What Do You Do With An Idea?

Alex T. ValencicBlog, Innovate Better, Lesson Plan Better


  • This post shares steps on how to move an idea from thought to reality.
  • Brainstorm and research, tell, debug and show your story, and find a thought partner.

Several years ago, I worked in a school district that gave every elementary teacher in the district an allotment of $500 to be used for classroom supplies. This money could be used to purchase supplies available in the district warehouse or it could be used to make tax-exempt purchases like materials for projects or books.

Cover of "What Do You Do With An Idea?"

One year, I decided to use my entire $500 budget to purchase books for my classroom. I bought a combination of high-interest chapter books, nonfiction texts, and picture books that aligned to social-emotional learning standards. One of these books was What Do You Do With an Idea? written by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom.

While this story is a great way to encourage others to embrace their unique ideas and to stay firm despite negative feedback from others, it doesn’t actually tell you what to do with your idea. How do you actually move it from thought to reality?

I am pretty certain that everyone has their own process for doing this. Here’s what I do:

Step 1: Brainstorming and Research

Once I get an idea, I spend a lot of time thinking about what the idea could look like in practice. I like to use a notebook and a pen to jot down different thoughts. (Using an interactive reusable notebook, such as a Rocketbook or a Wipebook, allows you to take those notes and save them to a cloud-based storage solution.)

The other part of this step is to research what others have done. To do this, I turn to my library of professional books in my classroom, professional journals, and, of course, my PLN! Whether on Twitter, Voxer, or the private Teach Better Facebook group, my PLN is an invaluable source of information of what others have done and tried. As George Couros often reminds us, the smartest person in the room should be the room itself!

My PLN is an invaluable source of information of what others have done and tried. As George Couros often reminds us, the smartest person in the room should be the room itself! Click To Tweet

Step 2: Tell Your Story

Once I have come up with the details of my idea, I open up a new word processing document and start to tell the story of my idea. I like to organize this story with the background (where we are and where we want to go), objectives (specific goals), and an overview of the specific steps I plan on taking to reach those objectives. This can be very text-heavy, so I have to be careful about how much information I am sharing. After all, this is an idea, not a book!

Step 3: Debug Your Story

When I tell my story, I often accidentally leave out some of the more crucial details. This usually happens because I have all of the bits and pieces in my notes and in my head, but I forget to include all of them in the narrative. One strategy I enjoy using came from the software engineering world. It is called Rubber Duck Debugging. The process is fairly simple: I find a rubber duck (I have three of them on my desk), tell it about the idea, and read my narrative to it, asking questions along the way to check for understanding. In the process, I identify the pieces that are missing and add them to the story. 

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Step 4: Show Your Story

After writing the narrative of my idea, I work on creating a visual representation. While I love to read and look through all the details, others often want the big picture—literally. Using a visual creation tool like Canva (the pro version is free for educators), I make an infographic of the idea that incorporates icons and brief text to tell the story. This is especially useful when I need to take my idea to an administrator or my school board!

Bonus Step: Find a Thought Partner

Some people are comfortable formulating an idea and going through the steps of taking it from ideation to reality on their own. However, I have found that it is useful to find a thought partner to discuss the idea to get feedback from someone else. That thought partner can be a coworker, a friend, or even a familiar member. If you don’t have a thought partner, I am willing to help! Just send me a message! You can find me on all social media platforms by searching for alextvalencic.

See the full blog series here!

About Alex T. Valencic

Alex Valencic is an educator, former small business owner, Boy Scout, volunteer drug prevention specialist, unrepentant bibliophile, and a geek of all things. He worked as a substitute teacher for three years before achieving his lifelong dream of teaching fourth grade, which he did for seven years in Urbana, Illinois, before accepting his current position as the Curriculum Coordinator for 21st Century Teaching and Learning in Freeport, Illinois, where he not only supports innovative educational practices in the classroom but also oversees social studies, science, and nearly all of the elective courses in the district.