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Why Innovation Matters in Education

I teach a graduate-level course called Innovation in Education. The first reading I assign my students is an article written by Mike Schmoker titled “Why I’m Against Innovation.”


This confuses students. They have enrolled in the course because they are excited about innovation and their first assigned reading is this article. The truth is, I think Schmoker makes some good points. There are many educators who chase the latest bells and whistles because they feel really cool, but they may not make an impact on student learning. Bad innovation is not helpful. It isn’t even innovation.


Which doesn’t mean I completely agree with Schmoker’s argument. I think innovation is vital in education. I ask my students to read the article because:

· I want them to understand the good parts of Schmoker’s argument.

· I want them to see why educational innovation often gets a bad rap.

· I want them to think about why innovation in education matters and draw their own conclusions.


This post is what I don’t give my students at the beginning of the course, my own thoughts about innovation in education. It matters. Here’s why:


Diverse students need diverse educational support


Different students need different solutions. The problem with best practices is that they are best for a specific student in a specific context.


Learning is such a personal process and our students come from so many different backgrounds. While I absolutely believe that we can learn from the success of other educators, I also know that the best teachers are consistently testing and tweaking processes for improvement. Sometimes they get really radical and try something completely different. And sometimes it awakens learning for a student that couldn’t connect with what was working for other students.


It is important to remember that what is today labeled as best practices was once an innovation. Innovation seeks better ways of teaching and learning. There were many who thought the candle was a perfectly adequate source of light, but thank goodness that Edison wasn’t one of them.


Learning is more than standardized tests


One argument of the traditionalists is that “success” around student learning has already been demonstrated by known methods. This success is generally measured through standardized testing.


As the founding principal at the Patiño School of Entrepreneurship, I think this narrow version of measuring student achievement misses all of the other benefits of innovation in education. My students scored well on standardized tests. Interestingly, not once have I ever heard those scores mentioned by a parent, student, community partner, or graduate as the way they measured the impact that our school had on their lives.


There are impact metrics: The percentage of our graduates who serve in leadership roles is phenomenal. But the true metric is who the students become. They are public speakers. They are pushing the envelope in careers and college right out of high school.


This is true success, not a lucky byproduct of an alternative way to teach the basics. Educational innovations can support learning in a more robust and meaningful way than is currently embraced by the K-12 system. Honestly, I would trade some points on the standardized testing scale for more of these kinds of outcomes. And these outcomes are born from educational innovation, not past practices.


This ain’t your grandma’s world/economy/future


The modern world requires more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. I will try not to head down the rabbit hole of the industrialized educational system. The bottom line is that students will need to do more than what was required in the past. With the present rapidly becoming the future, it is going to require innovation.


I understand that this has been implemented poorly in the past. We can’t just buy the latest technology and put it in classrooms without purpose and vision. But we can transform the system and innovate to improve outcomes and learning for students. We must.


Impacting education for all


Most innovation happens in small spaces. This is as true in education as anywhere else. Some schools are doing phenomenal things. Some classrooms are innovation centers. How do we scale these innovations?


This is the question that keeps me up at night. I have been a part of some of these small spaces and felt what they can do for kids. But I have also walked into classrooms where learning is stagnant. It is painful.


I have tried to distill some of the successes we had at Patiño into replicable processes that can support innovation at any school. This is what lead me to start NewSchool Innovation Consulting and build out innovation frameworks like Design Thinking PLCs. The goal is to help schools adopt processes that promote innovation.


Not only can innovation work in education, but it also has to. The tried and true won’t be enough for our students moving forward.

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brett@newschoolinnovation.com  © NewSchool Innovation Consulting

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