Last year, I had a teacher friend from another district contact me about issues they were having with their administration regarding their use of flexible seating. This teacher was a math teacher, and had been using their flexible seating for some time and seen improvement in student performance. Yet, they were consistently knocked on evaluations because the admins felt the flexible seating hindered the educational environment, creating inequity. However student scores and morale were up...
I wish this were an isolated incident of innovation being pressed down, but sadly, I hear too often of teachers and administrators taking innovative risks and being shut down, ignored, or- as in this case- essentially punished for the attempt.
And the same time, I read blogs and articles and Twitter feeds championing the need for innovation. I hear administrators challenge teachers and fellow admins to take risks and try something new.
But if this is the common culture of education- why do we not hear about it, see it, or celebrate true innovation?
It starts with the definition. When I hear innovation, I think something that has a significant impact on campus or classroom culture, instructional practice or design, or technology. The key for me being SIGNIFICANT. But I have seen things as basic as a new review model labeled as innovative. For me, innovation is transformative, and a new lesson or worksheet is not transformative. It may be a risk, or a new attempt, but it is not innovative. Yet for some it is. And the issue is that it is difficult to determine which definition is the one being used on your campus. I think it is important to define for your audience what innovation means TO YOU when you define something as being that.
Experience Carries More Weight
Innovative educators are in line behind those with years of experience. Sure, we complain about the dangers of the tenure track at higher ed, but we reward years of experience before we reward QUALITY of experience. An innovator may pack into five years what another has stretched into fifteen, but when promotion to leadership time comes, it is often years that trumps what happened in those years. There is a subtle undercurrent in education that it takes time to develop the craft. " You have to earn it." And you have not earned it until you have done it a long time."Others have worked for it longer than you." I work with some amazing young teachers with less than five years of experience that are breaking new ground in education daily- and I know of veterans who have not changed lessons in years, maybe decades. We need to credit good ideas, whether they come from new teachers or experienced ones.
It's Who You Know
Recently, a new teacher made the news in our area for creating a student run coffee cart for her special education students. She knew a local celebrity, that celebrity shared the teacher's post, it caught media attention and off it went. That is great for this teacher, but that idea has been present on my campus for several years. My wife has done the same thing with her students in the past. I can think of about a half dozen other similar programs that never got that attention. This is not shared with the intent of belittling the innovation of this teacher but to point out that a local celebrity shared innovation and word got out. Are you someone who has the power to share innovative teaching- and if so, are you?
We are Scared
Change is terrifying. As teachers, I think we sometimes fear innovation because it may mean a change to our status quo. Dynamic new ideas and individuals can mean upheaval- too much too fast. That is a real concern, and I in no way advocate change for change's sake. But if there is innovation that brings sound practice, increased student performance/engagement, and more effective/efficient design- why should we fear it?
"Howdy, I am Time and I am an educator's favorite reason for why things do not happen."
Time is a legitimate issue- I get it. I am teaching six periods with four preps in three distinct content areas. I lead a debate team, a TED Ed Club, and a psychology club for my campus. I am on the SEL Team and CIP Team. I am the district head of a new program that is servicing five campuses- none of which I am on. And I still find time to innovate. I do not say this to brag, but to say that we make time for what we care about. If you care about innovation- you will find a way to seek it.
Finally, there is a mindset that innovation is just not important. It is the flashy buzzword of the moment. After a while, we will return to the tried and true methods- we think. Some educators dig in their heels for many of the reasons above and refuse to change.
I cannot change their minds. And neither can you.
You control your thoughts and actions. Unfortunately, many educators find themselves working under leaders who have a mindset block against innovation. Or perhaps worse, they have set the bar for innovation so low that they cannot even see the true innovation when it happens. To these, I hope that you can find a tribe of educators to connect with- to inspire and encourage and to ignite your passion to change.
But do not give up. Keep striving, keep building.
Never stop innovating.