Classroom Stories

Birthplace of Innovation


Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will change along with it.”
– Steve Maraboli

Where does innovation come from?

One might say, innovation depends on materials and resources.
Another might say, innovation depends on leadership. Does the system/culture allow for creativity and autonomy?
Still another says, innovation is all about training. Does the individual feel equipped with the professional development and tools to be innovative?

However, none of this is where innovation truly begins.  The story begins as a young teacher on a family vacation.

Years ago as a beginning teacher I believed I could change the world!  Each day I prided myself in developing lessons that made learning and school a joyful occasion.  I quickly discovered, having a strong and engaging lesson made teaching more fun.  When I was having fun in the classroom my students reaped the benefits.

But here’s the truth.  I had one computer in the classroom (an old 2000 Compaq).  I had an overhead projector.  I was part of a school system that put a huge emphasis on test scores.  I had every excuse to simply teach to the test with a text book.

Then as my family visited The Gateway Arch and the Museum of Westward Expansion I discovered something that transformed my belief on being innovative.  The museum had Traveling Trunks that educators could have sent all across the United States.  
Days later the trunk arrived at my classroom.  For the next two weeks I was a kid in a candy store!  I created hands-on lessons that the students couldn’t get enough of.  The learning was truly dynamic!  The best example comes from dealing with a couple of challenging students.
Day in and day out a few of my young men would be reluctant learners.  They frequently avoided applying themselves and dodged most measures of accountability.  And then the trunk arrived!
It didn’t take long to see these young men light up when they saw furs, coins, medallions, maps, and more.  The students were excited to learn.  I can’t begin to describe how this completely changed me as a teacher.  I saw and experienced a direct connection between innovative, engaging lessons and the entire learning experience.  As an educator, I was hooked!  I was hooked because my students loved learning.

Too often I hear innovation connected to technology.  I’ll be the first one to embrace technology, but the true Birthplace of Innovation is a person’s mindset.  Each individual has to have a will and desire to do these three things:

  1. Be Creative – statistically divergent thinking decreases with age. As educators we need to break that trend and develop an environment that encourages freedom to try new things.
  2. Have Passion – when you have a deep passion for something, setbacks and failure won’t stop you.  You will push through the adversity and find new ways to making learning a positive experience.
  3. Ability to be a Learner – some educators have the gift of vividly remembering what it is like to be a student.  A true ability to reflect and empathize with students will lend itself to being more innovative in your teaching.

Now is the time to break through the barriers and try new things.  You may not have all the resources you think you need, but the real question becomes, do you have the mindset to be innovative?

Author: Ben Gilpin is the principal at Warner Elementary in the Western School District. Warner Elementary is located in Spring Arbor, Michigan. He is a student-centered educator that is focused on collaboration, teamwork, student engagement and leadership. ​