Innovation – what exactly is it?

innovation road sign picture

I’ll be heading to Auckland, New Zealand to represent NSW in the Microsoft Partners in Learning Teacher Awards. In 2011, I was selected as the NSW winner of this award, which is largely based on implementing technologies in an innovative way.

But what is innovation, and what exactly makes an innovative teacher? I’d like to start with what I think innovation ISN’T

Innovation isn’t about:

  • the latest technology – having the latest iPad doesn’t automatically equal innovation; neither does reading an e-textbook from an iPad
  • change only or change or the sake of change – just because it’s different it doesn’t mean it will make learning better
  • using technology – while technology is often related to education innovation, technology by itself is not innovation. For example using an interactive whiteboard to show PowerPoints to support lecture-style teaching isn’t innovation

I think innovation is more to do with teacher qualities rather than things and strategies per se. Innovation MUST also be able to enhance and improve student learning.

I think innovation is:

  • the willingness to take risks to try new things (technologies, strategies, etc) then reflect and evaluate on how this affects students’ learning.
  • not being afraid to “fail” and be able to see these “failures” as a learning process to grow as an educator
  • being able to  see that education is no longer based on a “knowledge is scarce” model, recognise that knowledge is now available to students at an instant and change as a teacher accordingly
  • thinking ahead; being proactive in understanding and predicting learning needs rather than being responsive and playing catch-up
  • being able to inspire others to join you

In the end, innovation in education, whatever it may be, must focus on improving student learning. As an educational leader, I also think it is vital that schools are environments where teachers are stimulated to be innovative. Schools should be environments where teachers feel that it is OK to try new things, it is OK when something new being implemented doesn’t go to plan and teacher successes in the classroom are celebrated and shared.

What do you think innovation in schools look like? How does your school encourage innovation?

2 thoughts on “Innovation – what exactly is it?

  1. Perhaps not exactly what you want, but in my experience innovation is annoying the organisation and its assumptions (and subsequently its people). It’s good innovation when it gives the learners (including the teachers) something better/different/new.

  2. David, perhaps you speak of disruptive innovation which attempts to shake the status quo and has an air of activism undergirding the cause. Everett Rogers, author of “Diffusion of Innovations” suggests that there are two ways organizations handle innovation and its diffusion. The first way is via a top-down approach or as Rogers’ calls it a “Centralized System of Diffusion.” In this case a company has an R&D (sometimes also referred to as the Skunkworks) that handles innovation. Once something is developed by R&D, this then makes its way into diffusiing through the organization mediated by change agents and opinion leaders. This is the rigid, hierarchical structure that most people equate with the “politics” of an organization. There is no reinvention occuring in this model. The other model is “decentralized” where R&D is spread out and allows for reinvention of the original ideal. Just a thought.

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