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Adam Bellow’s blueprint for changing the world

By Nicole Krueger 9/29/2014 Professional learning

It’s awe-inspiring to discover how powerful one small act can be. As spiritual activist Marianne Williamson said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Yet if there were ever a time humanity — particularly educators — needed to tap into that power, it’s now.

During his ISTE 2013 keynote speech, eduTecher and eduClipper founder Adam Bellow called on educators to change the world. His rallying cry inspired many to find new ways to make a difference in their own schools and classrooms.

“Change starts with ourselves. It could be something really small,” he said. “We’re not just teachers. When we say we’re ‘just’ something, it holds us back. It’s our ability to change within ourselves that holds us back. The reality is that we can do a lot, especially for the kids in our class.”

Here are his suggestions for how to change the world, one student at a time:

Fail sometimes.

Many school systems emphasize academic success rather than academic discovery. With so much pressure on students to succeed, teachers can feel equally pressured to know it all, do everything correctly and always have the answers.

But without making space for failure in the classroom, both students and teachers miss out on the richest learning opportunities.

“Exploring what you’ve done ‘incorrectly’ and figuring out a way to do that better or approach it differently is where the learning happens,” Bellow said. “It’s allowing students to know that when they do something that didn’t work as planned on the first try, it doesn’t mean they’re not going to get there.”

He supports the idea that many teachers and principals are now choosing to be called “lead learners.”

“We’re all drinking from the same well. Everyone has access to all this info, so it’s silly to say educators are the people who know everything. I’d rather sit with students and learn with them.”

Turn on a dime.

You spend a whole weekend crafting your lesson plan and preparing engaging activities. You get to class and begin the lesson. Then a student raises her hand and asks a question that throws a wrench into your entire plan. Or the lesson simply falls flat.

“You can have the most thought-out, best-crafted lesson plan, but you need to recognize when it is not meeting your students’ needs and be able to tweak it quickly,” Bellow said.

It’s an ability known as pivoting, and it’s one that successful startup companies are well acquainted with. The ability to pivot, or respond quickly to a changing marketplace, can mean the difference between success and failure — and in the classroom that translates to the difference between students who are learning and students who are not.

“It’s not about having great idea, it’s about being able to grow great ideas. If you can’t execute it and bring it to fruition, it’s a waste of time.”

Rethink yourself.

As human beings, we all get set in our ways. This can be true for teachers, as well — especially those who have spent years conforming to district standards and state mandates that don’t necessarily serve the best interests of students.

“Some teachers are whipped into tenure submission,” Bellow said. “By the fourth year of following mandates, even if they think something’s not right, it’s not easy to change themselves. Many of us become accustomed to doing things a certain way, because we were taught in a certain way.”

It’s important for educators to think critically about how they’re teaching and be willing to correct themselves when necessary.

“It takes a dedicated educator to continually reassess yourself,” he said. “It also takes time.”

Take a stand.

As an English teacher, Bellow tasked his students with a lengthy project to create a soundtrack for their lives. They were instructed to make a playlist of songs that represented them and write a paper for each song explaining why they selected it. Then they presented their playlists to the rest of the class.

During his next teacher review, Bellow’s school leaders told him not to repeat the project.

“They said, ‘This is English, not drama. You’re not supposed to waste so much time.’ ”

He did it again anyway.

Later, he received an email from the mother of a student whose father had passed away. She thanked him for the project, saying it had opened up a conversation at home about the grief the student had been suppressing.

“We must choose to do what’s right for our students,” Bellow said. “It is not always easy. It is not always without adversity or challenge, but in the end of the day it is what is right.

“I think a lot of students have benefited from teachers saying, ‘Here are the things I have to do, and here the ways I’m going to supplement it.’ There are teachers who are taking a stand against education reforms, and it’s hard to do, but I give a lot of credit to teachers who take a stand and put what they believe to be just and in their students’ best interests over what they are told they should do because of bureaucratic nonsense. I think that’s really important in this testing culture we’re in today.”

After all, he added, change isn’t always about the things you do. Sometimes, it’s about the things you don’t do.

How do you change the world each day?

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