I am a Mentor Teacher at CICS Irving Park. I teach three sections of 8th-grade History, co-teach a section of Algebra, and I help coach teachers.
I’ve been on a mission to improve the daily school experience for our students and find ways to make their learning more engaging, meaningful, and relevant to their lives and the world around them. Developing project-based learning experiences for students has really helped. At the end of last school year, we had our 8th graders plan, design, and execute their 8th grade graduation ceremony. This year, we plan to take what we learned from a peer to peer mentoring pilot and scale it schoolwide this year. Others have done school beautification projects and social emotional learning initiatives that have improved our school’s community and culture.
These projects have given kids a sense of purpose, a desire to perform and create things that result in public products that are meaningful to them, and a chance to develop academic and social-emotional competencies that will benefit them in their lives now, in high school, college, career, and beyond.
Planning and setting students up for success, handing over the reigns, and getting out of their way has been challenging, but beneficial. I have learned a lot about how unique each individual’s strengths and needs can be, how much work it can be to truly tailor learning experiences to the individual, and how to trust kids to drive their own learning experience.
To me, innovation at CICS means continuously improving the school experience for all stakeholders. It is a very multifaceted issue, but I think that a strongly led and organized school team, a positive school culture and community, and the right mindset can drive a school to iterate toward its full potential.
My best piece of teacher advice is to try new things and be willing to make mistakes and fail in order to find out what works. Also, build positive relationships your students and colleagues. The more everyone trusts, understands, and respects each other, the more meaningful and deeper the learning experience will be.