Innovation in education should not be a luxury, but is now a necessity. The world is changing so rapidly and it is no longer about schools “embracing change”, but creating it. You can wait for it to happen, or you can make it happen; either way change will continuously head our way.
Yet there is a disconnect between “innovation” and “doing school.” You will hear arguments such as, “I think innovation is important but what about…(insert curriculum, time, money, lack of funding, standardized tests, and lack of training)?” Yet these concerns are actually the reason that innovation is necessary in education. When we see so many constraints put upon the education system by sources outside of a school’s control, thinking outside of the box is not necessarily the best approach. How you innovate inside of the box is crucial.
As you hear each one of these arguments against innovation, it is important to have responses that help flip these ideas on their head, and show how many educators are already being innovative within the constraints.
Below are several of the arguments I hear regarding “innovation” in education, and how I usually respond.
1. What about the curriculum?
There are a lot of curricula around the world that are significantly outdated. I have contended that curriculum should be on a google doc, not on a static piece of paper. This allows us to change as necessary, not when the government dictates.
Yet in most cases, the curriculum shares what you teach, not how. This is where “innovation” is brought to life. In one case, I read in the curriculum that students were to learn about the “Fur Trade” in Canada, and the suggested activity was to “listen to songs about the Fur Trade.” Compelling! There are many ways that you can still teach this objective, while bringing it to life. Could you not do a podcast, website, speech, video, or a myriad of other things that have the students create, not simply consume?
How you look at the curriculum is part of the idea of how innovation happens. Innovation is about teaching and learning in “new and better ways,” if better is needed. This does not mean that you need to throw out everything that you have done before, but there is not ONE thing that works for every student. If there was, every educator would know what that one thing is, and it would already be implemented. “Innovation” is not in your curriculum, but neither are worksheets. You choose how you bring your curriculum to life.
2. What about standardized tests?
Yup…you still have to do them. I could say “don’t worry”, but that is super easy for me to say as someone who doesn’t teach in a classroom anymore. But I want you to understand this; they are not your driver. I hope no educator reading this thought, “I would love to be a teacher and just test the crap out of kids one day!” If you did, yikes.
Yet if you take the advice from number one on how you teach your curriculum, it could actually have your students do better on whatever assessments they have. One teacher that I worked with said then when she changed the way she viewed her teaching and became more “innovative” at the high school level, it was the only year (at the time), that she had all of her students pass her “standardized test” in her career. The biggest change was the way she looked at her teaching, and shifted the class into becoming more focused on student-centred learning of depth. Not only did her students do better on the tests, they actually have a better understanding of what they learned after the test, and learned to learn.
Test…you have to do them, but they are not your driver. Your driver should be relationships and learning. Take care of that, and the students will be fine when test time comes around.
3. What about time?
Everyone reading this has the same amount of time in the day, and they also have things that they do that they see as important that are outside of school. With the same amount of time, what differentiates one educator from another? Priority.
Make something a priority and it will get done (you get those report cards done every year, right?)
But it is not just about time; it is about thinking differently about what you do, and how you do it. What I found earlier in my career is that there were many things that I was doing for the students, instead of them doing the same thing themselves. Sometimes when you research to find a video to show on any concept, you are not only “doing the work”, you are taking away the learning from your students. Isn’t researching information and critically assessing if it is valid or not an important skill are students should know to do? How often are you doing that for them?
Take a look at your curriculum and ask yourself, “What am I doing that the students could be doing instead, that would actually be beneficial to them?” Not only are you cutting down your time spent on something, you are deepening the learning for students. Less time, deeper learning. Pretty good tradeoff right?
Don’t try to find more time; look at what you do differently. That way, you will find time.
4. What about lack of funding?
Yup…schools have felt the pinch forever. Demands on services are going up (as are the costs associated with them), and we do not seem to be able to afford everything. But here are some thoughts for you…Have you moved to one-to-one devices, yet kept a similar supply list and photocopier budget? Do you have things in your school that may no longer serve the same purpose they once did (computer labs, textbooks, etc.), that could have the resources reallocated to something more meaningful in your school? Are you trying to raise funds through traditional means, or are you looking at entrepreneurial ways that you can not only raise money with your students through creating something of value that they can sell through the myriad of websites that would give it exposure to a global audience?
The lack of funding is one of the essential reasons why innovation is crucial in education. If we do not think differently and create new and better solutions to some of our problems that currently exist now and in the future, we will not only be stagnant. we will eventually fall behind.
Instead of waiting for a year to obtain a plethora of money coming from traditional sources (not going to happen), start to think differently about your school and see where money can be allocated differently, or how to create an opportunity for resources. An “Innovator’s Mindset” is crucial to make this happen.
5. What about lack of training?
Here is the good news about learning in 2017. You can do as much of it as you want on any topic, and there is a ton of good stuff online for free. If you want to learn something badly enough, you can do that. I watched my niece learn to play complex songs on the drums within three weeks of getting a drum set for Christmas through YouTube. If you want it, you will make it happen.
But let’s tie this problem to the “time” problem. There is only so much we can learn in any given period of time. This is why it is crucial we create new and better solutions in how we deliver professional learning opportunities for our staff. Does your staff day look the same now as it did ten years ago? Do you complement face-to-face time with online time for learning so that it is not only about learning at certain points in the year, or having non-stop access to learn in times and ways that are meaningful to the learner, not just the teacher or staff developer?
There will never be enough time to be able to learn all that we need to know, but how we think about how we use our time for professional learning can significantly change how our entire community grows in a year. If we are not creating learning experiences that our staff is excited about, why would you expect them to do anything different for their students?
I have long contended that innovation is not about the “stuff” but about a way of thinking. Yet innovation cannot happen for the sake of “innovation”; it needs to happen to create better and deeper experiences for learning in schools. Why innovation is crucial is important in education is also important to understand; it is not to just doing something “new” but it has to be “better.” How we look at these traditional problems that we have in education, and how we bring “The Innovator’s Mindset” into the fold to create new and better ways to not only solve these problems, but rethink school entirely, will be crucial to moving education to a place that it needs to be for not only our students, but our society as a whole.