Universal Design for Learning at the University of Vermont

Teacher Innovation in the Face of Fear


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“It was Jane who introduced us to the notion of “cat people.” Cat people are those of us who like our routines and generally stick to doing things the same way unless someone makes us, or convinces us, to do things differently.  There’s nothing wrong with being a cat person; in fact, most of use fall into this category, and most of our students do, too.  The problem is, tendencies, habits, and comfort zones can sometimes get in the way of productive teaching and learning.  Somewhere in our resistance to change lurks a fear.

Fear of failing is the elephant in the teachers’ classrooms – the question we secretly harbor but rarely utter aloud.  Fear of our students’ failure keeps us locked in the same practices that have become comfortable and familiar.  It’s also what keeps teachers in front of the classroom lecturing instead of turning learning over to the learners.  WE can speak of the student-centered classroom, but the worry that students lack the skills to pull it off can prevent teachers from taking those first steps toward productive group work. ” ( Pg 109. Frey, Fisher, Everlove. (2009) Productive Group Work: How to Engage Students, Build Teamwork, and Promote Understanding. ASCD)

In business, innovation and risk taking are the lifeblood of success.  In a constantly changing environment adaptation is key for the survival of a business. Without this, there would be no profit. Education, how ever always seems to take the blame for being the innovation laggard, stuck stagnant in the box of tradition.  I would like to challenge this assumption by challenging our educators to blend what they feel they must teach into the desires of their students.  The learners, these  so called “digital natives” are graduating into this ever changing, ever the more competitive work environment.  That is what they expect. There is no reason to NOT try new approaches to their education.  There is a reason to fear failure but, that is not reason enough to deprive today’s “learners” with a chance for an innovative and progressive educational experience.



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