What does the trampoline, popsicles, braille, the Oink-a-Saurus App, and wristies have in common? Well, they were all invented by kids (Perman). Regardless of age, race, disability, or economic status the ability to become an innovator lies within. As educators we have the responsibility to educate and prepare students, all students, for their future, which can be the ultimate challenge when no one knows what the future will hold. The only consistency is knowing that each student will have a different future and this world, as we know it, will be drastically different in 20 years. While studying innovation, through an educator’s perspective, I’ve realized there are several roles we can play in order to inspire innovation but two really stand out: we can encourage and teach professional skills.
The initial role as an educator is to inspire and encourage innovation by never underestimating the creative intuition of anyone, especially a child. Teachers have the opportunity to boost a child’s confidence or destroy it. By merely saying “oh, that’s awesome” or giving a disbelieving look, the actions of a teacher can permanently influence a child. Self-confidence is initially learned through others’ positive motivation, and a teacher’s voice can be that initial motivation to keep the student believing in their self and in their goals. As a high school student, Philo T. Farnsworth (a.k.a. The Father of Television) presented his teacher with a better television system; his teacher replied “go for it” and continued to support and follow Farnsworth through the process (Flawtow,94). I cannot imagine what could have happened if Farnsworth’s teacher would have reacted in a non-supportive manner.
Not only can teachers encourage students’ verbally but also in the way they allow students to ask questions. Although the question of “why?” can generally get on everyone’s nerves (eventually) it is important to encourage curiosity and divergent thinking when it comes to innovation. Norris Sanders, author of Classroom Questions-what kinds?, provides readers with a new perspective that questions can be the key to student interest and engagement which encourages learning and should not be ignored. One way to help capture those interest is by creating a Wonder Wall for the classrooms. A wonder wall provides teachers and students with an opportunity to allow their curiosity to run. If a student asks an off-topic question, the teacher can say “that’s interesting, why don’t you put it on the wonder wall” and continue the lesson. Then, during a down time students address theirs or someone else’s wondering question.
Another role teachers have in innovation is teaching students how to be a professional, including the skill of problem solving. Every invention or business is initially created to solve some type of problem (medical issues, processing speed, even boredom). It’s time to teach our students that a problem is only a question that has not been answered, and it is their job to answer it. Teaching in-depth problem solving techniques is not a top priority in many curriculum standards and could easily fall through the cracks. However if teachers took a unique approach to teaching by implementation the DISCOVER (Discovering Intellectual Strengths and Capabilities while Observing Varied Ethnic Responses) curriculum model, they would be able to set the foundation for future innovators as well as prepare all students in being resourceful at problem solving (Maker, Schiever, p165-194). The DISCOVER curriculum model allows students opportunity to identify a problem (that they are passionate about), research the previously attempted solutions, and look at the problem through various perspectives. In doing so, students will be prepared to investigate and hypothesize possible new solutions and, depending on ability level and time, could implement. This model provides all ability levels and diverse learners with the opportunity to discover a new way of approaching life problems. Through the implementation of the DISCOVER model, students will strengthen their professional skills by learning how to identify problems, use higher level questioning techniques, research using various resources, identify different perspectives, and work collaboratively with others.
Educators have the opportunity to positively influence and provide students with the skills to be successes in life, if they have the desire and autonomy to do so. Teaching students to succeed and change the world are two reasons why many teachers get into the profession. Think about how many students teachers interact with on a daily basis; when you calculate that total over the course of an entire working career it is astonishing the number of developing minds teachers can influence. A teacher’s role in innovation can be tiresome, but in the end, it is an exciting and rewarding experience.