post in in the series “Habit #3 Look Around.” coming soon.


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