Top 8 tips to becoming an innovator in your classroom

Cross-posted from YU 2.0

It is a great priviledge to be a guest blogger on YU 2.0. It is a great community, and I look forward to the conversations that these guest blogs will bring.
The theme on YU 2.0 Wednesdays is Innovation. When I think of innovation,

I think of my grandmother who told me to reinvent myself every decade. She herself had learned to drive in her late 60s, volunteered on a kibbutz in her 70s, and became a hebrew tutor in her 80s. Innovating meant that her life was always fresh and fun and responsive to her needs and to the needs of those around her.

I have tried to take my grandmother’s lesson to heart by constantly reinventing how I do things. Like many, my career has had many different stops. I have been a computer programmer, an information architect, a teacher, an administrator and an educational consultant. I’ve done graphic design and produced training videos. Each new experience has deepened my skill set and insights. Rather than being disjointed, all these experiences make me a better teacher.

We all want our classrooms to be places where we, the teachers, choose daily what will energize our students and ourselves to learn more. How do we do that? How do we stay fresh and focused on growth without getting overwhelmed? How do we come up with new ideas?
Here are some of the things I have done to innovate. In my subsequent posts, I will focus on some of the innovations that are out there for educators. In this post, I’d like to explain how to come up with your own ideas.
1) What can be improved?

Getting better requires looking back at where we’ve been. In Mussar, it’s called a cheshbon hanefesh; in the business world it’s called a 360. Every once in a while, we need to think about our teaching from a 35,000 foot perspective.
Sometimes, just reflecting on my day is enough to pinpoint areas that I can work on. Other times, I need outside inspiration to prompt my reflection. For ideas, I like to read what good teaching looks like. I try to avoid articles about teaching in the general media and blogs. These tend to be very negative and focus on what teachers are doing wrong. Melodramatic descriptions of bad teaching technique or global criticism of chinuch drains all the energy out of me and makes me abandon all hope.

I gravitate to professional, well researched literature like Charlotte danielson’s rubric and for some positive ideas to try and go from there.

2)Am I judging or defining?

We all have problems in our schools and classrooms. When we identify a problem we must take care not to blame ourselves or others for the problem with a critical voice. This inhibits our ability to identify effective solutions because we are so busy loking at what should have been done that we don’t have time to identify what could be done now.

For many years, ninth graders came into my class without the skills I expected. Complaining about their former teachers and schools ensured that they left my classroom with the same lack of skills as when they entered. Finally, I asked the right question. I began to think about what supports I could provide so that my students could learn Chumash effectively. The result was a system that has worked in high school, with adults and even in elementary school.

3) What are my goals?

Articulating what I want to accomplish has been vital. When my goals are spelled out, I see solutions when they present themselves. When outlining a goal, I don’t worry how I will get there. It is enough to know that my goal exists.

After seminary, I set a goal to share Torah with as many people as possible. I was a computer programmer and soon found myself starting divrei Torah email lists, creating Torah websites and even working for When I started teaching, i began publishing my curricula online. I am now a rebbetzin in a small community and sharing Torah through classes and across my Shabbos table. My goal has remained the same over all these years. I was able to actualize my goals when opportunities arose because I had it defined so many years ago. Think big and the solutions will follow in unexpected ways.

4) How do I get started?

The key to change is to think big but start small. As reflective teachers, we will identify multiple ares which we can improve. We can’t correct all of them because we are human. To change and innovate, we need to take our goals and make them doable. If we get overwhelmed, our goals will not get done. So when we identify an area where we can use to make some changes, find one or two things to do.

My mornings in class were chaotic this year. My friend Rivky sent me a simple smart board lesson where students rehearsed the morning routine. That small change improved things a bit and I am ready to implement a new idea to make things even better.

5) What do the experts say?

We live in the age of information. The Mishna in pirkei avos says איזהו חכם הלומד מכל האדם. We need to be comfortable going outside our comfort zone to learn from the best. A lot of time, the answers are in places that have nothing to do with Jewish education. Applying new ideas from multiple sources to daily practice is when innovation begins and teaching becomes fresh again.

  • This year, I was having an issue with the goofiness in my classroom. After a few days of kvetching, a friend asked me “have you googled it yet? I havent’ seen you do much reading lately – are you looking for answers?” And so I read. I googled, I harassed some experts. The class is still goofy, but I have more of a handle on how I want to handle it
  • My graduate school mentor was the principal of a Catholic high school and the assistant superintendent of the Diocese in Rochester. For me, she conceptualized the centrality of faith to the success of religious schools’ missions in a way that has been more instructive to me that many other Jewish sources.
  • When preparing a lesson on Jewish philosophy, I may ask myself how does Marzano’s idea of graphic learning apply to teaching the 13 Principles of the Rambam?

6) What is my gut saying?

Sometimes you know what needs to be done. You won’t get much approval because if it is truly innovative, most people won’t understand why it will work which is why it wasn’t done before. If you know that it will be successful – get ahead of the curve and get it done. Even then, it may not be successful because you are too ahead of the curve. That’s okay too. You are laying the ground work for others to follow your trials and errors.

Each week my father attended a shiur and came home and wrote up what the speaker had said. He began emailing the notes to friends when most people didn’t yet know what email was.

The עשה טוב, do good, after the סור מרע, leaving the bad
The next two questions are different from the previous 6 as they focus on increasing creative approaches to teaching rather than thinking of solutions for problems. They are the עשה טוב, do good, after the סור מרע, leaving the bad. Creativity leads to fun, freshness and energy
7) How can I use this to learn?


Since this is a Ed Tech site, this is a no brainer for most of us. So many technological innovations keep coming on the market. When I see something new I think – “how can I use this tool to promote learning?” Email led to divrei torah email lists, the internet led to and Every new technology can be used to learn and teach Torah. Technology doesn’t need to be electronic. In the last 10 years, the colors of dry erase markers has exploded. Using them can help us teach even if I don’t have to recharge batteries to do so. Browse the aisles in Walmart. Scan Pinterest. Creativity will strike when you least expect it.

8) How is the learning happening?

We need to be aware that our job as teachers is not to give over information but to make sure that students learn the content, skills and values we had planned. There are only 5 ways information can get into a student through vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell. We need to be conscous of how this process works and always think about the five senses in all we do.

So to sum up:
by asking these 8 questions of

  1. What can be improved?
  2. Am I judging or defining?
  3. What are my goals?
  4. How do I get started?
  5. What do the experts say?
  6. What is my gut saying?
  7. How can I use this to learn?
  8. How is the learning happening?

we can all become innovators in our classrooms. When we reflect, set goals, listen to ourselves and others, and think about education intelligently and creatively, our classroom will be a place of constant growth.
In the next post:
we’re going to jump into the innovating. As a former information architect and web designer, I’d like to explore how browsing the internet mindfully can improve the learning going on in the classroom.
See you on the 20th!
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