How do we Maintain Excellence as we Innovate?

How do We Maintain Excellence as we Innovate?

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” –Albert Einstein

As teachers, it is our job to meet the needs of our students.  We can do this by being innovative.  Each child brings different background knowledge and experiences to the classroom.  As we take the time initially to get to know our students we will find ourselves equipped with the knowledge we need to help our students be creative and gain knowledge.  You still might find yourself saying, “True great idea, but how in the world can we be innovative while trying to meet the needs of 25 second grade students?”  Certainly this is not a task that can be done overnight.  There are several ways to do this.  One way to effectively be innovative while maintaining excellence is to use research based strategies.

E. Paul Torrance suggests the following model (The Incubation Model):

               1.  Heightening Anticipation: Make connections between the classroom and the                           student’s real  lives.  “Create the desire to know.”

               2.  Deepen Expectations: Engage the curriculum in new ways. Brainstorm and                              create  opportunities to solve a novel problem.

               3.  Keep it going: Continue the thinking beyond the lesson or classroom. Find                        ways to extend learning opportunities at home or even in the community.

(as cited by Clifford, 2013).


The first step in Torrance’s model is similar to Dave Burgess’s method in Teach like a Pirate.  Dave Burgess suggests developing a hook in order to “create the desire to know” (Torrance as cited by Clifford, 2013 and Burgess, 2012).  Burgess suggests looking at different learning styles when you think about designing hooks for the classroom.  These hooks can range from “Picasso Hooks” which look at incorporating art into a lesson to “Life Changing Hooks” that look at how a lesson can be used to offer “growth and reflection” for the students (Burgess, 2012).


The next step in Torrance’s model suggests that as teachers we seek to engage the curriculum in new ways giving students time to brainstorm and be creative.  As teachers it is our job to make the curriculum engaging.  Certainly we can stand on our soapbox and present information, anyone can read from a script.  The true challenge of teaching is presenting the curriculum in a “new” way.  One thing we can do as educators to enable our students to access the curriculum in a new way is to give our kids tools while allowing them to explore the content individually and collaboratively.  In other words, we should give our students time to explore, make mistakes, and learn from their mistakes.  Ken Robinson states that, “If you aren’t prepared to be wrong you will not come up with anything original,” (Robinson, Ted Talk on Creativity, 2006).  Robinson discusses how kids will explore things they don’t know.  If we give students the tools they need to find information along with the “hook” that gets them excited about learning, our students will actively seek information.  (Robinson, 2006).


We can continue to maintain excellence as we innovate by providing students the opportunity to extend their learning beyond the classroom.  ELO’s or Extended Learning Opportunities can be…”independent study, private instruction, team sports, performing groups, internships, community service, and work study” as well as online courses and apprenticeships,” according to Keena State College (2014).  Extended Learning Opportunities give students the chance to extend their learning in a real world setting.  As we design hooks for our lessons Dave Burgess suggests looking at real world hooks.  One way we can do this is by asking ourselves questions as we create engaging, innovative lessons.  One question might be, “What can we inspire kids to learn that goes beyond the test?” (Burgess, 2012).  By actually thinking about questions like this and looking at ELO’s we can help our students see a connection between school and the world they live in.


Ensuring the first few days are successful and engaging is important, but bear in mind that developing a plan for classroom management prior to the first few days of school is essential.  One book I refer to each year as I plan for the first few weeks of school is The First Days of School by Harry Wong and Rosemary Wong.  I like referring to this text because it reminds me of the many things I need to consider when I plan for the first few days and even weeks of school.  I want my classroom to be innovative and engaging, in order for this to happen I need to get to know my students and this requires a safe, well-organized environment in which my students feel they can share information, make mistakes and learn.




Clifford, Miriam. (2013). 30 Ways to Promote Creativity in Your Classroom. Retrieved from


Ken Robinson: How schools kill creativity. Ted Talk, Feb. 2006.Retrieved from


Burgess, Dave. (2012). Teach like a Pirate. Dave Burgess Consulting Inc. San Diego, California.


 Extended Learning Opportunities. (2014) Keena State College.  Retrieved from


Wong, Harry K. & Wong, Rosemary T. (2001).  The First Days of School.


4 thoughts on “How do we Maintain Excellence as we Innovate?

  1. Sorry I have strangely placed periods on here. For some reason this week I was unable to place spaces between paragraphs unless I used a “dot” to hold the line. Irritating!

  2. Sara,
    The first thought that comes to mind is, “YES!” Each child MUST be known by the teacher in order for effective learning to happen. That’s how we find each of our student’s passions, then design our classrooms to encourage and bolster that passion.
    I have read lots of articles using research by Torrance. He has some great stuff, but a little too “creativity minded” for me : )…but I do really like his “desire to know” philosophy. I believe that all humans have a desire to learn and to know, but that is oftentimes destroyed by adults in student’s lives….teachers included…and is such a shame. This means, like you said, it is our job to take the curriculum and make it “interesting to know”. I truly believe that ANY topic can be made interesting if it is presented in a creative way. So, that’s one of the myriad of jobs we have…knowing our students and using that knowledge to approach a subject in the curriculum that is innovative and educationally stimulating. Also, should I even say it? Also, we must realize that not all the “stuff” in the curriculum is of value and we need to have the wisdom to skip over some of the curriculum and move along to more applicable material…I know, blasphemy!! But, just because a curriculum writer puts the info in a book, doesn’t mean it’s important (that idea didn’t go over very well back when I got my first Master’s in Curriculum : )

    I also appreciated your stance on “extended learning”. I believe that I am successful as a teacher if my students leave my room with a desire to learn. This means that they will seek knowledge and wisdom outside the four walls of my classroom.

    Oh, and I noticed you used Harry and Rosemary Wong’s book. I really would have loved to have been a student in Harry Wong’s class…he’s awesome.

    • Gary, I will be honest and say that I have, in the past, been that teacher that tries to teach everything even if I know it is not valuable. Thanks for reminding me that it is okay to use our professional judgment and “skip over some of the curriculum and move along to more applicable material.” I also agree that this comment is not always well received by others,

      Probably the best gift I received when I began teaching was Harry Wong’s book. I refer to it each year when I begin teaching.

  3. Sara,
    Great post. I appreciate your research into Torrance. I think everyone likes the idea of giving students time to explore and take risk, but a lot of schools (I’m thinking Title One) don’t have the luxury of time. I think to have a truly innovative environment based on excellence we need a system change. Thanks for the good post.

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