7 Characteristics of an Innovative Educator

Written by Rachelle Wootten


What are the characteristics of an innovative educator?

Reflective – As an educator, it is important to reflect on what is working and what is not.  Even though it can be a little uncomfortable, we have to admit when a great lesson was really a flop.  We must constantly examine our processes and our concepts to make sure they are what is best for the students we teach.

Learners– An innovative educator is always learning, reading, listening.  Every student, staff member, professional development opportunity is viewed as an opportunity to get better and be better in the classroom and in the education community at large.  They create local and global professional learning communities.  They take responsibility and initiative for their learning.

Creative– When I say creative I don’t mean in the sense of artistic even though some innovative educators fall in this category.  I mean creative in their thinking and approach.  An innovative educator is very uncomfortable with doing business as usual, especially when it yields no result.  So they go to work brainstorming ways to make things better.  They may change up a lesson to make it more engaging or increase student motivation.  They may adopt a more unconventional approach to handling challenging students so as to develop a stronger rapport.

Innovative Educators - Teach Amazing!Connected– It’s hard to be classified as innovative when you are disconnected from your students and trends in the profession.  How can you know what your students need and what will be the best approach to use with them if you are not connected to them personally?  Innovative educators close the gap between the traditional images of teachers so he can determine what is best for each student.  In addition, because they are life-long learners, they are abreast of changes occurring in their field and how to best apply these new changes to their instruction.

Collaborative– Education is one industry where sharing is necessary and vital to true innovation in the classroom.  When teachers work together to solve problems and share successes, our students perform much better in the classroom.  An innovative educator is always exploring topics with other educators, sharing what they know with others.  They are members of Professional Learning Communities where they learn and share with others.  They know that none of us is as smart as all of us.

Inquisitive– How can I improve?  What did I do wrong?  When is the best time for this approach?  How should I adapt this for my struggling readers?  What can I do to extend this lesson for my gifted students?  What if I did it this way?  Innovative educators are always asking questions.  After all, it’s not about having all the answers; it’s about asking the right questions.

Principled– Innovative educators live life according to strong values. They want to make a difference.  They believe that being an educator is a great way to make their mark in the world and they don’t take it for granted.  They believe in being a role model to the students they serve and look for opportunities to show they care by their actions not just with words.  They also care enough to make tough decisions even when it’s not popular and accepted.  They stand up for their beliefs.

10 Ways to Teach Innovation | MindShift

By Thom Markham

One overriding challenge is now coming to the fore in public consciousness: We need to reinvent just about everything. Whether scientific advances, technology breakthroughs, new political and economic structures, environmental solutions, or an updated code of ethics for 21st century life, everything is in flux—and everything demands innovative, out of the box thinking.

The burden of reinvention, of course, falls on today’s generation of students. So it follows that education should focus on fostering innovation by putting curiosity, critical thinking, deep understanding, the rules and tools of inquiry, and creative brainstorming at the center of the curriculum.

This is hardly the case, as we know. In fact, innovation and the current classroom model most often operate as antagonists. The system is evolving, but not quickly enough to get young people ready for the new world. But I do believe there are a number of ways that teachers can bypass the system and offer students the tools and experiences that spur an innovative mindset. Here are ten ideas:

Move from projects to Project Based Learning. Most teachers have done projects, but the majority do not use the defined set of methods associated with high-quality PBL. These methods include developing a focused question, using solid, well crafted performance assessments, allowing for multiple solutions, enlisting community resources, and choosing engaging, meaningful themes for projects. PBL offers the best method we have presently for combining inquiry with accountability, and should be part of every teacher’s repertoire. See my website or the Buck Institute for methods.

Teach concepts, not facts. Concept-based instruction overcomes the fact-based, rote-oriented nature of standardized curriculum. If your curriculum is not organized conceptually, use you own knowledge and resources to teach ideas and deep understanding, not test items.

Distinguish concepts from critical information. Preparing students for tests is part of the job. But they need information for a more important reason: To innovate, they need to know something. The craft precedes the art. Find the right blend between open-ended inquiry and direct instruction.

Make skills as important as knowledge. Innovation and 21st century skills are closely related. Choose several 21st century skills, such as collaboration or critical thinking, to focus on throughout the year. Incorporate them into lessons. Use detailed rubrics to assess and grade the skills.

Form teams, not groups. Innovation now emerges from teams and networks—and we can teach students to work collectively and become better collective thinkers. Group work is common, but team work is rare. Some tips: Use specific methods to form teams; assess teamwork and work ethic; facilitate high quality interaction through protocols and critique; teach the cycle of revision; and expect students to reflect critically on both ongoing work and final products. For peer collaboration rubrics, see these free PBL Tools.

Use thinking tools. Hundreds of interesting, thought provoking tools exist for thinking through problems, sharing insights, finding solutions, and encouraging divergent solutions. Use Big Think tools or the Visible Thinking Routines developed at Harvard’s Project Zero.

Use creativity tools. Industry uses a set of cutting edge tools to stimulate creativity and innovation. As described in books such as Gamestorming or Beyond Words, the tools include playful games and visual exercises that can easily be used in the classroom.

Reward discovery. Innovation is mightily discouraged by our system of assessment, which rewards the mastery of known information. Step up the reward system by using rubrics with a blank column to acknowledge and reward innovation and creativity. I call it the Breakthrough column. All of the rubrics on the PBL Tools section of my website have a breakthrough column.

Make reflection part of the lesson. Because of the coverage imperative, the tendency is to move on quickly from the last chapter and begin the next chapter. But reflection is necessary to anchor learning and stimulate deeper thinking and understanding. There is no innovation without rumination.

Be innovative yourself. This is the kicker, because innovation requires the willingness to fail, a focus on fuzzy outcomes rather than standardized measures, and the bravery to resist the system’s emphasis on strict accountability. But the reward is a kind of liberating creativity that makes teaching exciting and fun, engages students, and—most critical—helps students find the passion and resources necessary to design a better life for themselves and others.

This post originally appeared on ThomMarkham’s blog.Thom Markham, Ph.D., is a psychologist and school redesign consultant who assists teachers in designing high quality, rigorous projects that incorporate 21st century skills and the principles of youth development. He is also the author of the Project Based Learning Design and Coaching Guide: Expert tools for innovation and inquiry for k-12 teachers.

10 Ways to Teach Innovation | MindShift.

Core Strategies for Innovation and Reform in Learning | Edutopia


Edutopia is dedicated to transforming the learning process by helping educators implement the strategies below. These strategies — and the educators who implement them — are empowering students to think critically, access and analyze information, creatively problem solve, work collaboratively, and communicate with clarity and impact. Discover the resources, research, experts, and fellow Edutopia members who are changing our schools. Join us in reinventing the learning process!

To find out more about Edutopia and The George Lucas Educational Foundation, visit the «About Us» section.

Comprehensive Assessment

Effective assessment should measure the full range of student ability — social, emotional, and academic achievement. Through various measures, including portfolios, presentations, and tests, multiple learning styles are supported.

Integrated Studies

To increase engagement and retention, academic subjects are presented in an interdisciplinary fashion that reflects modern knowledge and society. For instance history, literature, and art can be interwoven and taught through text, images, and sound.

Project-Based Learning

Long term and student centered, project learning is a rigorous hands-on approach to learning core subject matter and basic skills with meaningful activities that examine complex, real-world issues. Project learning helps students develop and retain useful, working knowledge of subjects that are often taught in isolation and abstraction.

Social and Emotional Learning

When students work together on project teams, they learn to collaborate, communicate, and resolve conflicts. Cooperative learning and character development supports the social and emotional development of students and prepares them for success in the modern workplace.

Teacher Development

The human touch is the most valuable element in education. Teachers, administrators, and parents play critical roles in coaching and guiding students through the learning process, nurturing students’ interests and confidence as learners.

Technology Integration

Through the intelligent use of technology, combined with new approaches to education, a more personalized style of learning can be realized.

Core Strategies for Innovation and Reform in Learning | Edutopia.