Innovation is the “Buzzword” We Need in Education Right Now

I was talking with a teacher in my school district yesterday who said, “I just don’t know if we should try this again in class. It seems like lots of people online have already done it, and I read a few blog posts that really criticized it.”

I asked her, “Well, how did it work for you and your students the first time?”

“It was great,” she said. “The kids enjoyed it and want to do it again. But a lot of people think it’s all fun and games, not necessarily any substance to it.”

I asked again, “Well, what do you think? Did it have substance and purpose in your class?”

“Yes, the kids were engaged and excited to learn. It was fun but also had purpose.”

I left the conversation happy we had talked it out, but also upset that others who were not in her class were trying to dissuade her from trying something new (and in her mind innovative) with her students. In fact, I was a bit angry.

I’ve seen a lot of blog posts, articles, and videos where people are deciding what’s innovative for everyone. I’ve seen even more calling innovation a “buzzword” and something that is overused in education. And while I respect the opinions of everyone sharing their thoughts online, I’m a bit tired of the judgment being placed on teachers and school leaders and people trying to do innovative work.

There seems to be a big misconception, that if something was done before and it didn’t work in one classroom then it’s not innovative. Or if something has been done for five years already and it’s being done “everywhere” then it’s not innovative.

Geoff Mulgan’s definition of innovation is simple:

New ideas that work.

How can “new ideas that work” be a buzzword we don’t want to “overuse” in education?

If you’re a teacher, instructional coach, tech coach, or school leader who is trying something new to help your kids and your students learn better that’s awesome!

Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s not innovative, and you shouldn’t try it, and it’s already been done before.

We seem to forget that there’s this giant continuum we are all on. Some of us jump on at different points, and some of us experiment with different things, and some of us don’t know everything that’s been done before in other schools.

And that’s ok. In fact, it is better than ok, it is our reality. We aren’t all at the same place, and never will be. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?

Innovation Continuum

As George Couros so aptly points out:

“We need to figure out how to do what is best for each child, each classroom, each teacher, each school, and every learner; that will always look different. Innovation will and should be personal. We have to be open to the messiness of this process.  If we can help empower and connect our students, teachers, and schools so they can learn in better and more effective ways from each other, they will be making the definitions.”

It’s About the People Doing the Work

If you’re a teacher and want to flip your classroom and you think that’s going to work for your students, then do it and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If you’re thinking of doing Genius Hour or a 20% project but you’re seeing people online say, “well that’s not enough”, just do it. What your students are learning and creating will prove them wrong.

If you want to use a new app, new tool, or something that people are saying is just another “fad” go ahead and experiment.

If you think it’s going to work in your classroom, with your students (that you know best), then go and do it and don’t let them tell you it’s not innovative.

If you want to use pencil and paper (or cardboard and duct tape) in new ways then go and do it because that’s what’s innovative and may work for your situation.

There’s not some governing board that gets to decide what’s innovative and what’s not innovative. There’s not some expert out there that gets to say “well that won’t work in your classroom” because they don’t know your classroom. They don’t know your kids. They don’t know your circumstances.

I wish we would spend less time debating what’s innovative work and more time celebrating what’s happening in our schools right now this very moment.

Because there is so much good happening.

Don’t let others sway you from trying something new in your class or school. Don’t let the opinions of people who know better stop you from doing things that might work.

If it’s a new idea to you and your students and it works to make the learning experience better or different in your class, then it’s innovative.

The only people who get to decide what’s innovative are the people who are actually doing the work. Those that are teaching, leading, creating, sharing, and learning.

Innovation is the Buzzword

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  • We should always celebrate the work that teachers do, but do we need to only use terms taken from late capitalism? How does calling any idea that’s ‘new to you’ an ‘innovation’ help to recognize the history of pedagogy and the profession?

    Thanks for lifting up teachers!

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Hi Benjamin, thanks so much for this comment. I do think it is important that we not only focus on “next practices” but also best practices. I wrote a post awhile back about this called, “The Sharks of Education” that hits on your point. Not only should innovation be “new” but it also can/should be better or different. New is not enough (often worse). Thanks again for pointing this out!

  • […] While the answer to this question continually changes and grows, there is first the initial challenge of defining the term “innovation”. I appreciate the simplicity of the  definition coined by Geoff Mulgan, and presented to me by A.J. Juliani in his post, Innovation is the Buzzword We Need in Education Right Now. […]

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