Innovation in education can exist in many different forms; it can be in the curriculum that a teacher carefully and deliberately chooses in order to focus on specific things; it can be in the methods a teacher uses in the classroom and the expectations and standards they set for their students; it can be in the way they handle their students’ backgrounds and take into account their cultural knowledge; and it can be in the way they make use of resources outside of the classroom, like a student’s family or community.
In terms of curriculum, I think it is really important to a) have a curriculum that reflects the interests of the students one is teaching, and that allows the students to relate to material and see it as useful to their lives, and b) incorporate information that isn’t part of the canon - in fact, turn the canon completely onto its head - in order to make explicit certain institutions that are important for students in the classroom to unpack together. One example I really enjoyed reading about in class that I think speaks to this kind of innovation is Hill’s work with hip-hop as a curriculum; it brought up many complex questions and ideas and was material that related to the students’ experiences and interest while also being analyzable and ripe for unpacking issues surrounding race and class. I found it really interesting that the hip-hop class brought up the idea of “realness” and authenticity because to me that is speaking specifically to the fact that a) there is a “right” and “true” way to perform one’s identity and culture and that there are qualifications or pre-requisites in order for that to be achieved and b) the interaction between hip-hop and whiteness and the way white students may feel like they are a part of the black community or relate to the same “struggles” brings up a whole host of questions surrounding privilege and the difference between personal experiences and institutionalized inequity. (Thinking about this in the context of events that are currently unfolding in history, like Ferguson, it becomes really relevant because many people have brought up the point that white people are often appropriating aspects of black culture - like wearing dreadlocks, listening and “relating to” hip-hop music, adopting fashion trends that arise in the black community, etc. - while still denying black people the right to merely exist without the threat of violence.) I think having a curriculum that is at once educational and political is a really meaningful way to approach classroom content, because I think education is inherently political and the ability to turn a classroom full of students into a group of socially aware individuals is a powerful tool.
Innovative methods that a teacher uses in the classroom involve going beyond the four walls of the classroom, either literally or figuratively. In the “Secret Games” reading by Wendy Ewald, she assigns young students in Durham to a photo project that explores both their “white” and “black” selves in order to address the way different races are perceived in the students’ neighborhood. By framing the construct of race in a somewhat abstract way, Ewald allows the student a special kind of access into the material while also allowing them to explore themselves creatively and allow them to learn a new skill in the process.
Another important construct central to the idea of innovative teaching is the need to battle against societally accepted constructions of capital and to re-define what it means to have capital in a classroom. This can be seen across all the readings we’ve done, especially Hill’s piece on hip-hop as well as Hubert’s “Challenging Racist and Nativist Framing: Acknowledging the Community of Cultural Wealth of Undocumented Chicana college Students to Reframe the Immigration Debate” and Gerald Campano’s discussion of literacy and epistemic knowledge in his book, “Immigrant Students and Literacy.” All of these readings have stressed the importance of moving away from deficit thinking (believing that certain groups of students don’t have the ability to develop certain skills or don’t have the same capacity to perform in a classroom setting) and taking an innovative approach where teachers recognize the experiences that students bring to the classroom as valid and necessary and as worthy contributions to learning. In addition, validating the idea that groups of people who are often labeled as “oppressed” or “marginalized” actually have a perspective of the world that allows them access to information that privileged groups don’t have is something I find very important; the classroom can definitely be a place where students come to evaluate their self-worth and the worth of their peers and teachers should acknowledge the skills that students have to offer and build off of them in the classroom.
Lastly, I also think trust is an important part of being an innovative teacher. Although trust is not a new concept in the world of education, I think it is important for teachers to realize the importance of building meaningful relationships in the classroom that can then carry on outside of the school. Building trust and mutual respect with students can allow one to become involved in their lives outside of the classroom and incorporate their family and community into their educational experience.