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Maybe I’m In an Innovation Echo Chamber

I like shiny things, change, being uncomfortable, and doing something about it, but this movement isn’t happening where I am.
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A confession: I get really excited when I read about innovation in education and innovative teachers.  I get excited about things like the CEA’s What Did You Do in School Today? initiative.

Some people turn cartwheels when the latest real estate stats come out. Not me - I’m an education innovation junkie and I can stand up and shout it from the rooftops.

Ron Canuel’s question, “Why Do We Need Innovation in Education” is just the sort of thing that gets me pacing the floorboards.

When I thought about writing this post, I also thought a lot about definitions, and how mine might be different than yours. What is innovation??

MAYBE innovation is using and experimenting with new tools that can improve the education experience for students, teachers and parents. The new tools might be technologies – like blogging platforms as a way to promote literacy, communicate with the world outside the classroom, and build a digital profile in a world where that online footprint is a critical piece.  The new tools might be better-designed spaces that respect learners’ physical and psychological needs, their safety, and environmental considerations. The new tools might be platforms for collaboration & self-improvement; for establishing real-time/anytime Personal Learning Networks beyond the standard monthly meeting format so that learning happens when we’re ready and when we have time, and with people beyond our usual geographical reach. These platforms are open and available whether you are a parent, teacher, or student. They are available whether you’re in rural B.C., inner city Regina, or suburban Montreal.

MAYBE innovation is putting new, good research into practice. Taking what we now know, and reflecting it in the way we perform our jobs, treat professionals, and design programming for our learners. Things like emerging neuroscience that begins to unlock the mysteries of the teenage brain, and reveals the specific needs of learners at that critical age. The impact of exercise on the brain, and how that relates to the amount of time that students spend moving vs. sitting in a day. New thinking on creativity, and how to encourage it. Language acquisition. Careers and guidance support that opens up futures rather than closing doors and building silos.

MAYBE innovation is being open to hear important new voices. I think about the student voice – the actual “user” who sits through the day of classes, uses the resources provided, and is ultimately accountable for his/her performance. The community voice – where there may be a goldmine of perspectives, skills, and services that can support schools and teachers and students when resources are scant, and when they have something important to contribute. Integrating the voice of new creators beyond the established school network of publishing giants, where board resource decisions can be cemented during yearly golf tournaments. And last but not least, the voice of the new teachers who come out of their training fresh, ready, and keen, and are then quashed by stubborn school structures and superiors who feel threatened, resistant, and unwilling to listen.

If we know that the current standardized testing methods don’t lead to student achievement and engagement, then why can’t we change it? Why can’t we knock tired, old paradigms off their lofty pillars and try something new? 

MAYBE innovation is planting the seeds for the future and setting up systems that push the status quo, that force questioning, and that intend to disrupt the things that we know don’t work because they aren’t working, aren’t meeting the needs of students, and we need to do something better. If we know that the current standardized testing methods don’t lead to student achievement and engagement, then why can’t we change it? Why can’t we knock tired, old paradigms off their lofty pillars and try something new? We don’t have to accept what we have the power to change, if we think in terms of innovation and openness. Why do we feel that we are locked down? If we really take a look at the world and how our learners will make a place in it, we can’t resist change to protect our egos and our jobs and to avoid feeling uncomfortable because the change is really hard.

I like shiny things. I like change, movement, innovation, being uncomfortable and doing something about it. A good friend of mine recently changed jobs, surprisingly, because he wanted to feel that discomfort that comes with new learning, like an itch that can actually be scratched by inserting oneself in a totally new environment.

I spend a lot of time on Twitter, looking for information and connecting with people. I am in an echo chamber, but that’s how I like it, because I see such good stuff and I feel part of a movement that takes innovation in education seriously. I see my colleagues and connections wax extremely elegantly in blogs, in presentations, and in conversations.

However, it takes me away from reality and what is actually happening, and then I get frustrated when the new, the change, the movement isn’t happening where I am. As a parent I am involved, and as a child, sister, niece, and friend of teachers I feel like I have some inside information, but I have deeply invested myself in education and in dedicating my work to pushing the agenda.

We ask students to approach a math problem from a variety of positions, to explore, to estimate, to talk it out, to work together, and to use new strategies. Can we, as parents, teachers, and school leaders, tackle what needs to change in our school system in the same way?

We ask students to approach a math problem from a variety of positions, to explore, to estimate, to talk it out, to work together, and to use new strategies. Can we, as parents, teachers, and school leaders, tackle what needs to change in our school system in the same way?

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CC photo by: cayusa

So in my real life, my own kid brings home homework like writing a sentence a day. Memorizing a list of spelling words – a giant project that will require me to spend $50 in supplies from the art store and the hardware store. Things that suspiciously look like busy work.

In my digital life, I see teachers setting up Minecraft servers, or writing about their students’ digital portfolios. Connecting globally on collaboration projects.

In my real life, I have an agenda book to sign every day. In the past, I’ve been unable to email a teacher because that teacher has decided not to learn how to use email.

In my digital life, I see systems that bring together schools, students, and parents in communication portals. I see teachers who participate in weekly Twitter chats to enhance their knowledge of their subject areas.

How do I support innovation in my own backyard without being a nag, and a thorn in someone’s side? Do I have the right to push as I do? To call people out? To ask why, and why not? Why do I have to keep asking, and asking again why Alfie Kohn’s research on homework doesn’t manage to trickle down into the practices in schools, and not get an answer, and home come the worksheets?

Why can schools and teachers opt out of innovation?

When will we see an end to the disparity?