I am wrapping up my second week at the Innovative Technology Education Fund and have enjoyed working in the creative space here at the CIC@CET building in the Cortex District. Meeting with educators, reflecting on practice, and research are at the core of my time here (in addition, I have been maintaining my full time commitment to my district). Through all of this, I have been thinking deeply about this concept of “innovation.” As Charmaine Smith from ITEF explained to me about this concept, it is like trying to define beauty. You know it when you see it, but the definition of what it is is different for everyone.
Innovation and being innovative lead one to believe that the change is long lasting and has the ability to change the culture of a particular field. Two things which do not change often and are being forced to innovate is the field of education and the game of baseball. There is so much about these particular professions that are very similar. So much so that a person who lived 100 years ago would be able to walk into a classroom today and still know what their role is. In the same way, the traditions of baseball and style of play are very similar to what happened 100 years ago. Obviously, there are changes in the buildings, uniforms, and experience of being in those places; but the game has not changed.
We have to go back 131 years ago to look at a major shift and innovative practice starting in baseball that redefined the game. That major innovation and statistical category (“the data” in educational parlance) which was recorded for the first time was the stolen base. Up until 1887, the stolen base was not a recognized statistic in baseball, and thus was not recorded like batting average and strikeouts. Prior to 1887, players stole bases in games, but we do not have any record of who did this, or how many bases were stolen. However, starting in 1887, the stolen base became a recognized part of the national past time and St. Louis was at the forefront of this innovation.
This one aspect of the game changed baseball forever! St. Louis was the defending champion of the American Association of Baseball that year and eventually returned to the championship against the Detroit Wolverines and lost the series 10 games to 5. Without this innovative practice contributing to the success of St. Louis and teams in the future, baseball would never be the same. This is a practice which is utilized by all teams and at the core of the need for speed on the base paths. St. Louis has has a history of four men who redefined the game with their speed: Arlie Latham, James “Cool Papa” Bell, Lou Brock and Vince Coleman.
So, what of education? What innovative practices are redefining the scope of education? We can talk about social emotional learning, flexible learning spaces, coding, and competency based assessments, but these changes are not being implemented across the board. Education has a way of being very similar to baseball in that there are gimmicks and rule changes which alter the game and sometimes not for the best. When Bob Gibson went 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA in 1968, the league lowered the height of the mound to give batters a chance at being successful. Recently, in order to speed up the play of the game, there are limits on mound visits.
St. Louis is also know for the gimmicks in baseball as well. The St. Louis Browns under the ownership of Bill Veeck utilized 3′ 7″ Eddie Gaedel as a pinch hitter. He also had the paying fans hold up signs at points in the game to determine what happened next in certain managerial situations. Eventually, Veeck sold the team in 1953 and they moved away to Baltimore to become the Orioles. I could make this post about the innovations created by Bill Veeck and how he redefined the game. In some ways, innovation starts with one person creating a wave.
I think we realize that not every change or innovation is positive. In education, we have many individual practices and movements which are innovative, but what are we doing to shake up the entire system? What of our current practices will revolutionize our entire game? Will we give it enough time to take root? Only time will tell, as we record these innovative practices and watch the profession we love love grow and change for the better.
I do not want to say too much, but this speech is a must see for everyone. Please enjoy Dr. Christopher Emdin’s speech at SXSWedu from 2017. He hits upon a lot of themes and ideas we need to consider this day and age.
Thank you for all of your contributions to this year. Thank you for being in the class, even when you were not up to it. Thank you for being there, even as you dealt with your own personal issues. Thank you for being there when you were tired, hungry, cranky, and didn’t have a chance to complete your laundry prior to work. Thank you for feeding and clothing our kids. Thank you for being a shoulder they cried into. Thank you for lending an ear when they told you things that they could not even tell their own family members. Thank you for sacrificing your time to work on providing feedback and constructive criticism to help our students improve. Thank you for responding to emails in a timely manner. Thank you for being adaptable. Thank you for coaching other teachers and accepting constructive feedback.
There is so much I can say about the people in this message. Some of you I have known for almost 20 years, while some of you I am still getting to know. We have some amazing teachers who improve the lives of their students on a daily basis. Parents send us their very best every single day. While not always up to our particular standards, they are children who are receptive to love and respect. Some of us have classes full of the “tough nuts” who try our patience and get on our last good nerve, but that is because they need a lot of love, respect, and attention.
Be sure to always smile at and with your students (laugh with them too). Make sure they know how much you care for them. Have a conversation with them sometime about their likes and dislikes. Empathy, patience, and a healthy sense of humor will take us a long way. Likewise…peer collaboration, proper planning, and empowered learning will take us even further. As the parent to a child with AD/HD with Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and another child who is a struggling reader; I know the importance of a great teacher.
Know that if a child walks out of your classroom next week and you do not know about them as a person, you need to improve your future relationships with students. They need someone who truly cares about them. When the bonds of trust form, there is nothing that child will not do for you. They will go the extra mile for you. In turn, your disciplinary issues decline and your student performance increases.
Teaching content in isolation is impossible. You are so much more than a teacher. You are a messenger. A storyteller. A healer. A listener. You are a person who brings stability to those who may not know stability. A person who shows a child the world they may not ever know, but dream to know. You are someone who can inspire greatness. As with all things comes great responsibility. Be responsible with your influence.
Rest up. Enjoy your time with friends and family. Travel. Explore. Get lost in a great book. Learn something new that is not connected to your main career. Binge watch a Netflix show. Take your kids or grandkids on an adventure. Cook an amazing meal. Embrace peace and quiet, when possible.
Thank you for helping me become a better teacher and curriculum specialist. I am here to support you and help you when you need it. See you in August, if not sooner.