Innovate or Replicate?

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Innovation: Something new and uniquely useful – Asymco  1) the introduction of something new 2) a new idea, method, or device : novelty – Merriam-Webster

Transform: to change in composition or structure; to change the outward form or appearance of; to change in character or condition : convert – Merriam-Webster

If you hear anything positive about public school systems these days, it probably includes the term “innovation” or a derivative thereof – districts of innovation, innovation labs, innovative schools, innovative practices, etc.  Are innovative practices best practice? Once a practice has been deemed innovative, how long should that practice be identified as innovative?

After reading Kristin Anthony and Tim Klapdor’s posts this morning, I wonder if it’s innovation that’s taking place or is it replication of the innovative acts of others. Does it matter? If kids are making the necessary gains, do we care whether or not it’s innovation or replication?

Real innovation requires change… That’s where the complexity lies – it’s not about coming up with something new, it’s about convincing people to change. To let go of traditions and to trade in status, comfort and power from the old model to embrace something new and different. It’s for this reason that true innovation is exceedingly rare. – Tim Klaptor

Klapdor proposes that innovation requires change therefore time and retrospection is necessary to determine whether or not an act was innovative. In other words, you can’t just say you’re going to innovate; that determination is made later when the results are evident.

Innovations are therefore the most demanding works because they require all the conditions in the hierarchy. Innovations implicitly require defensibility through a unique “operating model”. Put another way, they remain unique because few others can copy them. – Horace Dediu

If uniqueness, change and reflection are necessary components of innovation, is your district or school actually innovating practices and transforming the system? Can novel, inventive or creative actions within a traditional education model lead to deeper learning?

If you read Dediu’s post and some of the accompanying comments (so many I couldn’t read them all!), you’ll see that several folks disagree with his take on innovation. Whether you agree or not, perhaps the focus should be on answering questions like these.

  • Why does innovation matter in public schools?
  • How will defining innovation lead to better school systems?
  • What steps can schools take to design actions that have the potential to be innovative – new, unique and a way to sustain necessary change?
  • How can we keep the focus on creating intentional, well-designed learning experiences instead of feeding a societal desire for something NEW?

What do these ideas on innovation mean for P-12 educators? I was almost convinced that this discussion/debate was not relevant until I read Dr. Max McKeown’s post on innovation and determined that some key elements he mentions will support guidance on this subject.

Based on my knowledge and experience as an educator coupled with the information outlined in this post, I believe the following might be useful during planning and implementation phases. Of course, I haven’t created a comprehensive guide to planning for innovation by any stretch of the imagination here, but this process might help start (or continue) a conversation and dialogue with your colleagues about innovation and system transformation.

  1. Define Innovation: What is innovation in P-12 education?
  2. Establish Need: Why do we need to innovate?
  3. Create a Vision: How will we innovate?
  4. Choose an Innovative Focus: Which area(s) do we need to focus on based on the evaluation of our need?
    • Process Innovation – new ways of doing something in the areas of instructional practices, professional learning, etc.
    • Organizational Innovation – new ways of people working together in the areas of teacher and leader collaboration within and across districts, professional development, etc.
  5. Measure Progress: How effective is the innovation?
  6. Adjust: When will we make adjustments and changes if we see that our actions aren’t producing the results we anticipated at the rate we need?
  7. Iterate: How often will we measure progress and make adjustments throughout the school year? How often will we cycle back to step 1?

After examining these ideas for some time today, I believe that the semantics of the term “innovation” matters little to the work of systems change for P-12 public schools. It doesn’t matter whether or not your school’s innovation efforts are categorically innovative as long as academic outcomes are improving at the right pace and kids are happy, socially successful and safe. Whether your efforts are innovative, inventive, creative or merely novel doesn’t really matter as much as designing a system that engages your kids in a meaningful, productive, thought-provoking and empathy-centered curriculum.

 

Keep Learning

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Photo Credit: Ann Davis 773, flikr

I’ve had a super time the past couple of days scouring the internet for free online classes or courses and have been pleasantly surprised. I’ve found everything from professional to personal offerings as well as mini courses, more in-depth courses, and even pathways to certification. Of course you pay for some of the more popular and in-depth offerings but many of the fees are reasonable.

I discovered that there are many self-paced options as well as facilitator- or instructor-led courses which take place at specific times throughout the year. I spent time this morning engaging in a few of the short, introductory, self-paced materials and not only have I learned about some things of interest, but the experience has sparked some ideas and creativity to put toward other projects.

For years, I’ve used YouTube as a resource for learning about new things or how to do things I’m interested in or need help with so I can finish a household chore or task at work. Needless to say, I’ve been on board with anytime, anywhere, any pace learning for my professional (and personal) learning needs for a while so this search for more free learning opportunities is a natural progression for me.

These days, my search goes beyond YouTube because I’m trying to determine whether or not to pursue formal learning by working on another degree. And, I need to make sure it’s the right field to pursue not only for the short term but also for any long-term plans after retirement. I have a BS, Master’s certificate and Master’s degree so, to be honest, I keep wondering whether or not I want to spend time and money for another formal education experience. I hope that by utilizing all of the free resources available through the web I can determine which route to take — formal education with a degree or informal learning with certification and badging options.

Based on this new information, I’m leaning toward developing my own learning plan and acquiring or developing skills that will help me to do work that I love and give me more options professionally. The trick is to have not only the motivation but the commitment to complete the learning plan and demonstrate proficiency. This leads me to wonder whether or not I could create a plan using the professional growth format I’ve used in this portfolio. Of course, it would need to be expanded, but the great thing about doing this would be the connection to and improvement of my portfolio pieces and blog. All of these components could work toward showcasing my learning and abilities.  Hmmm…. something to keep pondering. 🙂

I am anxious to participate in some of the live courses too so I can build relationships with instructors and fellow participants, but I plan to use the self-paced resources first. I’ll return to this subject in a future post(s) to update you on my decisions about which learning route I will take to expand my skills as well as my thoughts on my online learning experiences with these new resources I’ve found. I’ll also expand the list of course providers as I discover more options.

If you are looking for informal ways to learn and like self-paced and on-demand learning opportunities, take a look at the following sites.*

Coursera

edX

Udemy

Udacity

*I’m also looking at possible courses and learning paths on Lynda.com which is a fee-based service, but you can gain free access through some public libraries.  Check with your local public library, or surrounding county libraries that collaborate with your library, to see if they have a subscription that you can access.

Please leave your comments and tell me what you think about online learning, self-paced modules, free internet courses or designing your own learning plan. Thanks!