Piloting something new can be a natural process. We have the capacity to do it all the time within ourselves. Our ability to see something of value out of the world, pursue it and then to build capacity towards being able to use it should be something we do almost without thinking.
Great teachers are masters of the pilot in exactly this way. When they see a piece of curriculum or a new technology tool, they immediately start to analyze it to see what it might do for them. Then they work to incorporate it in a small way, perhaps within a single project to see whether or not it is effective. If it is, then they really start using it in earnest, transforming their practice with possibility.
One such teacher I met with recently, does this all the time encouraging innovation at every turn. Specifically, his use of Prezi has extensively pulled resources from the AP biology community, curating them into amazing learning objects that guide his students throughout the curriculum. Nate Grover of East High School does not just pilot things for himself, though. He pilots for all of us.
He pilots technologies and ideas because he knows that doing so makes him a better teacher. Then he shares them back to the communities he is a part of. We just need to ensure that we are a part of the same communities of practice that he engages in to gain the same value that his colleagues see in his contributions. Nate and other teachers like him should have easy access to ways of sharing their effectiveness, their best practices and their ability to pilot new things every day in their classroom “laboratories”.
District pilots do not tend to move quickly, which is perfectly okay. We are interested in things like scalability and scope. But the daily pilots going on at East High School and other schools around the district are not fictitious. They are not unimportant or trivial, either. We must learn from them to encourage the district pilots and ensure they actually reach the students they are meant to.
It is also our responsibility to help them sustain these pilots. It is difficult to continue on doing something new and different in the classroom when the only support is in-building. We can connect the dots to make sure that innovative teachers know that there are more people doing the same things they are doing and there is a community that is available to support them. Because while piloting is natural instinct for great teachers, sustained change is not. When you think you are alone, you tend to create and discontinue pilots whenever you like, based upon our own needs or time constraints. Sustained change and growth is something we must support because no one can do it on their own.
In the end, it is so important to talk with, listen to, and learn from people like Nate Grover at East. Making time to do that is what makes sustained growth possible.