Thursday, 12 October 2017

How do we truly cultivate innovation?

I see Innovation and the ability to innovate as the absolute key to improving our current education system, and as educators one of our key roles.  To use what we know about children (the learners in our classrooms now, not five or ten years ago) and to develop approaches that benefit them as learners and human beings.

I believe one of the most soul destroying comments you can hear from an educator is "we have always done it this way, it works, why change it?" Or, "we bought the book, tried it and it doesnt work."

It is my belief that this fixed mindset pervades our current system and one of the main reasons for it is the constraints created by the constant pressures and requirements placed on us by the powers above.

Let's face it, educators are time poor and the last thing you want to do when under huge pressure is re-think how you do things...I mean re-thinking, reflecting, completely changing how we do things is a huge amount of work in itself.

I get it.  When we started using a more reflective professional inquiry system as the main part of our appraisal, it felt like I was ticking boxes.  I was being compliant and doing it because I had to.  I didn't see the value and because I was time poor actually resented this process.  I see many people in the same place as I was with professional inquiry...I mean we are constantly reflecting in our head and acting on these reflections, why oh why do we need to spend a good hour writing them down?

However I have come full circle on this one, and now absolutely love blogging, reflecting and sharing.  I am constantly making connections, reading back over my old thoughts, looking closely at the approaches I am inquiring into most (Learning through play and maths) and seeing and understanding links that are being made.  In fact I would hypothesise that my approach to learning through play would never be as far on as it is if I was not constantly reflecting on and sharing my journey.  The questions I am asked by those sharing in my journey inspire me to find out more, to explore further, to trial new ideas, just so I can share some more. 

Number Agents is more successful than it has ever been because I am constantly sharing, discussing, being observed and questioned.  I use this sharing as a way of challenging myself to innovate even further on this amazing way of teaching.

And so what do I believe would be a culture that would encourage this level of innovation and sharing in every educator?  Because believe me, I am no different from you, I am an educator.   I choose to be brave and share my journey...and it is brave, because my ideas and approaches are like my babies, I put them out there, always weary of the judgement from others that may ensue.  The amazing thing is that all I have felt is support, yes there has been professional questioning and probing, but when we innovate we should also be open to this challenge.  It is this challenge in fact that grows our innovations even further.

I believe the culture that is needed is the one that I have been lucky to be part of and to have helped create.  For innovation to happen freely, educators need other pressures taken away from them. 

Professional inquiries (even though they may morph and change) will not happen between February and December in a year and be neatly tied with a bow and ticked off.  Truly reflective, constructive and ultimately innovative inquiry that leads to transformational change has no time constraint, but as a rule of thumb I have always given it roughly three years.  I will use Number Agents as an example here...

1. Year One - Exploration of Mantle of the Expert and development of my own abilities and understandings.  Lots of research.
2. Year Two - Inquiry into Mantle, how it works in a junior room.  Lots of practical experience.
3. Year Three - My innovation - Development of Number Agents in its beginning form as a result of my inquiry.
4. Year Four - Consolidation of Number Agents with an extra focus on oral language.
5. Year Five - Oral language inquiry spins off into further work on play-based learning
6 Year Six (present) - Play-based learning with deep reflection on brain development and special interest in growth mindset.

As you can see each of my inquiries have led to another related inquiry, out of this it took me three/four years to come up with the innovative approach to teaching maths that I now call Number Agents.  It is my belief (from my ten years as principal) that real innovation, change and consolidation takes at least three years and educators should be given freedom to explore one idea, or several connected ideas over this time span at least.

Currently I liken many in our education system to fad jumpers. They establish they have a weakness in their school and see a fad to cure it, something they think will work for them, they put in little of their own groundwork but are expecting it to be perfected and consolidated in a year.  They put pressure on the teachers in their schools to be up to play and are then puzzled when they face resistance??  If there is one thing I have learned over the last ten years of principalship, it is that if anything is to truly be embedded and make a difference for our children, the whole team needs to be along for the ride, in order for this to happen, there needs to be belief, trust, time and understanding.

I have found the spiral of inquiry to be useful in my inquiry process and to guide more schoolwide inquiry.  The concept of it being a spiral really suits my way of thinking.


It is my belief that if we truly want to be innovative educators and to have a school full of these we need to give the gift of time.  A year to find out about it and work out what may be going on, a year to try it and a year to consolidate it...then in the fourth year, don't be surprised if true innovation happens!  To put it simply, if we are to truly innovate, we must truly understand.  And yes, I believe each and every one of you is capable of great innovation, and perhaps you are doing it day to day without even knowing it. 

Educators will not be in the right mindset to innovate if we are constantly pushing them to learn and implement new ideas. If we want true innovation we must create an environment that gives freedom, trust and time.  Without these things, schools will continue to fad jump, continue to be time poor and ultimately continue to do things as they have always done them, because they never have enough time to truly trial new ideas, to experience the beautiful journey of deep reflection and the innovation that happens as a result.


My challenge to you is time you have an idea, a hunch, a thought, take the time to share it with others :)

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