- Ashlee Tripp, a high school English teacher in the Douglas County School District near Denver, shared with Edutopia her experiences with the district as she converted her classroom to a more open plan with flexible seating options that better suited her teaching style.
- School administrators asked teachers for input about what they would like to change about their individual classrooms and gave them clear guidelines about options they could choose, parameters of themes and color schemes, and illustrated examples of how they could best use the $1,000 grant funds to transform each classroom and stay within budget.
- Though Tripp said she faced some challenges in teaching students how to adapt to greater freedoms and how to respect property, she felt the experience transformed the learning culture in her classroom and taught her and her students the value of taking risks as they tried new approaches.
Most school leaders expect teachers to grow, to improve, and to innovate. However, most teachers don’t feel comfortable with innovation when they don’t have clear expectations to guide them. School leaders also need to be careful about encouraging innovation without clear guidelines because teachers may inadvertently get lost in the complex maze of federal, state and district policies that govern almost every aspect of education.
Teachers and administrators often blame one another for the failure to innovate. But the solution largely lies in clear communication between both parties. As Jordan Shapiro stated in a 2014 Slate article, “The problem may be that teachers and administrators don’t have a dependable shared language with which to communicate. While the landscape of educational innovation is big on trendy concepts and buzzwords, it is short on specifics. The same term may mean different things to different ears. This lack of shared definitions makes it difficult to evaluate success rates and convey accomplishments.”
Administrators need to empower teachers and build an innovative school culture. They can do this by soliciting input from teachers and, as Douglas County district administrators did in their shared guidelines, providing clear guidelines and examples, which offer a wide range of possibilities but limited those possibilities to create a shared vision. Such measures help build relationships, a sense of community and a clear vision of expectations from administrators that teachers can follow as they use their own creativity in the classroom.