Why Don’t Schools Have Innovation As An Expectation?

Dear God,

I love my PLN. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to learn from some of the smartest people I could ever imagine (besides my brother, Rod, and my friend Becky, of course).  And thank you for helping me be smart enough to follow the links all of these smart people tweet and read the stuff they write.


The other morning I saw Mike Gras‘ tweet:  Coffee

I think he does this every day–but I’m not up that early and on Twitter every day to know for sure.  I just know that when I see it, a part of me feels like I’m watching a friend settle in to “hatch” with his coffee. You see, I know Mike drinks coffee and he tweets it as he’s joining the Twitterverse. I also know he’s a hunter and he taught me what a wild boar looks like about a year ago.  I know he still hunts the darn things and that I had no idea you could still do something like that in Texas-or even in the United States! He’s got great hunting stories to tell and he’s shared some of them online. He loves to grill/barbeque/smoke meat and sometimes shows pictures of what he has cooked or what he has found in a restaurant.  He also enjoys sharing good food finds with friends.

Mike is also modest.  He tweets things like: “It’s a funny world. So much of what I do I owe to bloggers that know little of their impact.” How true that is for all of us, I think.  Tonight someone tweeted a link to something Mike wrote. I clicked on it and found this gem from him:

One of Wikipedia’s definitions is “Innovation – a change in the thought process for doing something…” If  that is not done daily in the world of techies, I don’t know techies. Notice the definition does not include arguments for good or evil. That is up to the individuals involved. But the converse of that change is also true as it is instinctual in technology to solve a problem by jumping on a Web site and seeing what others have done. Ten years ago, this was copying. Now that same behavior has standing as “the integration of innovation.” The copier is the innovator. Something feels quite unnatural about that conclusion, but it is the way it is. What reputation I’ve gained as an innovator has been acquired by doing nothing more than presenting an environment where the classroom innovators can find expression for their own innovations and that of the charges they are to educate.

Not only does Mike abdicate any responsibility for the amazing things happening in his district, but he also gives others credit for his reputation. As I said, he’s modest. And Mike, here’s a blog that I hope tells you what an impact YOUR writing has on at least one other. Thanks for sharing your thoughts online!

“Innovation – a change in the thought process for doing something…”  A change in the THOUGHT PROCESS…

Recently I’ve been retweeting Scott Mcleod’s comment, “Our mental models are the biggest barrier to moving schools forward into a digital, global era.” Then I read Mike’s “the copier is the innovator” and that behavior is “the integration of innovation”.

I think back to when our county held monthly conversations among early childhood teachers and how that changed the daily practice in many classrooms. I remember when our central office folks organized visits between classrooms and then facilitated conversations among the observed and the observers to talk about the craft of teaching. I remember that many times what someone said triggered a thought in me that changed what I did the very next day. I remember learning from the genius of the and.

Innovation as a change in the thought process…

Where does creation fall into innovation and into our schools and classrooms? When are we to implement innovative practices and beliefs?  Where do we get the opportunities to talk to others and share ideas and thoughts that could lead to that “copying” and innovative thoughts/actions?

Teaching IS an isolated activity for many. Even when one is active online, the day is filled with isolationist practices. . . working with children gives a teacher no time to engage with colleagues around practices of any kind, much less time for the deep conversations that innovative practices would generate. There’s simply no time to talk about the craft of teaching.

Michael Josefowicz tweeted me last night and  suggested, “Suppose school districts allowed the great teachers to train…David Berliner says, in his work on levels of expertise, that the most expert practitioners are often NOT the best teachers of the craft, as they do many things intuitively and so can’t explain or describe why they do certain things.

The fact of the matter is that we KNOW what works for learners to learn. We know what behaviors of teachers work for learners to learn. Teaching is a craft, it is an art, it is a science.  So why, simply, don’t we do those things in the classrooms?  Why do we teach to low level multiple choice tests?  Why do we organize our classrooms around learning simple factoids that rely on memory alone?  Why do we watch group after group of students leave our classroom with no passion for learning and no care, pride or joy in the work they do in school?

Is it because we have no mental models for innovative ways to teach and learn?  Is it because we are so resistant to change that we can’t imagine any other way than what we have always done?  Is it because it is hard work and that takes more time than we have to give? Why is it that we don’t follow our hearts, our intuition and our philosophical beliefs in our classrooms and treat our learners and our own learning with respect, sharing autonomy and collaboration, continuity and change, conservatism and progressiveness, stability and revolution, predictability and chaos, heritage and renewal, fundamentals and craziness. (The green words are Jim Collins’.)

Why don’t we, as Jim Collins says, “Preserve the core and stimulate progress”–because we DO know how to teach. We just often get caught up in NOT teaching well, but teaching to the low level multiple choice tests. Our kids deserve the best we have to offer them, so why do we get caught up in other stuff?  Why do we not, as Mike Gras says, “present an environment where the classroom innovators can find expression for their own innovations?”

Michael Gras serves as technology coordinator for White Oak ISD in Texas.

One thought on “Why Don’t Schools Have Innovation As An Expectation?

  1. The line “the copier is the innovator” sticks in my mind as I read your post regarding Innovation As An Expectation. I learned to sew about 8 years ago and have enjoyed making outfits for my children. I particularly enjoy visiting pricey children’s boutiques, then going home to replicate things I liked for a fraction of the cost. On numerous occasions I have said “I can make anything you show me, just don’t make me design something myself.” I labeled myself as non-creative and skilled only in technical applications. THEN, God exhibited his sense of humor by placing this “left-brained” mathematics teacher in a one-semester-only position as our school’s Art instructor. ART…you’ve got to be kidding. So, I learned a lot about art and about myself and now I’ll get back to the point.
    I think I have learned that you do not have to be a copier OR a creator, you can be both at the same time. Throughout history, progress has been made by standing on what has already been learned and reaching further. As each new skill or invention was perfected, users have accepted it as commonplace and looked for ways in which it can be improved. In the present, we find ourselves with virtually all information just a click away, and a seemingly infinite number of people accessing it and improving upon it. Thus, the exponential growth of innovation is inevitable, and “copying” is the stepping stone toward new ideas.

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