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This post is inspired by the Microsoft Partners in Learning conference which I attended recently. Basically, taking part in the conference led me to ask myself what does it take and what does it mean to be innovative in education nowadays.
Of course, I do realise that you don’t have to be involved in technology to be innovative in a school but as I’m involved in and dead made keen on educational technology, that’s the area I shall be mainly thinking about.
At the Cutting Edge
This is possibly the easiest area to identify. If you or your school are on the ‘cutting edge’ of technology and innovation then you are very likely to be regarded as innovative in education.
To be at the ‘cutting edge’ would mean that you are planning on utilising something that has been untried before in your school or in any education setting. As such, you could be regarded as a pioneer, an innovator, an early adopter or a risk-taker.
Some people appear naturally averse to taking risks. Certainly, taking risks with a child’s education or future prospects is not something to be considered lightly. I am sure no professional teacher would even consider doing so.
If you do want to take this high risk approach, then you should take some recognition of the potential risks involved and, where possible, ensure there are mitigating procedures in place to reduce the negative effects of such risks.
Taking a risk is almost inevitable and when working at the cutting edge, it is almost essential to have an eye on the potential benefits of your innovation.
If you do adopt this approach to innovation, then I’d hope too that you’d be prepared to share your findings and experiences. That way, you would be helping other schools and professionals to make decisions regarding innovation and development in their setting. Hopefully, too, such other schools or professionals will be prepared to share with your their findings and experiences; after all you cannot be innovative in every area!
Introducing Something New that has been Tried Elsewhere
Introducing something new, is probably essential in being innovative, after all, isn’t that what the word ‘innovative’ means? What I want to argue here, though is that even if something has been tried elsewhere, introducing it to your school or into your teaching practice can still be regarded as being innovative.
So you don’t have to be on the ‘cutting edge’ in order to innovate. You can take something from elsewhere and introduce it to your school. If your school hasn’t tried it before then you can regard that as being innovative; you are trying out something new for your school or for your own professional practice.
In doing this you have no idea that it will work. Just because it worked elsewhere does not mean it will work in your setting. The appearance of it seeming to work in another setting(s) may help you to ‘sell’ the idea to your head or whoever but you cannot be certain. This is part of the ‘risk’ of innovation. It may work, it may not work but, at the least, it should do no harm.
So, being innovating by introducing something that has been tried elsewhere already, you may, at least, have a comfort cushion to help you in your project. You may have the work and results from elsewhere to help support your introduction of the project. You may also have the findings from elsewhere by which you could measure and record your progress. This may give you some ‘boost’ or ‘comfort’ while working on your innovative project but always remember, your setting is likely to be different in some ways to those of elsewhere and your innovation may not always achieve the results you hope for.
Introducing Something the School has Tried Before
Okay, this one may seem a bit more unusual. I am claiming you can be innovative by introducing something the school has tried before. Let us say that your school has tried an idea or an approach before, may be sometime back, but it had not worked. There may be many reasons why it did not work, you would be wise to try to find out if you can. Just because it did not work before does not mean it could not work this time. It could be that technology today makes it easier to implement this time around. It could be that staff felt they did not have the training or relevant skills when they last tried it but they feel differently now. It may simply be that staff could not see the benefit or advantage of it before but could regard it differently now.
So I guess what I am saying here is that just because something has been tried and failed before, does not mean that it would not work now. Your school may, or indeed may still not, be in a better position to implement your innovation.
One of the drawbacks, naturally, of re-introducing something that may have been tried before, is that you get the ‘grumpy old men’ complaining that ‘it is nothing new’ or ‘it has been done before and failed’. You just have to convince them that it’s worth giving it another short, perhaps working in a different way. … good luck with that!
The Desire to Improve
I feel that the ‘desire to improve’ is perhaps what lies behind most innovative teaching. Whether you want to improve the way a school works or approaches something, whether you want to change the way you work or just to get better results and more engaging teaching, this desire to improve is possibly what drives most of us to innovate.
There is always a risk that you might not achieve what you desire but balancing this risk with the possibility of planned improvement is what will take you forward.
Of course, one of the most exciting aspects of innovation is that you sometimes achieve results you didn’t expect or you exceed your highest expectations. Maybe this too could be a driver for some innovators. It is certainly a beneficial aspect where it does occur but don’t let the fact that it may not occur in your innovative project stop you from being innovative.
What prompted me to look into innovation in education was the pleasure I felt in meeting people at a recent conference who were willing to go out and develop innovative products or practices in education. Especially at a time when economics and politics appear to be against innovation.
It seems evident to me that there are people who what to improve and continue to develop learning and teaching within schools and may support and praise goes out to them.
In this short post I have suggested various ways in which an individual or a school could be innovative in education. I hope it is clear that you do not have to be on the ‘cutting edge’ in order to be innovative. Of course, there is nothing wrong in being on the edge, if that is where you want to be.
You can be equally innovative by introducing something that has been tried elsewhere but is ‘new’ to you or your school. You can be equally innovative by introducing something that you or the school has tried before but had rejected, so long as you feel it has a chance of succeeding this time.
What seems to underlie all innovation would seem to be a desire to improve. Even in times of economic restraint, it seems people want to improve, and there can be nothing wrong in that!