I wrote about the idea of “Innovating Inside of the Box” in “The Innovator’s Mindset.” Here is what I shared:
Let’s not kid ourselves. In education, especially the public sector, schools are not overloaded with funding. Innovating in our schools requires a different type of thinking, one that doesn’t focus on ideas that are “outside of the box” but those that allow us to be innovative despite budgetary constraints. In other words, we need to learn to innovate inside the box.
In my conversations with schools, I have been thinking about this concept a lot lately. Questions like, “What about the curriculum?” or “What about standardized testing?” often come up in reasons why we can’t do something.
Often our complaints are about things that are out of our control and are the decisions made by others (politicians, central office, etc.) for our schools. If we see those barriers that someone else created the obstacles to doing great things, that means only those people that created the restrictions have the power to change what happens in our classrooms. I refuse to believe this and believe that teachers have more ability to do incredible things than they give themselves credit for. This has been proven by educators all over the world, time and again. When someone (or something) else is the problem, we too often give them the power as the only party to be able to fix it.
One of the best examples of “innovation inside the box” is the Fosbury Flop. In the book, “Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results,” the authors highlight how Dick Fosbury changed the high jump competition with a change in how he would clear the bar. From Wikipedia:
Before Fosbury, most elite jumpers used the straddle technique, Western Roll, Eastern cut-off or even scissors jump to clear the bar.
The authors noted how Fosbury went from the “scissors jump” and created something better within the rules of the competition:
The most common problem with the scissors is that the jumper knocks the bar off with his or her buttocks. To compensate, Fosbury tried lifting his hips higher, which forced him to simultaneously drop his shoulders when he jumped. He continued to raise his hips until he eventually cleared another six inches, which allowed him to place fourth in a competition, setting a new personal record. No one noticed what Fosbury was doing, because he was tweaking the old technique, one tiny step at a time. Each attempt was only marginally different from the previous one. When Fosbury slowly began overtaking the competition, however, coaches for opposing teams noticed that he was doing something different. Checking the rule book, they could find no evidence for anything illegal in his hybrid technique. Fosbury was simply applying incremental improvements to an existing one.
Dick Fosbury changed how the high jump is done to this very day by creating something new and better within the constraints of the competition by doing and thinking differently about his approach.
No matter how long you have been in education, can you point to the year that schools seemed to just not know what to do with all of the money they have? It has never happened, and it never will. This is part of the unfortunate truth about education. I have seen some schools with less money do more, and some schools with more money do less. It is about their belief system more than anything.
I am not saying that educators need to stop advocating for what they know is right for students. In fact, I believe they should continue to do so. But I also think those big “system” changes take time, and if we wait for others to make those changes, we hurt the students that we serve today. Figuring out how to best serve students while working within the constraints of education is what the best educators continue to do every day. Their focus on innovating inside the box is their way of saying, “I have the power to make something incredible today,” no matter what obstacles are put in their way. They don’t just identify the problem, they figure out how to make things happen.
Keep innovating inside the box. The students in front of you need you to figure out a better way now, instead of hoping someone will come along and do it for you.