Friday, June 12, 2015

What if we had Genius Hour for teachers?

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We currently have time built into our weekly schedule for teacher collaboration, and that's a good thing. But all good things need to be reinvented, or at least reinvigorated to make them better. We need to be creative to make the use of time and resources as valuable as possible. Our weekly collaboration time grew out of the Professional Learning Communities movement, and our school has benefited from the PLC structure. But I see a new vision for collaboration and growth emerging.

What if we had Genius Hour for teachers, a time for professionals to work on projects they have passion for. I've seen this idea tossed around on various Twitter chats, and it's reportedly been done in forward-thinking schools. The idea is to empower people to use part of their productive work time to pursue projects they believe are most meaningful for them and for their students.

It could be done independently or collaboratively, with several teachers joining together to share work on a project. The point is that time would be devoted to creativity and innovation and developing ideas and projects that are interesting and personally motivating for teachers.

In the PLC model, teachers are expected to collaboratively plan instruction, write assessments, and analyze data as part of a team. Without question, this team approach was a step in the right direction. Prior to PLC, there was a significant isolation problem in schools. Teachers were jokingly described as a set of independent contractors united by a common parking lot. There seemed to be very little sharing or collaboration in schools.

And yet some of the silos still exist, even though people are sitting in the same room on a semi-regular basis. But overall the idea of working together, sharing ideas, and developing a collective sense of shared ownership has improved as a result of PLC's.

But the PLC model also seems to reinforce the industrial narrative of schooling with every teacher implementing a "guaranteed and viable" curriculum and "delivering" instruction to students. In this paradigm, all students need to learn the same information in a similar time frame as demonstrated on a common assessment. Those students who don't meet the proper timeline receive intervention to ensure that mastery is attained.

The PLC method seems designed for efficiency and consistency, but not for inspiring creativity or knowledge creation. With Genius Hour, the opportunity for out-of-the-box thinking would be emphasized. Teachers would have time to pursue creative ideas for enhancing student learning above and beyond the measurable outcomes of a benchmark assessment.

Here are five reasons we need to explore Genius Hour for teachers:

1. If we want to encourage creative thinking with students, we need to start with teachers. Learning is not something that can be "delivered." Learning is inspired and based on curiosity and creativity.

2. We need to encourage learning not as a checklist of standards but as a lifelong pursuit. Our goal should be learning for life, both for our students and teachers. Too much learning is focused on preparing for a test.

3. Teamwork would be even stronger in schools if teachers were allowed to contribute based on their strengths and not a predefined structure. People love to contribute to a team when they feel their work is valued and there is a shared purpose and interdependence among team members.

4. When we empower teachers to do personally meaningful work, they will more fully reach their professional potential as educators. When there is a personal connection to one's work, on an emotional level, there is a far greater chance that commitment and passion will increase as well.

5. Instead of focusing on results (student achievement data), we need to focus on the process (better learning experiences for students). Whether it's from Daniel Pink's Drive or Carol Dweck's Mindset, there is compelling evidence that high performance is more likely when we focus on growth, embrace mistakes as an opportunity to learn, and provide a professional culture that embraces autonomy, mastery, and sense of purpose.

The video embedded below details the ideas behind Genius Hour, what it is, and why it is important. The video is focused on using Genius Hour as a tool for greater ownership and engagement for students, but after you view it, it will give you an idea of why this is so important not just for students but also for teachers. The potential for growth and change is unlimited when we provide the freedom for people to do their most amazing work.

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