Innovation…First steps

learning from experts

Paul Johnson, G4 teacher at our school, is modeling being an innovator during his class Genius Day. He wanted to learn how to make tortillas better. So he invited the experts in – a parent from a different class and her daughter – to teach him the secret to making better tortillas. While he did that, his students enthusiastically continued their own projects.

“The first step in teaching students to innovate is making sure that educators have opportunities to be innovators themselves.” -Suzie Boss, Bringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World

George Couros, in his book The Innovator’s Mindset, defines innovation as “a way of thinking that creates something new and better.”

Don Wettrick, in his book, Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level has created an Innovation Class in his school and he did it by being an innovator himself. He insists that his students each have a mentor to help guide them through their projects. Learning from experts outside of the classroom is a key to success.

As teachers we need to facilitate the connections between students and experts – those who share the same passions.

How might we burst the bubble and create collaborative learning opportunities between students and experts?

 

wood cutting

movie makingpaper folding

Embrace the Shake

I think we all find ourselves saying, “If only I had…” (time, money, ability…), “then I could…”

In reality, our constraints can be an essential element to our creativity.  A perfect example is Phil Hansen who,  in his TED talk, shares how developing an unruly tremor in his hand kept him from creating the pointillist drawings he loved. He ended up quitting art for three years before he learned to ’embrace the shake.’ And then he learned to create within the confines of his limitations.

He bids us to “harness creativity through limitations” rather than simply quit because of them.

If nothing else, you’ll love seeing his ingenious and innovative approach to creating art via constraints:

Dare to Disagree

I read this great blog by Dave Secomb on Inquire Within about Why Creativity is Important in Education. He references Ken Robinson‘s work in Out of Our Minds.  He explains how innovation is a process that requires three parts:

  • Imagination – The power to bring to mind the things that aren’t here in the present.

  • Creativity – Applied imagination. The process of putting your imagination to work and having original ideas that have value.

  • Innovation – Putting original ideas into practice.

This is a very clear description of words we are using in reference to education every day. Innovation is a word we hear a lot of lately, not only in education but in business and one’s daily life.

I  believe one more important aspect of innovation is the ability to think together.

This video (Vimeo, 2:44 min.) on thought leadership explains the process that leaders might go through to spread innovation.

Thought Leadership

It suggests that working with and supporting the critical mass is the best place to put one’s energies. Trying to convince the people who are not interested is a waste of time. Working with the people who already support the innovation, while it may be fun and energizing, is like preaching to the choir. In order to reach the ‘tipping point,’ work with the critical mass.

The critical mass, however, has a very important role in innovation. They are the ones who must dare to disagree. They are the ones who will listen critically and question the innovation. They are open-minded yet feel a responsibility to move cautiously.

In her TED talk Dare to Disagree, Margaret Heffernan  tells an inspiring story of Dr. Alice Stewart. In the 1950’s Dr. Stewart discovered a two-to-one correlation that children who died of cancer had mothers who had been x-rayed while pregnant. The data was statistically clear yet the information “flew in the face of conventional wisdom.. And it flew in the face of doctors’ idea of themselves, which was as people who helped patients, they didn’t harm them…The data was out there, it was open, it was freely available, but nobody wanted to know. A child a week was dying, but nothing changed. Openness alone can’t drive change.”

It took 25 more years before doctors stopped x-raying pregnant mothers. Stewart never stopped fighting. She had a fantastic model for thinking. She worked with a statistician, George Kneale. Kneale saw his job was to prove Dr. Stewart wrong and to create conflict around her theories. Through this, he was able to give Stewart the confidence to prove that she was right.

It’s a fantastic model of collaboration –thinking partners who aren’t echo chambers. I wonder how many of us have, or dare to have, such collaborators. Alice and George were very good at conflict. They saw it as thinking.

Abraham Lincoln had similar leadership skills (from Drive, by Daniel H. Pink, p. 203):

  • He was self-confident enough to surround himself with rivals who excelled in areas where he was weak.
  • He genuinely listened to other people’s points of view, which helped him form more complex opinions of his own.

As someone who will often ‘hop on the first carriage of the train’ when it comes to educational innovation, I appreciate that I work with so many colleagues who are my thinking partners. Sharing and discussing conflicting ideas is  a powerful way of collaborating.

Thank you to all of you who collaborate critically and respectfully. It is definitely helping me form more complex opinions of how  to revolutionize education.

Watch the full TED talk of Dare to Disagree here: