How innovative are you?

Like the concept of best practice, defining what constitutes innovation is probably a relative term and a moving target at best. What is innovative for one teacher might not necessarily be considered so innovative for another. I’m not so sure that there is a clear line in the sand where something, some practice, some technique, or someone, becomes labeled as innovative. I think you know innovation when you see it.

If you are a teacher, you probably know the teachers in your building who are considered to be the true innovators. They’re fairly easy to recognize. You might admire these people, and at the same time, you might resent them. If you’re an administrator, you’re probably not so sure about these teachers either-in some cases these individuals might be viewed as a nuisance or worse yet-as a potential threat. These individuals are constantly pushing the envelope, and are probably the source of the next volley of policy writing, agenda items at faculty meetings, notes to “see me in my office” or worse yet, calls home to parents. Others may see these teachers as incredibly valuable-they can point to these teachers as examples of innovation in their buildings and models for their peers.

In 2009, pockets of innovation aren’t enough.

I’ve had the good fortune of being able to travel to quite a few conferences across the United States, and some in Canada, Europe and most recently China. I’ve had the opportunity to surround myself with people that are truly innovative and I’m better for it. You can see them in the school I work in, you see others writing about their ideas in blogs, you see them at conferences, those that step out on the edge and test themselves, push themselves in new directions. Sometimes they fail, but most often they succeed, however failure itself is seen as a success, and an adventure in the direction of learning, which in itself, is reward enough for these individuals.

In my opinion, too many schools are satisfied with having pockets of innovation.

Here’s a sincere question: does your school equate being innovative with being excellent? If you do, rethink that and rethink it quickly. They’re not the same, and one doesn’t guarantee the other.

Of course, the easiest way to be “innovative” is to jump feet first into the waters of Web 2.0. Be the first to use a wiki, be the first to podcast, be the first to blog, be the first to say one of my kids got a comment from Argentina, and that’s great faculty lunch room fodder. But it just doesn’t mean much…sorry, it just doesn’t. There are much more important things at stake.

You can also be a seen as an innovator among your professional peers, and this of course is a very nice type of recognition. It can be very gratifying. Simply join Twitter to find out how much.

I’m not interested in being satisfied with pockets of innovation. Yes, they can be recognized, which for many schools, is the end point and the final rest stop of innovation. There can certainly be more however, with those same pockets analyzed for what works and why, amplified to increase their visibility and importance, and systematized to make a difference for all.

I’m interested in the systemic application of technology to teaching and learning. I’m interested in an equitable experience for all students. I’m not satisfied with some kids getting a rich experience in technology; I’d like all kids in a school to interact with the technologies that support the instructional techniques that lead to increased student achievement.

If you are an innovator, then you perhaps can be a leader in the change process that enlarges innovation, and that indeed, can potentially be considered a component of what constitutes excellence. If you’re not on board with a leadership role, then follow but follow well. And if you won’t follow with the best of intentions, stop reading this and grab your ditto master. There’s duplicating to be done.

When it’s all said and done, this is a leadership issue, pure and simple-just like everything else in schools.

The recent release of the CoSN Report, Leadership for Web 2.0 in Education: Promise & Reality has eight major findings, and focuses the viewpoints of leadership. Does Finding 7 surprise you?

“While there was broad agreement that Web 2.0 applications hold educational value, the use of these tools in American classrooms remains the province of individual pioneering classrooms.” (p.11)

and, Finding 8, which is troubling, but probably has been true for a long period of time regarding technology, not just Web 2.0:

“Web 2.0 is outpacing K-12 education’s current capacity to innovate.” (p 11)

And then, Finding 9:

“District administrators, the persons responsible for decision making on Web 2.0 in schools, are more passive than active users in the Web 2.0 space. (p 12).

Changing Finding 7 and Finding 8 begins with changing Finding 9….

“Leadership for Web 2.0 in Education: Promise & Reality.” CoSN. 05/01/2009. Consortium for School Networking. 6 May 2009 <http://www.cosn.org/Default.aspx?id=85&tabid=4189>

2 Responses to “Side Pocket”
  1. Luke Rhonemus says:

    Teachers do have to be good innovators. At times I wonder if there is any way that I could become more innovative. If you “steal” ideas from others, does that make you an innovative person or a resourceful person? To me, being innovative includes trying new methods that work in the best interest of the student. Administration can put a damper on teachers who are innovative, just as this blog mentioned. This can be cross-referenced to teachers who do the same thing with their students. Often times we can restrict the learning environement for a student rather than expanding it instead.

  2. Brunsell says:

    Unfortunately, the lack of use of Web 2.0 is the small problem. It is relatively easy to “train” people to use blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, social bookmarking, blah, blah, blah. The real challenge is that our pedagogy is not advancing. What we know about teaching and learning is disturbingly out of synch with current classroom norms. Teachers need the space to explore new ways of teaching & an open mind to actually do this. Unfortunately, too often, they have been burned by fads and changing priorities – and now see everything as a “fad,” so why bother. In fact, I was just cautioned by a teacher in a district that if I said the words “formative assessment” during a district PD session, I would likely be hung from the flag pole.

    This is the root cause of the “individual pioneering classrooms.”

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