Innovation is a term that is overused and often misunderstood – to innovate is to introduce new, or better, methods or ideas. Fostering an environment of innovation is not easy. It requires administrative leadership to support teachers and encourage a culture of lifelong learning, risk-taking, and purposeful change.
Supporting a culture of lifelong learning.
Education is constantly evolving – initiatives change, expectations progress, and new tools are introduced. A rapidly changing environment requires learning over a lifetime – for both teachers and students. Teachers need to be able to model what they want from students. For many schools, a heavy focus on teacher training can be a limiting factor. Training is no doubt important, but schools should push beyond developing narrow skillsets and look to create a growth development model for their staff. Schools can benefit from having a roadmap for how they want teachers to engage with their own professional development. Investing in teachers’ futures beyond skills needed for tomorrow’s lesson plan can help to ensure a focus on continual learning.
When debating how to layer professional development, schools might consider using the technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) framework. TPACK provides a model for ensuring that professional development is not siloed, but instead enhanced by focusing on the overlap among three core teaching components: technology, pedagogy, and content. Some of the same structures that are used in the classroom can be used to help teachers along. For example, beyond TPACK, schools might offer personalized learning or blended learning approaches to professional development. Professional learning groups are also an opportunity for colleagues to work together. Collaborative learning is a key component of what we expect from students, making it valuable for teachers to practice.
Including risk-taking and failure.
Teachers don’t have all the answers, and that is acceptable. Innovating means experimentation, pushing past comfort zones, and striving to find stronger methods – and that involves risk. Educators shouldn’t be afraid to embrace risk, even if that means increasing their chance of failure.
Following a “try and try again” approach will help teachers to identify new ways to improve. After all, without trying, how can educators know what works? Or how can they revise their ideas after observing them in action? Accepting risk-taking and failure means taking an active, hands-on approach to advancing methods.
In the classroom, risk-taking may take the form of redesigning curriculum, giving students different opportunities to collaborate, or finding new ways to incorporate digital tools. Teachers should become comfortable with the notion that some risk-taking will likely result in failure, but find inspiration knowing that each experiment will lead to new knowledge. Innovation requires patience, an open mind, and a recognition that the best “answers” come from collective learning and continuous improvement.
By opening our classrooms to experimentation, exploration, and practice – without fear of failure – we will uncover new ways to better empower learning.
Innovating for a purpose.
Technology is alluring, and society seems to be pushing technology into every aspect of our daily lives. Technology’s draw and the “shiny new toy” approach to innovation means that teachers, administrators, and IT staff are often grasping for new ideas, programs, and apps that could be used in the classroom. No matter how shiny a “toy” is, however, innovation in the classroom needs to be driven by purpose.
Technology can certainly aid innovation – but to do so successfully, it must be used at the right time, in the right place, and with the right strategy. Technology might help in some scenarios, but it is important to note that it is not always the answer. Innovation, at the end of the day, should be solution focused. Improvement does not rest solely on the shoulders of new digital tools. It is dependent on a solutions-based strategy, unprecedented approaches, and people who are unafraid to bring new ideas to the table – even if that involves conflict and angst.
Together, administrators and teachers should embrace opportunities for innovation, and the technology that can facilitate it. After all, learning isn’t just for our students.
“3 Tips for Accelerating Innovation in an Historically Traditional District” Getting Smart. September 1 2015.
“Education 3.0: The Best Mini-Series Since Band of Brothers (Part 1)” Innovation Insights. September 24 2013.
“The Innovator’s Mindset: What We Can Learn from Carly Rae Jepson and the Harvard Baseball Team” EdSurge. October 14 2015.
“Creating Space for Risk” Edutopia. September 2 2015.
“What the Results of a Survey of Coursera Students Mean for Online Learning” The Chronicle of Higher Education. September 22 2015.
“Technology in Classrooms Doesn’t Always Boost Education Results, OECD Says” The Wall Street Journal. September 15 2015.