In January 2013 Taupaki School took 11 staff members to ICOT13 in Wellington, New Zealand.  There were two standout breakouts for me around future thinking and innovation for learning.  This blog post is a summary of the notes I took from those two sessions.

The terms ‘white space’ and ‘innovation’ were thrown around a lot and I think defining them is a good place to start.  I believe that ‘white space’ simply means time set aside to innovate.  I don’t think the term innovation can be prescribed by any one person.  It will look different to different people and so we need to co-construct the interpretation (what it means to us) and the process we use to go about innovating.

When I think of innovation I think about creating something that fulfills the need of an individual, group or society as a whole by using what we know in different ways to create something new.  It is not just doing something better (innovation comes from the Latin word innovare and means to change).  So that could look like a teacher discovering that a particular way of assessment doesn’t work, then deciding to create a new way to assess that particular activity.  Or in the classroom having the students come up with new ways to solve sustainability problems.  For example using the 3d printer to make a watering system for our garden. We could have children developing their own apps or using our 3d printers to make our own robots.  Teachers could be creating IP and on selling globally

Innovation to me is about cultivating creativity, discovery, play, exploring and experimenting, trial and error and rapid prototyping.  This is a great TED talk by Tim Harford talking about trial and error, persistence, smart mistakes and rapid prototyping:

Some of you may be thinking why the need to cultivate innovative thinking in schools. Shouldn’t we be focusing on the basics like numeracy and literacy?  Simon Breakspear talked about the shift from static, linear traditional thinking to the need to have an entrepreneurial mindset for students, teachers, boards and policy makers.  In our ever changing fast paced world we (all of us) need to develop this mindset.  Creativity lies at the heart of innovation and I believe that schools need to go beyond the basics of numeracy and literacy in order to prepare our students for their future.  Tony Ryan says that when you innovate, you future-proof yourself more effectively.  You will initiate trends, rather than adopt them after everyone else has already done so.

So what? What now?

As schools we can think about how we create and roll out new ideas and initiatives.  An example of this is the old process of PD where we get inspired at conference, then start a committee, write a detailed plan, get a budget and finally large-scale implementation – in many cases, it just doesn’t work out.

Simon Breakspear talks about the shift to a rapid prototyping approach where we have smaller scale models and lots of them.  He suggests that we don’t try to squeeze more out of existing system, rather discuss how to create radical shifts through creating new models. This would involve Boards creating an environment that is conducive to allow an innovative culture to flourish.  Boards need to make sure strategic goals are aligning with the initiatives proposed.  They can also think about ways to ensure there are opportunities for teachers, staff and BoT to explore outside their own fields through networks and adopting a Creative Commons policy.  School leaders and teachers could take a leaf out of the design-thinking book, for example, Simon Breakspear talked about using the design process from to develop an entrepreneurial/innovative mindset.

Developing a growth mindset is, I think, a critical component to being able to innovate. Bosse Larsson reinforced my thinking that one must view failure as useful tool in the learning process.  There needs to be high effort and persistence in the face of failure.  We need to create safe practise fields so that we all can fail (lots) and not have it mean that we are dumb or not achieving.  Effort needs to be encouraged and acknowledged in the classroom (everywhere for that matter).  I love this quote from Josh Groban “When people tell me that God has blessed me with the gift of music, you’re damned right I get offended, I did not practise hours a day for eighteen years to have my success attributed to a myth”

Developing a hacker mindset is something we could explore.  So instead of ground up (create from nothing) go top down, breaking into (finding workarounds) to existing systems.

I think a collaborative mindset underpins the mechanics of innovation.  Knowledge in silos won’t allow an innovative culture to develop and thrive.  Authentic sharing of knowledge means putting yourself out there and that can be challenging!

What next? Ideas, ideas, ideas…..

What does innovation look like to you?

What process to innovate could you try out?

Further reading: