Monday, February 9, 2015

What is Innovation Anyway?

The word innovation is being used more and more in K-12 education. Much more than two years ago, five years ago and certainly more than ten. But - what does it actually mean? What does innovation in education actually look like? How do we assure that innovation isn't just a "buzz word" and it actually has some real meaning? 

It's imperative that we accelerate the process of systemically spreading innovative practices into schools and make it more accessible, and realign incentives, tools and investments to allow us to get to more significant scale and to sustain innovative programming and practices.To get there, thoughtful experimentation and evidence at a systems level is required, in order to prevent students from being left behind globally as the rest of the world catches up.

It's clear that in education today, there are plenty of innovations in practice taking place in small pockets across the country. I highly recommend reading Grant Lichtman's new book #EdJourney to read about some of them. In #EdJourney, Lichtman traveled the country and interviewed more than 600 teachers, administrators, students, and parents to find out what kind of innovations they’re doing right—and to discover how others can follow their example. At The Ellis School we have adopted several of the innovations described in #EdJourney that are supported through our innovation grant and fellows program as well as personalized faculty development. Next year we are potentially adding innovation coaches into the mix that will partner on creating more classrooms focused on active approaches to learning where students are front and center as agents of change.  

Some examples of learning innovation taking place in schools:

  • competency or mission based learning that happens on-campus but also out in the community through learning "ecosystems" 
  • courses that are multidisciplinary with "skill prints" 
  • personalized learning with the support of machine learning based software 
  • blended learning particularly using the flex model 
  • global classrooms where students learn about diversity and intercultural communication as anthropologists and human scientists 
  • active learning that incorporates design thinking and "maker education" where students identify problems and invent solutions 

As a school administrator with innovation in my job title and the Director of a 'Learning Innovation Institute,' I get questions via social media and at conferences a lot about what my job description is and what I exactly do in my role. Innovation is about much more than technology - its about assessment, operations, pedagogy and practices. Innovation is the creation of a viable new offering. While innovation may involve invention, it requires many other things as well. It requires a deep human-centered understanding, is viable and must sustain itself and return its weight in cost of capital. Innovation in education is about more than just new courses, teaching methods or a piece of technology, it's also about new ways of running school, new schedules, new services and interactions between teacher and student and seeing students as co-creators of knowledge. Innovation requires identifying the problems that matter and moving through them systematically to deliver new solutions. 

Schools need to be clear about where and how they will innovate. By achieving clarity among the school community, you massively increase your odds of success. I suggest assessing what other schools are doing. Identify some specific innovative programs or practices that you can focus on initially to be distinctively different and shift the field. 

Innovation can be scary. It's natural to be suspicious of the unfamiliar. The job of school leaders who want to shift the level of innovation in their school is to get people to embrace rather than resist the unfamiliar. When faced with reasons for not innovating, listen patiently. Innovative leaders built empathy for their faculty and community stakeholders. They know that innovation is not optional and that it's their job to catalyze change. The key to innovation is creating the right balance between the tensions of creativity and discipline, pragmatism and ambition and analysis and synthesis. 


Ellis Innovation Fellow Patrick tackling the question: How might we
increase creative confidence and in turn decrease fear of failure
at our
Design Thinking UnConference this past fall. 


Join us this summer at our Active Learning Summit
to learn more about how to create an innovative culture
in your school and hear Grant Lichtman discuss his #EdJourney!  



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