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Ignite a Culture of Innovation with Elisabeth Bostwick (Ep 63)

/ Jason Sholl

Elisabeth Bostwick is a multi-award-winning educator who is passionate about creating the conditions to spark curiosity and unleash creativity to empower learning. She is the author of, Take the L.E.A.P.: Ignite a Culture of Innovation and co-author of Education Write Now, Volume II: Top Strategies for Improving Relationships and Culture. As an innovative teaching and learning consultant and instructional coach supporting K-12 teachers, Elisabeth works alongside educators to create classroom cultures where every learner thrives. With her passion for creating a long-lasting, positive impact on education, Elisabeth supports others to identify how we can cultivate systemic change and develop essential success skills to ignite a movement of inspired, confident learners. Follow Elisabeth on Twitter @elisabostwick and visit her website at https://elisabethbostwick.com/.

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Nathan Lang-Raad: Welcome to the Deeper Learning with WeVideo podcast. I'm your host Nathan Lang-Raad and today's guest is Elisabeth Bostwick. Elisabeth is a multi-award-winning educator who is passionate about creating the conditions to spark curiosity and unleash creativity, to empower learning. She is the author of Take the L.E.A.P.: Ignite a Culture of Innovation and coauthor of Education Write Now. As innovative teaching and learning consultant and instructional coach supporting K-12 teachers, Elisabeth works alongside educators to create classroom cultures where every learner thrives. With her passion for creating a long-lasting positive impact on education, Elisabeth supports others to identify how we can cultivate systemic change and develop essential success skills to ignite a movement of inspired, confident learners. I hope you enjoy this episode where Liz talks about fostering a culture of innovation in schools. Hey, Liz, it is so good to have you on the podcast today. Welcome.

Elisabeth Bostwick: Thank you, Nathan. It's so great to be here.

Nathan Lang-Raad: Is actually quite surreal for me because you and I have been friends for years. We talk quite often and so to have you on the podcast is quite a treat for me.

Elisabeth Bostwick: Oh, likewise. I was thinking the same thing. I'm like, oh, it's a podcast and interview conversation, but at the same time, I'm so comfortable, always talking with you. So I look forward to this conversation today.

Nathan Lang-Raad: Well, and today, I view you as such an expert in so much, in creativity and innovation in the classroom. So when I was preparing for our podcast together, I was like, oh my God, I have 20, 30, 40 questions I can ask you. And even though we talk all the time and I still have things that I want to ask you, I think that our audience would love to hear about. But I'll jump into definitely one of your specialty areas, I think that you're an expert in, which is creativity and innovation in the classroom. And I'm looking, we have video right now and I'm seeing your book behind you with the leap of fact. So I love to hear more about your journey on how you really started to focus on creativity and innovation in the classroom and how that led to your first book.

Elisabeth Bostwick: Yeah. Thank you, Nathan. So I think that for me, it started out when I was a new teacher, I really went into education thinking that I was going to make all this change and create these hands-on learning experiences. And I just had this complete vision of what I wanted learning to look like based on some of my amazing professors from college and just some other work that they had us doing and getting us to really think more like advocates of education, which I thought was really awesome. But when I entered the field of education, it didn't quite feel like that even though everybody had good positive intentions. And so I entered a world where I felt like, oh my gosh, there's these scripted curriculums and we have to stick to this. And there was so much pressure too when it came to grading, everything that passed by, passed through us. And then additionally, just the assessments and State assessments that came our way.

So for me, I started to fall into step with everybody else. And I wasn't teaching the way I envisioned myself teaching, which made me start questioning, did I even want to be in education? Was this the right fit for me? And so it took some time, but through some experiences in the classroom, and honestly it was even just taking our children and dropping them off at daycare and seeing what busy family life looked like when there were multiple kids. I started recognizing that it was so, education yes, it's about helping kids to understand the basics and the foundation of learning, but it was also about connecting with families. It was about bringing their voices in, it was about helping to understand who our students are, what their background is and looking at how we can incorporate that within the classroom.

And so throughout that time period, it was really looking at the relationships first and foremost, developing a culture for learning. And I just think through some of my early experiences, I learned what learning can look like. And over the span of, when I was in the classroom for 15 years. But it was early on that I started to make changes in the classroom where things were more hands-on or we used more formative assessments and shifted away from using everything as a grade. And when I started doing that, I saw that transformation and the more I saw the changes happening in the classroom and the positivity from the students and also great positive feedback from parents, I realized, okay, we're headed at the right direction. And then of course, it was a lot of professional learning and reading and connecting with people like you on social media and pushing my thinking to say, hey, what could the classroom really look like?

Nathan Lang-Raad: There's so much goodness there, everything from relationships to a culture of learning, to incorporating the interests and backgrounds of families. It's interesting we talk about in school that we have to have a culture of learning because I feel like that's the purpose of school. But unfortunately, what we've seen in the past decades, if you look at data history of schooling, meantime, it looks like, is this a kind of mechanism for scaling, for maybe preparing kids for a job or a career, but all the mechanisms that have been put in place, make it feel more like industrial factory kind of process here. Where it's all about scalability, it's all about pulling data and looking at trends and so forth.

And so I think sometimes school can look almost like a game. You have to get these grades and you have to get these credits. And so we have to really transform education to, and I love your culture of learning focus. I'm curious about how you made that shift in your classroom, because you said earlier, you lockstep with your teams and doing school the way you're supposed to do school. How did you find the courage to maybe jump out there and take that leap and start to really focus on a cultural learning and also relationships in your classroom?

Elisabeth Bostwick: Yeah, so I think for me too, it was, I was in the early stages of having our children. So our kids were younger and when our youngest was born, I did take a little bit of a longer childcare leave with him. And so I was home and we were doing a lot with hands-on learning at home. And just seeing the spark and the wondering all within my own kids helped me to even, I don't know, it's better understand, but I guess it helped me reconnect with my why of learning and that inner joy that we should see all kids exhibiting. And so for me, it was really looking at, how can we now take this into the classroom? So I think sometimes it's really valuable for us to take a step back and that doesn't mean taking a leave or something like that necessarily, but it's just even stepping back and having your own personal reflection time and remembering our why of why we went into education.

I do believe that educators went into the field and into the profession to make an impact and to make a difference. And ultimately, that's what I went in to do. So for me, I returned to the classroom, soon after that, and I returned to second grade where I had started in fourth grade. And so with my second graders, we took more of a hands-on approach. We used more inquiry. I became really involved with learning more about STEM and integrating the arts and also collaborating with the teachers on my team and our special area teachers. And so I started just doing a little bit at a time, and I know some people might hear the title of the book of Take the L.E.A.P, but taking a leap doesn't mean necessarily diving in with two feet first, it can be taking small steps, it can be growing our comfort in what we're doing.

And I embrace that concept because a lot of teachers will say, "Well, how do you gain the courage to just do something?" Well, we don't have to transform our classroom or what it is that we're doing overnight, in fact, sometimes that's where some other challenges can arise. So it's always better to be, I think it's good to be a thoughtful risk-taker rather than just being a risk-taker that just goes haphazardly and does things. So always looking at what is the impact we want to make and what can we do? And so in that, for me, it was looking at working with my second graders and using more curiosity. We did a lot with wonder walls in the classroom, so you can have a wonder wall up. It can be on chart paper. I mean, you could use jam board, but you could also use a whiteboard in the classroom, whatever, and kids would put up their questions throughout the day. It could be related to any of the content area, but it could also be questions that they have.

And I think right there, that started fostering some of that natural curiosity, because we don't want to inhibit that curiosity, we really want to help that to thrive in our students. So it was creating that culture where kids used questions, but I use questions, so if they asked me a question, I would respond with another question that got them thinking. So I think that that's how I started out. And then as I returned back to fourth grade and did the work that I did with our district, that's when we really started looking at how do we transform learning experiences by utilizing really strong instructional strategies, partnered with empowering student voice and choice in the classroom. So I can't take all the credit. It's not something that I just did fully within my classroom. We had really great leadership at that point. We had people leading committees of teachers so that we could look at that together. And we really collaborated with one another in the classrooms to think about how we can go about teaching and learning differently.

Nathan Lang-Raad: This is such a pivotal time for us this year, in education, we have the pandemic, we're still trying to figure out what the school year would look like next year. There are all these terms being used, like learning loss, which has lots of connotations associated with them. We hear about gaps. And so we obviously know that there are going to be as always, every year, there's always been a focus on closing learning gaps for students. So I'm wondering how does this focus on curiosity and student voice and choice, and inquiry-based learning, how do you see that helping with next year as we might have the biggest gaps we ever had in learning, and teachers are going to be focused on that because principals are going to be asking teachers to focus on that. How do you see the intersection of these two concepts?

Elisabeth Bostwick: Yeah. I was just talking to some teachers about this yesterday, where they're going to be, I think it's either an extended school year or hosting summer school for those who had demonstrated significant learning loss. So it's a normal thing in education, as educators we want to make sure that we're meeting the needs of students, we want to see them making growth. But what we don't want to do is do so much skill and drill that we end up just pushing kids away from wanting to learn. And I think that we have to remember that when we create those opportunities for voice and choice, and when we allow the kids to be thoughtful in how they're working on something. So when I talk about voice and choice, of course, that can look different in every classroom. Some teachers have a menu of different activities. Sometimes it's how you demonstrate your learning. So again, that can look different in and of itself.

But we have to remember that when kids feel like they have some kind of ownership over their learning and they're involved in it actively themselves, it's going to boost their intrinsic motivation. So we have to remember that it's not so simple, our kids are not robots. We can't just stick them into an extended school year or summer school and say, "Hey, here's more content. We're going to beat it into you." It doesn't mean that they're necessarily going to take that knowledge and store it into their long-term memory for later use. So I think it's really looking at brain-based learning, like how do our kids learn best? How do we get that to go to long-term memory? How do we inspire our kids to want to learn? So I think that it's really important for people to not lose touch with that aspect.

I can't remember exactly where it was that I had read it, I know I incorporated it within my book too, but kids, if they don't have some sense of curiosity within what it is that they're doing, they're not going to be interested. So we need our kids to be interested in what it is that they're learning.

Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. That's so powerful and you're also just so good at incorporating the social, emotional learning aspect. I know you've talked a lot about relationships before and the importance, and I feel like that is also a part of this story too. This has been a very tough year, a very traumatic year for many teachers and students. And so I'm curious about, what would your advice be to leaders and for teachers approaching this year? Specifically around relationships and how to better focus on relationships and social, emotional learning this year.

Elisabeth Bostwick: So I think that's one thing that when teachers feel, and I think one way that you can tell if teachers feel that, oh my gosh, I feel pressured to cover all of the content this year, those are the teachers that are typically beginning class with, okay, yesterday we covered this, today, we're going into this. And so we might see that sometimes. And again, that comes from good intention and I never, it's not a negative thing on teachers, it is just human nature within our blood as educators that we want to make sure that we are doing the best for our students. But we have to be really careful that if we're just glossing over the opportunity to connect with our learners, they're not going to learn to the degree that we want them to. So we need to make sure that we're cultivating those relationships and staying connected with our kids.

And so some of the ways are just, the ones that we talk a lot about in education, we want to greet our kids, whether it's at the door, when the kids come into the classroom, or whether it's remotely and online, we want to be having conversations with our students, and we want to welcome them. We want to start off with conversations and connecting with our kids. I know for me in the classroom, one thing that I did when it was in-person, because that's when I was teaching was in person, but we would use the first 20 minutes of the day, because it was just flexible time. The buses were staggered, and I would greet students at the door for as many as I could when the main group came in. But after that kids had choice time in the morning. So we did like a morning Makerspace where they could create and make what it is that they wanted to, but they could also read if they'd like or draw. So that was really their time to explore their own passions. I even had kids that were creating different websites of their own and everything.

So it was really neat, but it was my time as the teacher to not just greet kids, but to also make my way around the classroom to say, "Show me about what you're making. What are you creating? What are your thoughts here?" They would also teach me, they would teach me about coding, or they would teach me about how to make the best version of slime that they could make. So it was not just about me saying hi doorway and doing a handshake, which is always, I mean, if that's what we're doing, that's a great first step, but it's also about connecting with our kids and knowing what it is that they're interested in and really making it more genuine and authentic.

Nathan Lang-Raad: It's really compelling about what you just shared, was that to me, it models how our students are going to be collaborating and creating in the workplace. Where every day we're moving to more of an autonomous workplace where employees are looking at their projects and they're thinking, what are the next steps that have to do in this project? Or what project would like to pursue next? Or here's my day in a nutshell, let me think through what things I should tackle first and what things I should tackle later on. Should I check my email now or my Slack messages now? And so you're really preparing them too for the workforce, because that's exactly how the workplace is also going to be structured, where they're given a lot of autonomy and choice in what they engage in, and they also have opportunities to share, what are some goals you're working on? What's important to you? So I really do. I love how you're structuring learning, even early age to model what the collaborative workspace is going to look like.

Elisabeth Bostwick: Yeah. Thank you. And I think that, that's one thing that I worked a lot with our students with is just understanding that even from a young age, kids are often asked, what do you want to be when you grow up? We ask our kids that, but for me, it's always like, sometimes they don't know what their options are. So I want them to be able to explore and identify their interests. I know we can talk a lot about what are you passionate about, but a lot of kids, when they're young, they may not recognize what a passion is yet. They may not have identified what they're interested in because they haven't been exposed yet. So I think that's really important.

And just to circle back to the topic on relationships and how we can cultivate those two is that, we want to make sure that even if we're online with kids, when we can do breakout rooms and meeting in small groups. I think for me in the classroom, whether it's in the classroom, even with teachers, I've worked with doing remote learning that when you can create even those small groups, because sometimes kids are uncomfortable speaking one-on-one with a teacher, but if they can work within a small group, and have conversations like that, then we oftentimes see that they're a little bit more open to share and converse with their peers.

Nathan Lang-Raad: Absolutely. And you have truly modeled what it means to be a facilitator of learning, an activator of learning. And so I appreciate that. And I'm thankful that you gave us some great examples of how they can do that in the classroom. Okay. Well, are you ready for our lightning round Liz? This is my favorite part of the podcast to get to know you a little bit more.

Elisabeth Bostwick: Let's do it.

Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. Okay. Here we go. First question is if you were on a desert island, which three books would you have with you and why?

Elisabeth Bostwick: Well, I'm sure you're not going to be too surprised because I think I've shared all three of these to you before in different times, but I would have to say Untamed by Glennon Doyle. One of my favorites, I don't ever go back and reread the entire book through, but I'll pick up certain parts and just read it. And sometimes it inspires me with a blog post or something else that I'm working on for a session. So I just really love that. Think Again, which was actually a book that you had shared with me by Adam Grant. I'm listening to it as an audio book. I'm still not done with it, but I love there's so many different stories in that book that I feel like apply to life that just makes you go, huh. Some of them I have like, yeah, I thought about that and other ones, it makes me really think again. So I like that concept too, because it also mimics a little bit about what we're doing in education, like rethinking some of what we currently do. And I think that's something we'll always do within the profession of education.

And the last book is Rising Strong by Brene Brown. I just, I love Brene's book. I love how she helps people to understand too about how we create stories in our own mind about situations and the importance of just communicating with people and being true to ourselves.

Nathan Lang-Raad: I would say too, if we had a dinner party, I think those like Adam and Brene and Glennon, and I would want all of them at our dinner party.

Elisabeth Bostwick: Oh, absolutely. For sure.

Nathan Lang-Raad: That's awesome. Okay. Next question. How do you recharge?

Elisabeth Bostwick: I recharge just really a combination. I don't think there's any one thing that is my go-to recharge. And I think it depends on what I'm going through. So I would say, excuse me, a balance of strength training. I love our gym, I go three days a week. I feel like there's something about moving your body and working with weights that is so therapeutic to me, but I also really love long walks and also hikes. So I do both. So I guess really moving is one of my best ways to actually recharge. And then my last one, I have to be working with our golden doodle Chloe, who I know I talk a lot about, but I've done a lot of work with her. We play a lot, but yeah, she's just been a jam. And I think the combination of those things help me to recharge and recenter.

Nathan Lang-Raad: Love it. Okay. What is the biggest challenge in education?

Elisabeth Bostwick: Well, I would say some of what we've already talked about, but what I hear most from educators, in fact, just yesterday talking to a group of educators that I was working with, it's struggling to know how do I teach with creativity and innovation within scripted curriculums and the pressure of State assessments? So it's really working with teachers on how to design those lessons, but that's the biggest challenge I hear from people, but it's one of my passions to work with people to do that because it's such important work.

Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. I agree there for sure. Okay. And what subject did you love in school?

Elisabeth Bostwick: So my favorite subject, I don't know, I'm going to pick two because they go together for me, but I really loved English language arts, writing and also art. And I would say, I think that those are complimentary because I loved everything to do with reading. And I loved that it pushed my thinking and made me think outside the box and creatively, but I also loved writing for that same purpose. I loved my creative writing classes, were also my favorite and then art, of course, because you can then utilize your creativity in what you're making and creating.

Nathan Lang-Raad: And probably a similar question. I'll be interested to see if you pick the teacher of these subjects, but who is your favorite teacher and why?

Elisabeth Bostwick: So that's interesting. So there is not a teacher that taught either ELA or art sets. That's interesting one. So I do have several favorite teachers and I've shared a lot about my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Edwards. But today I'm going to share about my eighth-grade teacher who's also one of my favorites and that was Mr. Merit. He was actually a social studies teacher. When I think back to him, I'm like, it was sometime in the late mid-90s, no it wasn't the late 90s, so it's early 90s. Well, he really demonstrated ways, he helped us to be able to demonstrate our learning in creative ways. And he empowered us to do different projects and gave us the choice. So it's like he was doing a lot of what we want to see in schools. And he was doing it at that time. And I didn't have many teachers who were doing anything like that in the classroom.

So for example, he incorporated humor all the time. I remember he would jump up on the desk and you might think like, oh, well he was just doing those things and maybe we don't remember what he was teaching about, but I remember him teaching when he jumped on the desk, it was a lesson about the melting pot in America. So he just did really some different off-the-wall things, but he wasn't always crazy and silly either. So he also gave us choice. I remember we had to do a project and we had different ways that we could either write about it. We could create a video. And of course, at that point we had those big VHS cameras. And so my friends and I did, we created a Groucho Marx radio show with the topic that we were doing at the time, which was really neat.

But one of the most impactful lessons that I remember him teaching, I don't know if you've ever heard of Jane Elliott, but Jane Elliott had an anti-racism exercise that she did a long time ago. And this exercise was actually used with eye color rather than skin color, just to demonstrate what racial segregation would be like. And so it was actually, he was trying to convince us that everybody with brown eyes in the room was more superior and explaining why. And he had a sitting separately and of course, I'm blue-eyed, so I was in the group that was looked down upon, but he did a lot of experiential learning like that and really getting us into those experiences within history. And I think that's why he really stands out as a teacher to me.

Nathan Lang-Raad: It sounds like he was obviously well beyond his time as well, way ahead of his time, I should say. All right. Next question is, what did you want to be when you were growing up?

Elisabeth Bostwick: So growing up, when I was really young, I wanted to be two things. I used to tell my mom that I wanted to be a veterinarian, but also a waitress at Friendlies because I wanted all the ice cream in the world. But really it was being a veterinarian, was something that stuck with me for a long time. And I wanted to work with animals. And today, I still have such an appreciation for animals and animal welfare, but as much as I love animals, it's really not in my nature to be someone who could have stomached the medical procedures and things like that. So I stick to animal advocacy and loving my own pets and things like that instead.

Nathan Lang-Raad: Nice. All right. Who had the biggest impact on who you have become?

Elisabeth Bostwick: I need to go with my mom. I think she's had the biggest impact on who I've become, and I don't necessarily mean professionally, but more so as who I am as a person. And now my mom and I, who I love dearly, we don't always see eye to eye on things, but we have the kind of relationship where we can push back on one another in a respectful and caring way, which is always good. But she's taught me a lot about how to talk through topics, seeking to understand each other, showing respect. And I have to say one of my favorite things is that when I grew up, it was really important to my family to share about our heritage and our culture. So my grandfather, my Opa, we called him, was an immigrant from Germany, and he came over when he was just 18 years old on a ship down to New York City on his own. And so she would tell a lot about his story, about how he came to be, and where our family grew up and just all the challenges he went through.

And likewise, her mother, my Oma, who I never was able to meet, unfortunately, but she was from Finland. And so it was always taught to me that I have sisu. And so sisu is a Finish concept and it's described as determination, tenacity, grit, and resilience. And so I think that it's just through the stories that my family would share about our ancestors and our heritage, that's always impacted just who I am today, whether it's professionally speaking as an educator, but just who I am as a person too.

Nathan Lang-Raad: That is so cool. Thank you for sharing that. What's the most positive change that you've noticed in education? I

Elisabeth Bostwick: I think that, especially during the pandemic, one thing that really stood out was the importance of relationships above anything else. And I know you, and I've talked a lot about that for years that relationships are the most important, but that can get lost in the mix very easily. And so I think there's also more of a focus on social, emotional learning, and just understand the importance of purpose and passion in education. But with that said, we all noticed that, and I noticed that there are some schools putting things in writing on websites, but we need to look at where's the professional development, where's the support for educators and the follow-through to make sure that those things stay as the priority or become the priority.

Nathan Lang-Raad: Okay. What's the worst advice you've ever received?

Elisabeth Bostwick: So going with the topic of relationships, I'm not sure if this was advice, but it was the notion that you shouldn't smile until December with your students. And as you know, Nathan, that's just all wrong. And again, it came from well-intended teachers who just believe that you need to gain authority with students. But our kids need to have those relationships because relationships and fostering cross that's the heartbeat of every successful classroom.

Nathan Lang-Raad: All right. What's the best advice you've received?

Elisabeth Bostwick: So best advice would be just choosing your battles. And I think that goes with whether you're an educator, even your own children, other people in your life or social media, any of those things, but we do need to be selective of the challenges that we want to address. And in terms of the classroom, I think it's important to recognize the good in our students first. I think they say that there's a five to one, we want to have five positives for any one negative piece of feedback that we want to give students. So it's really looking at utilizing humor and connecting with kids instead. So we want to make sure that we're doing those things over what battles that we address. And then if we need to address something with a student, for example, we want to make sure that that's done in privacy so that we're always protecting the dignity of every child.

And that's something that I feel very strongly about, is just making sure that kids always feel safe in the classroom like that. Because we never know what background they're coming from, we don't know what they're experiencing, and we want to make sure that we don't add more to the baggage that they might be carrying with them. But likewise in life, we just want to make sure that we choose the battles in any way because some things are just left or better left untouched too.

Nathan Lang-Raad: Yes. Well, that is such a great note to end on and thank you for those reminders. And thank you for being such a positive force and light in the world of education. How can our listeners connect with you and learn more about you after today.

Elisabeth Bostwick: Well, you can always visit my website, elisabethbostwick.com, and you can follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter @ElisaBostwick and I'll always connect back with people, but I love connecting and learning from others and just sharing and building that community.

Nathan Lang-Raad: Awesome. Liz, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

Elisabeth Bostwick: Likewise, Nathan, thank you so much. This has been great.

Nathan Lang-Raad: I want to invite you to our second annual WeVideo creator community summit, July 20th and 22nd. We will have educators from around the globe presenting on topics like personalized learning, social, emotional learning, and blended learning. The summit is free of charge and you'll receive a PD certificate for attending. For more information, visit www.wevideo.com/WCCS21. I hope to see you there.