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Josh Stumpenhorst: 5 ways to leave your comfort zone

By Team ISTE 10/28/2015

Josh Stumpenhorst is a history and English teacher at Lincoln Junior High School in Naperville, Illinois — nothing more and definitely nothing less. Yet this summer he found himself delivering the ISTE 2015 closing keynote following a string of accolades he didn’t foresee, including a spot in ISTE’s Emerging Leaders Class of 2011, the Illinois Computer Educators’ 2012 Educator of the Year, Illinois 2012 Teacher of the Year, and publication of The New Teacher Revolution.

He says he owes it all to following one piece of advice: Get out of your comfort zone. Watch the video clip below from his keynote to find out how rethinking limitations can help educators do amazing things.

Here are his five suggestions to help you find those new horizons in your classroom:

1. Nix the helium balloons.

The days of tossing notes in the sky and waiting anxiously for a random stranger in Montana to kindly respond are gone. Communication is easier now than it has ever been in human history. Commit to the idea that there is no one on the globe you and your students cannot reach out to directly.

2. The refrigerator is no longer praise central.

Stumpenhorst recognizes that today’s kids need a bigger audience than Mom and Mr. Stumpenhorst. A grade at the top of the paper isn’t something to run down the halls, sharing with every friend you meet. A Facebook comment, retweets or likes, however, are worthy of exclamation points. So help your class use the social spaces for good. And when students share their accomplishments with the world, you’re giving them an identity that’s impressive to Google, which will help them in their future endeavors.

3. Just building with Legos is not enough.

Sure, your kids will clamor for toys, because no one says no to playtime. But educators who commit to pushing the limits create project assignments that are not only fun, but also change students’ lives.

4. Educators don’t have a monopoly on education.

Stumpenhorst’s most successful idea to date at Lincoln Junior High came from Daniel Pink, author of Drive, a pop culture book about human motivation. His message that choice and autonomy are the greatest motivators led to Stumpenhorst’s Innovation Day, where students pursue their passions and share their learning with peers.

5. It’s always the right move to say thank you.

Educators who go beyond and try new things often find themselves criticized. It’s human nature. To buck the trend, make sure you thank mentors, colleagues and even the students themselves, then follow where the conversation leads you.

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