When today’s students grow up, many of them will be doing jobs that don’t exist yet. How do we prepare them for the unknown? By changing the way we teach to help them become independent, flexible thinkers. Below are three ways you can start innovating in your classroom today.

Make Connections

You never know where the next great idea is going to originate, so open the door (both literally and figuratively) to your classroom. Take advantage of all the ideas and resources that are out there. Let others lend you a hand and support you in your innovation journey. Online, you can connect with other educators on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or the social media of your choice. Join a collaborative project to give your students a broader perspective as they work with others across the country or around the world. Listen to podcasts, TED Talks, and the like. In the real world, you can go to conferences like the National and Fall CUE conferences or Rock Star camps. If money is an issue, there are unconferences and meetups like edcamps or #CoffeeEDU get-togethers that are completely free. It’s hard to innovate when you are the only one in the room. Gather some people around and bounce ideas off each other. You’ll be glad you did.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone… and Be Prepared to Fail

You will try things that will be spectacular and others that will not work. That is normal. Innovation is not about having—or borrowing—a great idea, implementing it, and obtaining stellar results. It is about seeing and seizing the opportunity to do something better than you have in the past. Let your students know that you are trying something new. Ask for their support. You will create a stronger and more trusting relationship with them. While you’re at it, make sure that you make your classroom a safe place for your students to fail as well. Your students need to know that they can challenge themselves and that their mistakes won’t hurt them but will be treated as learning opportunities. After all, failing is how we learn.

Give Your Students the Gift of Choice

Make it a real choice: a choice of what they learn, how they learn it, and how they demonstrate their learning. Allow them the freedom to explore. Of course, you will need to give them criteria and guidelines, but let them investigate the material through the lens of their curiosity, interests, and passions. Provide them multiple ways to access the content. Maybe they want to watch a video, read an article, interview someone, or undertake something else entirely. Then, let them create something to share their learning. It could be a blog post, slideshow, poem, video game, or something you never imagined. Even very young students should be afforded this freedom when possible. Obviously, we need to provide scaffolding, and their choices will be more limited, but they deserve the opportunity to pursue their interests just as older students do.

It may be a cliché, but it is true that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. If you want to do things differently, you need to start somewhere. Here’s hoping that these ideas can be a springboard for you.

Nancy Minicozzi is an Instructional Technology Coach in the Las Virgenes Unified School District. A Google Certified Innovator and Trainer, she is passionate about helping other educators innovate their practices and presents frequently at conferences, including National CUE, CUE Rock Star, and many others. She co-hosts the TLC.Ninja podcast, which airs twice a month and focuses on easy ways to bring out the innovator in you. You can follow her on Twitter at @CoffeeNancy or read her blog at www.coffeenancy.com.

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