Small Change for Big Growth

In order to motivate teachers to become more innovative, we can start with a series of small steps.

Photo of Mark Carlucci
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Change is scary. Whenever we implement change, there is always some "What if this/that goes wrong?" questions that make us nervous. The bigger the change the scarier it can be. Maybe starting small is the best way to help people get over their fears associated with change.

Find your goal, whatever it is you want to change, and break it down into a series of small steps. Initially, start with micro-changes (1% change). After trying some of these small changes, they can start to get bigger and bolder as confidence grows.

I've been thinking of encouraging the teachers in my department to incorporate regular design challenges in their classes. I was doing one or two a month, but next semester intend to jump up to three or four, and making them more involved. I have had a lot of success with them, and have found them to encourage my students to think in different ways.

In order to bring them to my department, my intention is to start them small. Rather than something elaborate, I intend to encourage them to try taking ten minutes to have a class discussion on a design related question. The class discussions are something that happens all the time, I would just help them find some rich questions. 

I would also like to try doing a challenge with them during a department meeting. Something small and engaging to spark their interest. Getting them comfortable with the idea, perhaps create some challenges with each of the teachers to try in our meetings. There would be nothing at stake in front the students and no fear of missing curriculum.

From there we could build into trying a challenge in one of their classes, maybe join their class with mine so they don't feel alone. I hope the more time they spend around it, trying it out, the more interested they will become. And then, they can continue doing more until eventually design challenges become regular fixtures in their classes.

I really like working through this with the design challenge, because I find them to be so fun. The more I've looked into them and came up with ideas for challenges, the more I have found them to be something that can eventually be a whole course. With the right challenges, you can cover every topic in a course in an innovative way. Not to mention how they encourage the students to be innovative.

But it doesn't have to be design challenges. This process can work for anything. Build it up in a department or small team, and then start recruiting others to join in. Take newcomers through the small steps and help them reach the bigger ones. The more that people try the more comfortable they will become trying. This will lead them to be willing to take their own risks and be innovative.


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Photo of Michael Schurr

Hi Mark,

You are so right on with this post! There are a number of items that jump out at me immediately. First, the idea of starting small, 1%, is huge. Allowing an idea to grow and not feel threatening at the same time can be a challenge. Personally, I like beginning with a challenge that we can all get behind. Professional development or faculty meetings are always a great place to start with colleagues. Everyone wants them to be different and have more meaning. Once we get ppl feeling more comfortable with the process, then we can move on to the more challenging issues facing our schools.
I also very much like the idea of partnering up with your colleagues so they don't feel like they need to go it alone. In fact, Teacher Coach Erin Finn-Welch had a great post in the ideate phase titled Buddy Up!
Check it out:

I wonder what kinds of routines could be established to make your colleagues feel safe to take risks with their students, colleagues, and try design challenges. I also wonder how you have shared this up the ladder. Have you invited admin in to participate? A scheduled observation where two classes are working through a design challenge together possibly?

Love this idea, I really do believe the grassroots method works so effectively. Especially when teachers see their students getting excited about learning and problem solving. How can one not feel compelled to join in!

Photo of Mark Carlucci

I was thinking that incorporating my idea of a Fail Wall (see my post, would be a way to start getting people comfortable about trying things.

My main classroom is a tech lab full of computers, a workstation for producing videos, and windowed offices for myself and a colleague. There are often students working on videos for admin and it is pretty common for my department head, vice, principal and even the occasional superintendent. My classroom is open and there are a number of times that they have been through during the design challenges.
I have never thought about having them actually participate in them, but I think that would be a great idea. During one of the competitive challenges, I am going to invite some administrators to join in and compete with the students.
I have had a lot of success getting administration on board with my robotics program by continually inviting them to come see the students compete and do public demonstrations. Getting them involved in the activity might be the ticket to not just getting their support, but getting them even more progress in promoting and growing it themselves.

Photo of Emma Scripps

+1 great idea Michael!

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