“Innovation” is a buzzword in education right now that gets tagged to a lot of practices that aren’t necessarily innovative but more of what education technology guru Adam Bellow calls “iterative.” They’re not entirely new and unique practices but instead mirror what has been successful in other places and are modified to address needs or situations specific to those engaged in them. Iterative practices are not to be interpreted negatively in all cases; in fact, we typically like to employ research-based practices which demonstrate success, thereby implying that they are indeed iterative with good reason.
“Innovation” has no clear attributes and can often have a crazy or unusual appearance to those not authoring such ideas and practices. Some forms of innovation are absurd and reveal products as absurd as their conception. Nonetheless, in a world in which change is inevitable, it is important to have members of a group who are willing to be avant-garde such that they are purposeful in doing so. In my realm of influence, I look for these in schools and hope to be innovative in my ideas and practices, such that others will take risks and emulate willingness to try new ideas and strategies that may produce more desirable results.
One of the greatest challenges to the innovators is that they too can become enervators. To provide some clarity, look at the definitions of these words in juxtaposition:
Innovate: “to introduce as or as if new”
(“”Innovate.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.)
Enervate: “to reduce the mental or moral vigor of” or “to lessen the vitality or strength of”
(“Enervate.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.)
The energy and passion with which I pursue innovative ideas can be somewhat intimidating to those whose paradigm will not allow for such brazen cliff-jumping, and so I must temper my excitement with some of these ideas in which I now try to couch innovation for myself and others. For those whose default is not to innovate, it can be overwhelming to be in the presence of innovators without support. Even for innovators, it can be enervating to innovate alone. For this reason, I propose these simple strategies for encouraging innovation in a school.
More Champions than Cheerleaders
This is not at all intended to denigrate the role of cheerleaders in the metaphorical sense or the literal sense that these individuals support others. Cheerleaders are sometimes essential to motivate and exhilarate those for whom they are cheering. We all appreciate the cheerleaders for their very vocal, present, and energetic approach to giving encouragement; however, cheerleaders alone are not typically sufficient to sustain innovative efforts.
Champions are not simply the victors, as many tend to think of them. A very important definition of champion uses the term to indicate a role of an advocate or defender. Innovators need to know that someone is fighting or advocating for their innovative attempts while they launch into innovative battles. Most innovators are more likely to encounter far more conflict, difficulty, and naysaying than their complacent counterparts.
For example, an innovative educator is likely to face ridicule by colleagues who are far less interested in changing and improving their practices. Others face difficulty in their implementation of innovative practices because they lack confidence or a sense of how to follow through with their initial plans and ideas. We must champion these individuals to persevere and reflect on their innovative attempts. We must be willing to defend their choices to be innovative even in the face of conflict.
Resources beyond Reservations
What hinder some innovators are the reservations they impose upon themselves based on the inaccessibility of resources, either material or human. To alleviate this hurdle, we can provide space, materials, and connection to willing co-partnerships to promote and sustain the innovative projects and ideas. We can’t allow a lack of anything to hinder purposeful innovators, and we should seek to develop them and their confidence by demonstrating our commitment to their efforts in this way. An unfed innovator is likely to find his or her own food or may sink to complacency. Just as a fire will die if resources and fuel run out, a teacher’s innovative fire may die without resources.
Seldom do I simply shut down an idea due to a lack of funds; I generally try to ascertain more information about the need for the funds and suggest that they may not come and the timeline for procuring them may not be short, but I am willing to fight for funding if I see that the purpose is to improve conditions of learning for students and the passion for doing so is authentic. Most innovators seek ways to work around funding restraints and seek other funding possibilities, but they need to feel that they have license to do so, and many need to be encouraged in this.
Time to Try
Another common hindrance to innovation is a lack of time to innovate. Different institutions have ways to provide time for innovators. Most innovators seem to find the time outside of the school day because of their passion for innovating; however, educators also need to be given opportunity to innovate with colleagues and students without fearing repercussions for not accomplishing some other objective. Though after-school programs for students and professional learning with other adults may be one way to accomplish this, teachers with innovative ideas should be given some freedom within the regular daily schedule to innovate, such that the focus and purpose of the innovation is consistent with goals for the students and school. Many times, an innovative practice will result in more productive use of time even if it is initially an interruptor in the daily schedule.
Freedom to Fail (with intent to reflect and refine)
Innovators need to know that if they fail, they won’t be punished for their efforts. Failure can not be a destination which allows an educator to settle, but a place for reflection and refinement which leads to improved practice. Repetitive failure without reflection is a sign of an absence of purpose and a reliance on improvisational methodologies. Failure that leads to complacency or despondency is not to be encouraged since it does not promote positive development, nor does it lead to more innovation. The potential for failure must not inhibit an educator’s interest in innovating further, but failure must be a point for a type of reconstructive surgery, and this may or may not always include additional innovation.
Sometimes innovation followed by undesired results in one area reveals that better-known and more trusted practices are more effective, but such a “setback” should not serve as a definitive reason to preclude future attempts at innovation.
Owning without Groaning
Teachers who innovate need to know that they can take ownership of their ideas and practices and share them with others, but when they begin to feel discouraged by others not “buying in” or receptively adopting their ideas, they should be reminded that innovation can not be forced and they must be willing to accept that their innovations, though well-suited to them, may not be appropriate for others at that time.
I am a firm advocate of innovation, such that it serves the purpose of growing opportunities and success for the educators and students of my school; nonetheless, even the best intentions can unwittingly result in enervation if certain supports are not in place. As I continue to walk with interest in innovating and innovators, I know that innovation doesn’t fit every circumstance and situation, and sometimes the tried and true methods are used so often because they effectively serve the intended purpose. Nonetheless, invention and innovation that seek to solve problems and encounter issues from new perspectives for the sake of developing our students into more introspective and creative learners are always welcome at my school.