Innovation: Thinking and Doing the New Normal

If we can figure out how to bring innovation to school, we can offer students the training ground they need to practice authentic problem solving, conduct research, engage in genuine collaboration, and build the other skills that can lead to breakthrough ideas. Just as important, such projects will give students opportunities to investigate questions that they care about.

Whenever any discussion of 21st Century Learning arises, critical thinking,
creativity/innovation, collaboration and communication are put forward as skills that students must develop to ensure present and future success. However, as Suzie Boss rightfully asserts, “there’s a gap between saying we must encourage innovation and teaching students how to actually generate and execute original ideas.”

In Boss’ book, Bringing Innovation to School, Emily Pilloton, the course designer of Studio H (a hands-on immersion elective in the design and build process with an emphasis on local problem
solving) briefly expands upon this thinking with a specific example from her ‘start-up’
experience:

The biggest surprise was that students didn’t have ideas coming out of their ears . . . I found myself with a roomful of learners who lacked confidence to think boldly. I don’t blame them. Their academic environment has not rewarded them for having crazy ideas.  A big hurdle was getting them comfortable enough to raise their hand and propose something. I had no idea that this was going to be such a big deal.

But for our students, it is a big deal. Boss explains:

It’s not enough for students to have ideas “coming out of their ears.” They also need to know what to do next to put a worthy idea into action. Teaching students how to innovate is about both thinking and doing.

If we’re serious about preparing students to be innovators, we have to “help them develop a new set of skills and fresh ways of thinking that they won’t acquire through textbook-driven instruction. They need opportunities to practice these new skills on right-sized projects, with supports in place to scaffold learning. They need to persist and learn from setbacks [note Boss' deliberate avoidance of the term failure]. Innovation doesn’t happen without deep commitment . . . it requires individual effort along with effective teamwork and often involves equal measures of passion and persistence.”

In Bringing Innovation to School, Suzie Boss not only talks about ‘the why’ but also details ‘the how’ to turn schools into idea factories. She urges us to think about what innovation and, concomitantly, powerful learning should look like. She provides us with real examples of innovative schools and in doing so, like George Couros, discounts the notion that it cannot happen in schools stuck with the traditional four walls (comforting news for us in Vancouver!).

As I delve further into Boss’ book, I find myself asking what learning to innovate means to me in my role as District Principal – Specialty Programs. I am beginning to think that in terms of innovation, Specialty Programs should be experiment labs:

They should be places where educational research can be played with and developed into inquiry-based learning programs that not only impact students but also provide a road map for the District: “this is what innovation looks like to us, this is how it engages students and this is how you can implement facets of it in your own classroom.”

They should be the training ground where students and staff can take risks and experiment with new ways of doing school.

They should be Programs of Influence that provide the how to behind their respective school’s conceptualization of powerful learning.

They should, above all else, help students discover their passion while engaging the passion of teachers.

Innovation and Specialty Programs: it’s not just about new ideas.

It’s about moving things forward so that positive change occurs.

It’s about a small school impacting learning in the larger school that it calls home.

It’s about “setting the stage for more good things to happen, reshaping a system to a new normal.”

Let’s think about this new normal, let’s contextualize it and let’s get doing innovation together.

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2 Comments
  1. So much of what we do comes back to what do we want to see, why do we want this, and then creating the conditions for this to happen. Well said, Gino. I look forward to hearing more about your impact in your new role. I also have ordered this book so hoping we can continue the dialogue around this.

    • Thanks for the response, Chris.
      From the “what” to the “why” to the “how/doing” you’re absolutely right.
      Glad you ordered the book – once things slow down from school start-up, I’ll put an invitation out to join in a reading group.

      And . . . I too look forward to what you come up with this year – really enjoyed your slideshare on social media in schools.

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