True Education Innovation: Thoughtful and Courageous
Allowing an entrepreneurial spirit to thrive in the classroom
by Dr. Rod Berger
Don Wettrick is an author, speaker, and the Innovation Specialist at Noblesville High School in central Indiana. I sat down with Don recently to discuss innovation in the classroom and how our students will grow up to join a globally-connected society and economy. Don points to specific mindsets and competencies required for maximum success, subjects he will be discussing as part of two panels at the 2019 Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando at the end of January.
He will be joining several panelists that also keep themselves on the leading edge of innovation and global education: Sonny Magana, Nancy Conrad, Matt Harris, and Evin Schwartz. These highly-anticipated discussions will focus on the realities of today’s world that we must help our students understand, as well as future needs we must anticipate. What are the opportunities for using technology to connect students across the globe, prepare learners to graduate into the 21st-century global economy, and develop the skills necessary for success?
After all, there seems to be a lot of people lately in the education realm asking, “What exactly is school for?” What it was originally designed to do had a great 200-year run, but what it should be doing now is not necessarily what we’re getting. It is an educator’s job to prepare kids for the future, and the future of work is vastly different now than what it was even 10 years ago. It’s very much becoming a freelance and “gig” economy, very entrepreneurial, with an emphasis on creativity and outside-the-box problem-solving. “Don’t get me wrong,” Don says. “I like nice students. I like well-behaved students. But if our reward is on compliance, that’s not preparing them for the future.”
Don says that when innovation is discussed, he hears a lot of people saying, “We need to tear the whole damn thing down,” but he’s the first one to stand up and say, “No, you don’t!” “There are certain things that just aren’t innovative,” Don says. “They’re just not. But they’re still foundational.” To Don Wettrick, foundational learning will always be cool. He warns that you cannot be innovative unless you are strong in basics like knowing how to read and write. You need to know how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide before moving up to the next level.
Author Seth Godin said, “School could be boiled down to two things: solving interesting problems and leadership,” and Don says that it was one of the awakenings he had with regard to teaching. “I used to be a good teacher in the sense that I talked to kids, I loved kids,” Don says “But when a tertiary or tangent discussion would start I would say, ‘Hey, let’s move on. That’s not in the curriculum.’”
But Don’s insatiable need for professional growth and interesting alternative opinions and philosophies led him to various educational thought leaders such as Dan Pink and his TEDTalk on what motivates people, Prince Ea’s videos, Seth Godin, Tina Seelig at Stanford, and Carol Dweck, among others. “These are the people who, number one, are in the innovation space or in the entrepreneurial space who are sounding the alarms on how education needs to evolve and change to serve the future,” Don says.
Don says it is critical that we start having these conversations, but he warns there is a double standard. “We talk about how we need to change, and we need to innovate,” Don says. “But the school needs the courage actually to do it.” When a school takes the leap to do this, by definition, they’re going to take away time from test prep. Their test scores are going to go down a little bit, and that’s when parents and community members lose their minds. When a teacher wants to stick their neck out and says they want to do their version of a Genius Hour once or twice a week, parents will say, “If our scores go down because of your stupid experiment, I’m going to protest.” This kills the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in the classroom faster than almost anything. “There are a lot of teachers who have tried it, but it wasn’t supported and got shot down,” Don says.
Don warns that as a nation we have a huge college debt problem, and a significant reason is that students don’t figure out until junior year what their final major will be, by which point they’re $50,000 in debt. Coding is great for some but maybe not for the kid who says, “I’m going to learn how to code because my dad or guidance counselor says there are good jobs in coding.” They take all the proper prerequisite classes, then in their junior year they work on Python for two weeks and realize, “I would rather you pry out my eyeballs than do this. I didn’t know it was this awful. I was going to major in this in college.” Then he changes his major, after 50 thousand dollars into his investment, and realizes that a lot of his college choices up to that point were for naught.
“If you want to see the biggest crisis that no one knows is happening,” Don says, “Google the difference between all the credit card debt in America combined and then how much more the college debt is. It will make your jaw drop.” Also, many degrees are being offered that don’t have much of a chance being around or even useful in the coming decades. Don warns, “It’s a scary time that we still are pushing our kids towards the old system.”
About Don Wettrick
Don Wettrick is the founder of StartEdUp, author of “Pure Genius” and Innovation Specialist at Noblesville High School in central Indiana. Don is known for his award-winning work as a middle school and high school teacher, educational and innovation consultant, and educational speaker. Follow Don on Twitter.
Don Wettrick will be a panelist for two analyst sessions at the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC 2019) from January 27th-30th, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. The conference will bring together thousands of educators and technology leaders for an intensive, highly collaborative exploration of new technologies, best practices and pressing issues. Registration is now open.
Don will be a panelist at the following sessions:
Session Number: C004 on Tuesday, January 29, 2019: 10:00am – 11:00am
With Dr. Rod Berger, Dr. Sonny Magana and Nancy Conrad
Session Number: C041 on Tuesday, January 29, 2019: 12:00pm – 12:40pm
With Dr. Rod Berger, Matt Harris and Evan Schwartz
- TeachThought – 6 Principles Of Genius Hour In The Classroom
- Edutopia – Genius Hour in Elementary School
- WeAreTeachers – What Is Genius Hour And How Can I Try It in My Classroom?