If you are looking for innovative learning, don’t rely on a GPS

I recently spent a week in the Bay Area with a group of colleagues researching innovative learning. We visited half dozen schools, took in the Exploratorium, stopped by IDEO, the Stanford D School, Apple’s Executive Briefing Centre, and attended the Nueva Innovative Learning Conference. The learning was immense. Our pace was fast. The time was limited.
We saw great learning; we saw learning that we do better. After much reflection, I am confident we possess the same innovative spirit here. The question, how do we build upon it, to grow it, to innovate the innovators if you will? image by By Jean Marc Cote 

Common language

Innovation takes many forms and individually we all hold our own unique understanding of it. This is good, for diversity is a key to innovation.  Methods may vary, speed is relative and success is not a given. It is the learning during the process that we are after. We need to start with commonality by creating a “common language.” It will provide clarity, inspiration and direction. The definitions will need to be simple enough to grasp and apply, yet thick enough to ensure cohesion and fluidity. Any tweaks, augmentations, or additions made must be made known to all our innovators. Without consistency and communication, no organization, large or small, can maintain or scale innovation.

Growth mindset – rethinking risk

We need to focus on improvement instead getting it right. We need to work to promote learning as a whole process with multiple answers that lead to better questions. Students who understand this are more likely to work towards improvement.  Simply urging students to take a risk is not enough. Risk inherently implies danger or harm. We need to create a culture that distances ourselves from risk and embraces growth. Learners should not need to ask for permission to take action on a task or a project. Yes, assessment will need to be rethought, just remember take small steps but dream big.

Collisions of people

Diverse groups of learners solve problems better and faster than homogeneous ones. Traditionally educators are grouped by subject area, yet we need and exit our comfortable departmental bubbles. By engineering diversity while channeling accountability, we will see action and learning across the organization. Everyone has an idea, a suggestion, or a thought. Often it is never offered. Worse, those who do contribute are rarely empowered to action it. We need to create collaborative environments where people routinely share their ideas. We can build open offices, communal kitchens, team rooms, and cafes. Yet, this only gets us so far. Leaders, at all levels, will need to promote, model, and celebrate collision to build a growth mindset culture where our mantras are “what if” and “yes, and.”

Tasks & spaces – research

Innovation exists in our schools, no dispute. Let’s find it, look at it, ask lots of questions of it, and leave it alone. If it isn’t broke, why break it? There will be plenty of time to tweak or scale it later. It’s the data we want, specifically from the question, “how did these educators innovate with current tools and in their current space.” Educators are quick to champion innovation, especially if they had this tool, something extra in their room, or could access a Makerspace. We get it! You want stuff to innovate. Yet, we as educators cannot wait for the school to formally come up with a plan to change the tools or space available. Channel your inner MacGyver and start by changing tasks, being creative available materials, and leveraging the right tool for the task. If we do, every room becomes a Maker Space.

Showcase & celebrate

Showcasing hard work brings validation. With validation, new inspiration emerges, commitment can be renewed, and moments of reflection often come to light. Celebrating exam results got us this far. From here, we focus on the process of the learning. Successes and setbacks, they all need to come to light. Leaders, educators, and learners alike need to be apart of creating our growth mindset. Highlight it in class. Mention it at the water cooler. Entertain with it at school gatherings. Write about it on your blog, newsletters, or in your favorite medium, Yes, it is easier said than done. Yet it is crucial to success.

Seeing it through – chutzpah

Innovation was always around. We just conveniently ignored it. Our challenge is making and sustaining it. Yes, other challenges will emerge, yet how do we not ignore innovation again? We build it into our workflows. We continually come back to our common language for guidance. Its continued use and discussion keeps us moving forward. As learners change, new collisions of ideas will occur. Both educators and learners will depart and arrive, we need to be ready to receive them, guide them, encourage them, and even get out of their way. Tasks and spaces will continue to be questioned, tweaked, and at times completely scrapped. The conditions for innovation will never be ideal, yet they will always be optimal if you let it.

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