Sunday, August 21, 2016

Want To Be Innovative?

Want to be innovative? Then please keep it simple! Yes, keep it simple... focus on building relationships, solidify the "basics" and keep learning at the center. Innovation isn't about an app, a gimmick, a trend or "cool" way to do something we have been doing for years; innovation is about people, relationships and working towards the next (and hopefully better) iteration of ourselves.

Over the last several years I have read dozens (maybe even hundreds) of blog posts, articles and even books that focus on this notion of innovation. Aside from The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros, the majority of the pieces I have read focus on the thing or stuff one could use to be innovative in their school. Innovation, and particularly being innovative in schools, seems to be a goal for many; a "thing" that educators are trying to do in their classrooms, schools and districts. It is one of the "sexy trends" in education along with developing a growth mindset, allowing time for genius hour and launching a 1:1 device initiative (just to name a few). Trust me, I am not saying there is anything wrong with these trends; in fact, I have talked about them, written about them and even tried to implement them but the reality is, if we want innovation to be the norm and for our innovations to be sustainable we must keep it simple. We must slow it down and not focus on the stuff but instead focus on the people, the learning and the skills we want our educators and students to develop within our learning organizations. 

How do we make that happen? Keep it simple by focusing on these 3 things...

1) Build relationships! No innovation or innovative practice is going to be sustainable if we don't invest in the relationships within our school communities. Successful innovation is built on healthy relationships that are rooted in positivity, trust, and respect. Relationships that allow people to support each other but also push each other; relationships that make people feel comfortable within their space but uncomfortable at times when learning and growing; relationships that foster pride in the successes but also relish the failures as an opportunity to get better. Relationships are the key to innovation because if educators are invested in the people within their school communities then they will always be looking for ways to get better and disrupt the norm to help create an innovative space for themselves, the students and their families. Things aren't innovative; the people who create the "things" are innovative!  

George Couros- The Innovator's Mindset (from Pinterest)

2) Solidify the basics! During my time at #Cantiague, we tried many new things that we, ourselves, categorized as innovative. We tried Genius Hour, MakerSpace, BYOD and heck, we even started our own annual Innovation Day! Yes, we were willing to try anything and everything at Cantiague to make our school a better place for the kids, staff and families; but, that only happened after we built relationships and solidified the basics. For years we focused on basic literacy and math skills in an effort to empower our students and help them solidify the skills we felt they needed to be even more innovative (let's face it, many kids are more innovative before they enter school & then we squash it by breeding compliance but that is a whole other post). One of the most concrete examples is our implementation of writing workshop in Grades K - 5. We wanted our children to see themselves as authors in an effort to help refine their writing skills, enhance their craft and build their confidence. There were writing notebooks, folders and pens abound because we felt it was imperative for our children to be good writers so they could accomplish any goal they set for themselves. We wanted our children to be critical thinkers, creative, collaborative and strong communicators and we felt that by supporting their development as writers, we were giving them a way to accomplish their goals. Yes, we eventually started leveraging various digital platforms and tools (some would argue "innovative" resources) to enhance our writing workshop experience but we primarily focused on building a solid foundation. 

3) Keep the learning at the center! This one is quite simple - people who learn are people who have access and people who have access can be innovative. Ultimately, innovation is about creatively solving a problem; it is about looking at problems through the lens of opportunity; it is about disrupting the norm. Well, in my opinion, in order to be innovative, one must be informed and in order for one to be informed, they must be a learner first. Although we claim schools are about learning, what we know is that most schools embrace a culture of teaching first and foremost. Well, I think that by maintaining a culture of teaching, we are never actually going to be breed innovation in our schools; if we want innovation to be sustainable, we must shift from a culture of teaching to a culture of learning.

Yes, innovation can be an awesome and powerful process but don't forget that said process is about people and ideas not things and devices. So, if you want to be innovative in your space, keep it simple.