Innovation – What it’s Not

 

Innovation has made its way into the buzzworthy stratosphere of education. When words in education hit the buzzworthy level, they take on a life of their own. We as educators are really good at hammering the word so much that we become so sick of the word, that we never want to hear it again. Personally, I’m hoping innovation sticks around for a while, but I’m ok if you roll your eyes at me anyways.

If you are like me, you’ve probably heard these phrases championed by someone at your school, district, favorite author, or speaker at a past conference:

We need innovative ideas.

We must create innovative programs.

The future is in innovative teaching practices.

We need to design innovative spaces,

Teachers must be innovators.

Let’s make innovation happen.

I agree that we need more innovation in education. However, blanket statements like these only go so far. Agreeable, sure. Inspirational, maybe. Implementable, no.

Innovation isn’t a checklist.

Innovation isn’t an algorithm.

Innovation has no instruction manual. (Though I wish it did)

To find the true meaning, it helps me to define what innovation is not.

 

Myth #1 Innovation is about Technology

Innovation doesn’t simply happen by being a 1:1 school. It doesn’t magically appear because you have 3-D printers or laser cutters. I’ve seen computers used solely for the purpose of word processing and I’ve seen 3-D printers collecting dust.

It’s really not about the technology. It’s about what you can do with the technology that matters most. And what you can do with technology is much more than the consumption of content.

When students are charged with creating their own content, or creating ways to share the content they have learned utilizing technology, we begin to redefine the learning experience, an innovation that is sorely needed in our educational system.

Myth #2 Innovation is large-scale and top-down

Innovation is often attached to big ideas or big concepts. The reality is most innovation in schools that is directed from the top-down gains very little traction because it’s being artificially introduced. Innovation works best when it grows organically from the ground up. Google, which many consider to be an innovative company, didn’t start as a company of 88,000 employees. It started with 2 men with a vision.

Innovation begins as a seed. It is nurtured by a person or a few persons that are passionate about something. Their passion drives the growth. Roots become stronger and deeper as others become involved in the mission. Branches and leaves start to sprout as the vision becomes actualized.

Myth #3 It Takes a Space to Innovate

Another hot trend in education right now is the introduction of maker spaces. Schools are designing and building and ultimately spending money to create spaces where kids are empowered to be creative and hands-on. I run a maker space at my school. I helped design and transform the space. I love it and I love what goes on in my room. However, I am trying to ensure that my space isn’t this tropical island of innovation that teachers and students get to spend a finite amount of time on before they have to go back to the “real” world of their own classrooms. I want teachers and students to see that innovation is just as likely to happen within in a math class as it is in the maker space.

We can easily become fixated on creating spaces or buying flexible furniture in order to inspire our students so that innovation can occur. Innovation can easily happen wherever you are. Take Apple for example. Apple started in a garage. Hardly the bastion of innovative inspiration we believe we all need.

The reality is, innovation is more a mindset and a dedication to growth and improvement than it is a physical place, space, or tool. It happens most beautifully and powerfully when it comes from ideas of our education’s most valuable asset: teachers.

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