December 13, 2019

Change…Improvement…Innovation

I presented at a recent education technology conference in Istanbul, Turkey. My presentation Teaching/Learning/Technology asked participants to examine the desired student learning outcomes they were wishing to gain from increased technology in their schools.

I serve on the board for the Learningforward Foundation. The board provides scholarships and grants to individuals and groups of educators engaged in professional development. While working to update the mission statement and focus, the board is studying the concept “systems of transformational professional learning.”

I am consulting with a central office staff person who was recently asked to serve as a director for school improvement. In discussions with her I suggested she seek a different title, “Director of School Improvement and School Innovation”.  My reason is I am wondering if the current school structure and systems weren’t created to meet the needs of some of the students. Therefore improving the existing school can’t meet their needs. Innovation may be required.

Innovation-based System Reform….How to Get Beyond Traditional School  states that current school reforms proceed on the assumption that learning can be significantly better without school being significantly different. (Download full report here)

“There is talk about innovation, but innovation has for years been heavily constrained by the notion that new models must look like, feel like and perform like the traditional — and especially by the notion that success and achievement will be judged against the definition of quality used in the past.”

 The report suggests that three elements of traditional school: (a) its form of organization, (b) its approach to learning and (c) its concept of achievement, operate to constrain the efforts at economic sustainability, better student performance and social equity.

Notice that these three elements are present in my experiences shared at the opening of this blog:

Are we looking at technology not impacting the structure of the school day, year, content, learner and teacher roles?

What does professional development look like if it is transformational?  When does my learning transform me? Does it mean “signing in” and counting hours?

Are we missing building on students’ strengths by limiting what is considered successful learning?

Innovation requires dedicated leadership as it usually means dealing with innovative designs existing along -side the traditional model. (Similar to the dual roles of teachers I described in an earlier blog  where they are expert implementers of best practice and innovators creating learning opportunities). When innovation is present in a building or system it often brings “complaints” from other teachers, parents, or students because it’s not the SAME.

The reform report notes these understandings about innovation. See how they apply to your work:

#1 True innovation is a search for something new and ‘different’. So, research-based innovation is a contradiction in terms.

#2. ‘New schools’ are a platform for innovation.

It is always easiest to innovate when starting new. It is hard to make traditional school markedly better or significantly different.

#3. Autonomy lets the school be the unit of improvement. Success with learning requires knowing the students, and only the people in the school know the students. This is why so many experts have so long said the school is logically the unit of improvement. Autonomy often challenges existing system’s elements.

#4. The innovative will not seem better, at the start. Innovation will require patience and understanding. The truly different usually does not seem impressive in its early years — which, again, is why it is so important to measure the new by its own rather than by conventional standards.

I believe these four understandings would be valuable to review when teachers are asking students to innovate as learners, when principals are requesting innovation from teachers to meet individual student learning goals, and with school administrators who are asked to innovate to create successful schools for teachers and students in a community of historic failure.

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