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?

Taking a giant leap .. The first two years as an educational leader (Part 2 of reflections of 2011)

It was in September 2009 when I saw this advertisement.

advertisement for my current position


Back then, I was in my third year of teaching at my previous school. I had a really good group of Year 10 students who I wanted to take to Year 12 in Physics. I had established a really reputation at this school and had a really good working relationship with everyone so I was in no rush to leave.

My then Head Teacher encouraged me to apply so I thought I might give it a shot. It was part of my career plan anyway. So when I got the call to say I got the job, I did feel as if perhaps I wasn’t ready for it. I was 25 and had only taught for 3 years. I’d been Year Adviser for 1.5 years, was relieving Head Teacher Science for 10 weeks and relieving Head Teacher Welfare for 5 weeks.

So I basically jumped into the deep end. And for those who know me, that’s what I do usually anyway. I tend not to take baby steps. If I want to do something, I just do it. One of the things I regularly say is “This will turn out really good or really bad”, but the risk of it turning belly-up never stops me from trying.

In these past two years, I have definitely learnt the most and developed the most as a teacher and a leader. Here are some of the things I’ve learnt:

• There’s a difference between leadership and management, but you need to have both.
• There’s a difference between informing and engaging people.
• Teachers are learners too and each teacher has different needs. While it’s extremely important that everyone knows what the goals are, how they get there needs to be personalised.

multiple paths analogy

One of the biggest challenges comes from my main strength. Like I’ve said before I like taking risks in the way I teach. When I have an idea I run with it. This is a lot harder to replicate in a team situation. I have a fantastic team who is willing to give 110% in whatever we do.

At times it was like the crazy dancing guy analogy of leadership. My team is composed of brilliant teachers who have great rapport with students, but I found that in my first year as Head Teacher I was the one dancing crazily and they were watching me. I wanted them to dance crazily with me too.

So I started to back up all the new strategies and tools I suggested with WHY. WHY should we take the plunge and try this? I also started doing activities in public spaces of the school like sticking QR codes all over the school and have my students running around the school with iPods to scan them. The noise and commotion of students learning would often catch teachers’ attention. They would then be curious and ask me questions of what I am doing and how they could do it with their classes. The QR code activity actually resulted in a teacher asking me how to make a QR code and he made one himself.

And like the crazy dancing guy analogy, I’ve been able to move my team forward this year because someone else has started dancing crazily with me. This colleague has flourished since I introduced him to Twitter (you can follow him at @HenryYavuz). His teaching repertoire has expanded massively and he is now taking risks with his teaching. And the rest of the team is now getting up and dancing too. Without the first person getting up and taking the plunge to dance crazily I wouldn’t have been able to create and start to implement a new unit of work next year that transforms how the faculty approaches pedagogy.

I’m really proud of the achievements of my team and the achievements of individual teachers in the team. I’m really looking forward to 2012. I’m hoping for lots of crazy dancing.