Permission to Innovate?

I have been eagerly awaiting this weekend for the past year. Last January, I had the opportunity to attend my first Educon. A grad student at the time, I was in awe of the genius I had surrounded myself with.  Experienced educators from near and far, coming together to engage in passionate conversations about their students, pedagogy and use of technology. Not having ever had a classroom of my own, I wasn’t quite sure where my voice fit into the conversation.

Fast forward 1 year.

I returned to the conversation today with the voice of a first-year teacher/librarian at a fabulous elementary school, excited about the possibilities of blending policy with innovation. The overarching theme of this year’s conversations is ‘Openness: Should We Create a More Transparent World?’ In attempting to synthesize my learning from the opening keynotes and sessions I’ve attended thus far, common threads seem to revolve around the ideas of sharing, trust, and vulnerability; all of which seem to be pre-conditions for innovation.

SHARING. I’ve been thinking and talking a lot lately about the idea of sharing. My students have been sharing their learning (both process and product)  across a variety of platforms. Whether we’re using Google Drive, KidBlog, Skype/GoogleHangouts, or posting pictures on the library website, my students are eager and excited to share. I can’t help but notice that that mindset is not necessarily shared among teachers. So often it seems as though fabulous learning is happening…behind a closed door. George Couros made the point at #Edscape that great teaching/learning should be like a viral video on youtube. Friday night’s  panel emphasized the open movement. Whether its through badges, MOOCs, or OERs, there is power in publicly sharing information and learning. But the ability to share openly depends on a foundation of trust.

TRUST.  The first session I attended this morning was a conversation about change within the well-functioning school. For schools to iterate and innovate, teachers need to feel that they are trusted as professionals. That their supervisors trust and support them in taking risks. That their voices matter. Teachers should not be having to ask for permission to innovate.

VULNERABILITY. Publicly sharing your learning. Declaring your trust in various stakeholders (including students). These actions open up educators to a vulnerable space. I have made the choice to create and maintain a public digital presence. I see a value in openness. I would like to think that a digital footprint is perhaps more meaningful than paper credentials. Digital citizenship then becomes the minimum requirement, and digital leadership the goal. I am intentionally transparent. Does it make me vulnerable? Yes. But more importantly, it makes me a better educator and connects me to others who push my thinking. To me that far outweighs the risk of  criticism or disapproval.

Brick walls come in many formats, but they won’t stop the open movement. If the question is ‘How do we stimulate innovation and creativity?’ We have to stop asking permission.

What Will You Make This Year?

It’s hard to believe that I’ve reached the half way point of my first year as a teacher-librarian. While revisiting some of my pinterest boards this week, I rediscovered this TED talk by Hsing Wei, who I had the opportunity to meet in person last year.

The question she poses, “What will you make today?” is particularly relevant to the work my students and I are engaged in as you’ll soon see. I think that inquiry-driven learning  and school libraries are made for each other. While I’m still figuring out the perfect blend of the two in our library, I’m constantly inspired by the work of the amazing librarians (and their students) in my PLN. I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about curation, sharing, the infusion of STEAM topics & the maker-mindset, but more on that later. In reflecting on what we’ve accomplished so far and where we’re headed, I’ve come up with what I think will be our library mantra.

Read. Create. Connect. 

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READ. Not surprisingly, we spend a lot of our time talking about books & reading in the library.  Students in the younger grades have been focusing on book care, parts of a book, and fiction vs. non-fiction texts. Students in the older grades have been focusing on locating materials in the library & reflecting on their favorite books from different grades. Now that I’ve learned everyone’s name (Meeting 400+ students once a week made this quite the feat) I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone better as a reader. I’ve been sharing some of my reading life with them (via the library door-picture forthcoming) and am looking forward to talking more about different types of reading that they are doing. UP NEXT FOR 2014: World Read Aloud Day, Read Across America, School-wide reading incentive, Author visit(s)?


CREATE. A goal of mine is for my students to become creators of content & ideas (as well as consumers). To this end, students in K-1st grade have made some Eric Carle-inspired creations to brighten up the windows in our library. They have also made an e-book and been introduced to research with our library super hero…Super 3! Our second graders have been learning about blogs and are set to create their own in the coming weeks! Third grade students created their own I-Spy books while learning about the non-fiction section of the library. Fourth & Fifth grade students created Avatars while talking about digital citizenship & reading timelines with our new tool: Google Drive. Grades 3-5 also had a blast creating computer codes during the Hour of Code. UP NEXT FOR 2014: I’m very excited to be introducing Genius Hour to the older grades in connection with the research process/Big 6 and can’t wait to see what they come up with!


CONNECT. I love how technology allows my students to share their learning with a larger & authentic audience. We have connected via Skype & Google Hangouts with students from across the country and an author so far this year. Younger grades also had the opportunity to connect with an author and illustrator in person at the beginning of the school year. Second grade will also be connecting with other students on their blogs soon! I would also like to connect students from different grades within our school to share what they are learning. Still looking for the right venue for this venture…UP NEXT FOR 2014: Genius Hour connections, possibly a mock-Caldecott connection, World Read Aloud Day, Read Across America…Always looking to connect!

So instead of ending with a list of my resolutions for 2014, I’ll leave you with the question: What will you (and your students) make this year? We will be sharing our creations on our library website and encourage you to check them out periodically. If you’d like to connect with me/my students you’ll find me on Twitter @christybrenn. I look forward to learning with you in 2014!