Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.    

Theodore Levitt

Innovation in education can and will take different forms. Leadbeater (2011) refers to five options for strategizing change. Personally, when I read Leadbeater’s ideas, I find I am forced to take a much larger view of education, as if helicoptering above to see it in the grander global context. Some of these strategies identify tactics we already use but others require us to stretch our thinking. His five strategies for innovation are summarized here. Are you using any of these at your school?

  1. Develop practices for the future. This is different than best practice (think of it as “next practice”) and is about creating a way of learning specifically designed for the future.  Others would take it one step further, where practices intentionally are designed to disrupt the status quo and transform existing educational practice. Leadbeater cites Deming’s quality circles in Japan as a concrete example. In education he gives the example of Cramlington Community College and their “learning to learn” lessons and “blended learning” in the U.S.  Are we teaching for the future?
  2. Extend innovation beyond the singular classroom to the entire schoolhouse. In this instance, it is not just classroom pedagogy that shifts but whole “classroom design, timetabling, curriculum assessment, student voice.” Models in the private sector include Google, 3M, Apple and Pixar and in the education sector, High Tech High. These organizations include a core set of values (e.g. “making insanely great products”), non-hierarchical collaboration, innovative capacity honored across the organization, strategic hiring, and incredibly high standards (including peer-to-peer reviews). Which characteristics are evident in your school?
  3. Create educational innovation as an interconnected system or platform of complimentary services. Think of Apple’s iPhone or iPad and its complimentary iTunes service. The two work together. In education, we embrace this notion in small ways when we look to outside experts, volunteers or work experience opportunities for students. Are there scaled up ways we could implement the platform notion? Are there existing partnerships that could be leveraged to provide greater system-wide support?
  4. Design innovation through alliance building. Create a social network that is committed to creating innovation as a social change movement. This is bigger than the platform approach and is best understood as, “a contest between an old order and a new one.” How does an educator’s use of social media and twitter fit into this context?
  5. Establish an innovative culture that changes the current ideology. “It means encouraging people to adopt a different point of view and different behaviors to see products in a different light.” Apple used this strategy when it created the anti-corporate message: buy our products and become part of the anti-establishment. Nike was not so much about great shoes as it was about “just do it.” So what are the ideas about education and learning we need to change? “If…innovation in education is about confronting and dislodging entrenched ideologies about learning,” we need to have some agreement about those entrenched ideologies. Are you having this conversation? And how might this dialogue change what we do?

Do we have any experience using these strategies in our schools? Have we identified the gap between what we have and what we need? Can we open ourselves to a more collaborative model of innovation with those inside and outside the system? How can we deploy the five strategies to leverage a future for all of us? What is your next step?

This post is adapted from Charles Leadbeater’s article Rethinking Innovation in Education: Learning in Victoria 2020 (Draft January 2011). Thanks to Superintendent Mike McKay for sharing this article as one of his assigned readings for the Global Education Leaders’ Program.

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