Paving the way for Innovation

CEO, One-to-One Institute

Many among us have been education transformers for years. We’ve suffered the slings and arrows, good, bad, and ugly.  We’ve witnessed progress and change even when we took 10 steps forward and four steps back.  I think we’d all agree that little has truly changed in the education ecosystem….even with the power of infused technologies.  Invention is elusive.

There are different words associated with this work.  Some are:   change agency, reform, restructure, and revolutionize. Most of what we’ve actually done is ‘innovate’.  We haven’t really ‘invented’ anything.  “Invention” is a creation of something or the initial launch of a new process or system. “Innovation” happens when someone enhances upon or makes a substantial contribution to an existing system, product, practice and/or service.

That’s really not ‘bad’ news.  Many innovations over the past thirty or so years have been life changing and disruptive for the better.  The iPod innovation was the creation of a usable bionetwork that integrated music, its delivery and a portable device.  Apple was not the first company to develop handheld MP3 players or allow for music to be played on portable devices. But it was the first to unify the three important elements.

IBM’s creation of the personal computer was the company’s top innovation. Its influence on the personal computer market was significant in systematizing the personal computer platform.  Many companies have emulated and innovated around that prototype.  Netbooks, Chromebooks, laptops, tablets are innovations on that theme but not inventions.  Interestingly enough, IBM’s personal computer was also an innovation.  The first PC (Project Chess) took components currently on the shelf and assembled them into a user-friendly, powerful, and less expensive tool.  Henry Ford’s Model T impacted the auto industry the same way.  People could afford this transportation alternative.

Innovation is an attractive venue but it must focus on high quality product and delivery of services to its constituencies.  Focusing only on the ‘buzz notions of today’ or the ‘technologies du jour’ is bad practice.  An education innovation is only successful if it is aligned with desired learner outcomes.  An unfortunate consequence of one-to-one programs was school leaders who purchased technologies without thoughtful planning or consideration of meaningful integration of the tools with learner outcomes and educators’ professional growth for necessary pedagogy shifts.

These considerations are important for innovations to succeed.

  1. The innovation should offer unique advantages for each learner and the overall school and district systems, processes and practices.
  2. The qualities deemed unique about the innovation must be built around the school’s/district’s mission, vision and strategic goals.
  3. Knowing and understanding the unique qualities of learners, research and best practices of teaching and learning are paramount.
  4. There must be an implementation plan that recognizes and ensures ecosystem resources, processes, systems, partners and stakeholder understanding.
  5. Define the value proposition and return on investment of the innovation.  Framing the concept/practice to demonstrate alignment with numbers 1 and 2 above should be in the forefront.  These must be clearly communicated through consistent messaging among stakeholders and extended community.  Underlying factors should be explained with feedback from constituents as to whether or not this innovation is worthy of being pursued.

The latter may sound like willingness to set aside the innovation.  But the fact is that anything requiring dramatic shift from current culture and practice, without understanding and support, may never leave the gate.

Online, blended learning, flipped classrooms, one-to-one programs, etc., are all innovations that are well seeded and nurtured in today’s world.  They are just the beginning or maybe the groundwork for an actual education invention…or should I say ‘intervention’.  Cheers.

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