Is Innovation Possible in Education?


"For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate." ~ Margaret Heffernan


The definition of innovation from Merriam-Webster is: the introduction of something new; a new idea, method or device. Innovation in education seems to be a popular topic with boards of education. But what is innovation really? For many, the word conjures up images of computers and technological advances, which is partly true. Innovation, however, can manifest itself in many ways. It could present as alternative furniture, unique school and classroom design, or even alternative and creative timetabling. The difficulty is that the organization looking to innovate must have a culture that promotes and celebrates innovative ideas. In other words employees must be free to create new ideas and to think differently. Without this culture the concept of innovation will only be ever be a "buzz" word. 

George Couros has written about innovation in education and describes what he sees as the 8 characteristics of an innovator's mindset. It's an excellent description of what is needed from an individual standpoint when it comes to being an innovator. You can read his post and see the amazing sketchnote from Sylvia Duckworth here. As I read, and re-read George's post I couldn't help but feel something was missing. I tried to put myself into a position of having a new idea or method of doing something in the context of my job and envisioning what the process would look like from start to finish. That's when it hit me. Although George has a great list of characteristics of an innovators's mindset, how does an idea get implemented to the point where it can be considered innovative? How does a school district support innovation? There are so many policies, procedures and bureaucracy that is't hard to imagine an innovative idea actually coming to fruition. That doesn't mean it can't happen, but the culture in the organization is so important. We often hear about Google's 20% time and how innovative ideas come from their employees to use that time for their own projects. It works because the culture created at Google has been established to promote innovation. My guess is, if Google didn't have this culture embedded in the company it might not be where it is today.

I recently read an article called "From Vision to Reality: The Innovation Process" which outlines nicely the innovation process, but more importantly the blockages to innovation. They are:

  • Can't do that
  • That's stupid
  • That's not in the rules
  • It's against our policy
  • We don't have the budget
  • We don't have the time
  • We'll never get it approved
  • That's not what they're looking for
  • You've got to be kidding

I'd love to hear your thoughts on innovation in education, and maybe even an innovative idea you have for you school or classroom.





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  • carla

    Hi David,
    I think innovation is key to preparing ourselves and our students for the unknown future and its technical advances. I found Sylvia's image to be a great summary of what innovation entails. However, upon reflection I would like to add that in number two, I prefer to see problem finders seek questions and answers as opposed to one question with one answer.
    If I were to describe a skill set for innovators I would include able to build trust among colleagues as well as able to take risks. Having an innovative mindset means the confidence to try new things in the trust that the risk will be accepted regardless of the outcome. Something new cannot become regular practice unless it can be tried out first. If we always continue to do things the same way we will get the same results. Being a reflective practitioner means making learning decisions based on one's observations and data (qualitative or quantitative); sometimes those decisions are on the outskirts of curriculum parameters, may not follow policy to the letter, and may require some rule bending. I believe a qualified professional can confidently make these innovative decisions with largely positive results. Being a part of a school culture where there is enough trust to freely be innovative will yield learning results especially if that innovation is generated collaboratively.

  • David

    Hi Carla,

    Thanks for adding your thoughts about innovation in education. I love your point about Sylvia's sketchnote and point number 2 where looking for questions and answers opposed to just one question, one answer. There is a lot of value in what you say as there are potentially many questions and many answers when you are trying to apply some innovation in your classroom or school. But as you say trust is so important in order to yield results.

    Thanks again

  • Aviva (@avivaloca)

    David, I totally understand what you're saying here. I've heard all of the concerns listed shared before, and I think that they really do block innovation. Maybe before coming up with innovative ideas, we need to start tackling this list of concerns. Maybe an innovative mindset needs to start with a growth mindset. Do we all have one? If not, how can that change?


  • David

    Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars

    Aviva, I agree. The one thing I really, really dislike is when the answer to a question or suggestion is "NO". Why can't it be, "That's interesting, let's explore it", or "Let's look at it a little longer". There is nowhere to go when the answer starts with no.

    Thanks again!

  • Hi all.

    I sometimes wonder if decisions are made based out of fear. With so many rules and regs nowadays a simple "NO" can be a CYA for many.

    Having said that, we keep telling students to take risks because good things come of it. So....?


  • David

    I think you're right Brian, the easy way out is NO and a way to CYA :o