Celebrating Innovation, Both Big and Small

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by Cea.: http://flickr.com/photos/centralasian/5433404872 
I was challenged today with the question: where will innovation be in five years time? With schools creating strategic plans, it was something being considered. What should be the goal, the aim and drive for the coming years. My thoughts jumped to ideas such as:
I could go on and in some respects I’d be repeating much of what I stated in my post on educational dreaming.
What was interesting though was that midst all this technological bliss, I was queried about the dependency on technology to drive innovation. +Sam Irwin asked:

@mrkrndvs does it have to involve technology to be innovative?
— Sam Irwin (@samjirwin) September 11, 2014

I must admit, I hadn’t thought of it like that. Of course it doesn’t, but how often do we start such conversations with the assumption that it does. To me, this was an interesting case of what +Clive Thompson describes as ‘thinking out loud’ in his book Smarter Than You Think. That is, the process where in sharing thoughts openly we gain access to a plethora of ideas inherent within the wider network of learners. As Thompson states, “Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.” This public audience not only encourages clarity and perspective, but it more often than not leads to a deeper understanding of the topic at hand.
This all got me wondering about innovation and how we often associate it, not only with technology, but with wholesale change. If we stop and consider the definition of what it means to innovate, you soon realise that it is not about size. As the Oxford Dictionary describes, to innovate is to “make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.” It seems fair to say that there are many habits and practises which are established by both individuals and small groups. Does this emphasis then on the big risk overlooking the small? How often are we missing the innovation and change that occurs each and every day everywhere?
For example, let’s think about teaching. There are many ways to improve practise in the classroom. Some possibilities include a focus on learning data, whether it be results or feedback, to identify specific areas for improvement and development in regards to pedagogy. Another possibility is a review of the structure of spaces and what sort of learning is being made possible. What is significant about such changes is that the onus is not just on the school or the team, but on the individual.
In addition to teachers, students too can demonstrate innovation and improvement in what they do themselves. This could be the choices that they make in regards to their work or it maybe taking ownership over certain aspects of learning, whether it be their own or as a part of a group. Although we may not be able to directly implement many such changes, basically because they are not our decisions to be made, it is possible to make them more possible and plausible by creating a learning environment that allows for them.
The easy answer is too often to push all these changes on staff and students under the banner of whole school change. However, this not only denies differences, but more often than not takes away any sense of agency from the individuals in question. Just as students come to us with a breadth of ability, so to do teachers. The one answer fits all approach often denies the fact that each and everyone of us is at a different stage of the journey and it is there that we must start. +Dan Donahoo best summed up this dilemma in his keynote at #ICTEV13 where he stated that ‘it takes a village’. This means that when we implement the idea, if it is still the same at the end as it was at start then we haven’t really listened. At the heart of all change and innovation is a dialogue with a wider sense of community and at the heart of dialogue is compromise.
In a recent session on instructional learning, Muffy Hand made a comment that really struck me, “teachers are the most important resource in every school.” Maybe then instead of always simply focusing on the big changes, we need to celebrate the smaller changes made by those at the coal face. Instead of waiting for the next piece of software or engaging initiative to be the cure to all our supposed problems, we need to reflect upon our own established practises with the questions: what am I doing and is best for the situation at hand. An interesting tool for stimulating such a discussion either individually or as a group is +Richard Olsen‘s Modern Learning Canvas. For although we maybe great, taking the next step towards excellence will be different for all of us.

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Aaron Davis

I am an Australian educator whose life has granted a breadth of opportunities. I also have a keen interest in ICT and 21st Century pedagogies. My current role finds me supporting schools with the integration of technology.

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