You Don’t Have to Wait to Innovate

When I was a first-year teacher, my team leader Nancy gave me this heaping box of classroom supplies. On the top, she placed a notecard with the words New Teacher Card. On the back of the notecard, she wrote a note explaining that I could play this card when I messed up. “You’re new and you make mistakes but that’s okay. Just play the New Teacher Card. Feel free to play this card when you mess up or when you don’t know how things work and you need to ask for help. Play this card when you miss a meeting or you don’t get every paper graded or you have a day when your lesson fails. This is going to happen often in your first year. But don’t beat yourself up. Just play the New Teacher Card and remember that mistakes are how we learn.”

I played that card so many times in my first year. But, actually, it’s something I still go back to all the time when I slip into perfectionism or when I find myself replaying all the mistakes I’ve made in thirteen years of teaching. I’ve come to believe that this New Teacher Card is something you should never let go of in teaching. Although you grow in knowledge and expertise, you will always remain imperfect.

But I think the New Teacher Card is more than just a forgiveness card. It’s a reminder to keep experimenting and trying new strategies and testing out new ideas. The New Teacher Card means I’m open to new possibilities. It means I’m willing to take creative risks. I’ve played this card when I first tried out sketch-noting or student blogging or Genius Hour or cardboard challenges or documentaries.

The New Teacher Card reminds me that every single lesson is an experiment. It might work. It might fail. But the biggest risk you can take is not taking the risk at all.

Think of the New Teacher Card as an invitation to innovation — to rewrite the rules of teaching and to experiment with new ideas and transform your classroom into a bastion of creativity and wonder.

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What About New Teachers?

I bring this up because I often hear new teachers say, “I’m going to try new things after I’m established. Let me get my classroom management down and figure out a traditional approach and then in five years I’ll think about innovation.”

But then it never happens.

They are stuck in a rut, afraid to make mistakes, waiting for that moment when they “have it down” enough to take creative risks.

I love to ask new teachers, “What cool project would you do if you were five years into teaching?”

When they answer I follow up with, “Why can’t you do it now?”

Or I ask, “How would you teach if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

See, the hidden advantage of being a new teacher is that people know you will make mistakes. You have the permission to be different from day one. So I’d argue that you should always have a new teacher card and you should play it, not only when you screw up, but every single day.

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John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

3 responses

  1. First of all, I loved reading LAUNCH and I signed up for the Global Day of Design. This post speaks to me on many levels. I am still considered to be a “new teacher” in my building. But I’m one of those people who tries the cool projects in their first year. I always think, “If I’m not having fun, then they’re definitely not having fun.” Is there any value in becoming established in your career, or is it good to always be flexible and do the cool projects?

  2. With this being my 3rd year of teaching I still feel like I am the new teacher. The position I was hired for (special ed) was brand new and I was told go ahead and make it your own. This was a green light to make it what I wanted it to be. This allowed me to take some risks and do something new. This year I was given more parameters as to what I was expected to do, however I took this an innovated on my own. I did what I was being told to do, just in my own way. I sometimes feel like in education today we are encouraged to innovate but sometimes that innovation is curbed to fit the schools mission. Schools want us to take risks but not too big of a risk. How do you balance taking the risk and walking the line?

  3. Even though I am in my fifth year of teaching, I always feel a need to keep up with innovation and creativity in my classroom. In my interview for my job years ago, the interviewer asked what I worried the most, and my response was that I am worried that I may become stagnant in my teachings someday. But following educators and watching educational videos and reading stories continues to inspire and motivate me to keep learning, creating and adjusting. Thank you for reminding me that the time is now to take chances.

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