Are We Becoming Innovation Complacent?

“It’s OK to be where you are right now.  It’s just not OK to stay there.”

This phrase resides above my desk.  I heard it a long time ago at a table of educators — it really resonated with me.  I have had it as a daily reminder every day since then.  It guides me in how I observe, what I ponder and why I plan:

  • We’re all at a particular place in our learning — and, it’s acceptable to be there for the moment.  After all, we all have a different history and experiences in life.
  • However, it’s not OK to remain in that spot — we need to keep moving forward.  Continual improvement needs to be our goal —  our reason for thinking, learning and improving in our practice.

We Need to Grow, Learn and — in some cases — even Reinvent Ourselves

For public education I believe this to be particularly true.  To remain a relevant societal enterprise we need to be constantly evolving — and that begins with the people who work in the system — every last one of us.

But changing what we do can sometimes be met with resistance.  Change can be particularly daunting, even downright frightening for some.  One of my all time favourite reasons to resist change goes something like this …

“We’ve Always Done it This Way.  We Don’t Need to Change.

If it’s Not Broken Why are we Fixing it?”

Really?  I actually believe in being open to the possibility that there might be a better way to do something.  I suppose that there are always some cases where change isn’t a good thing — maybe something isn’t really “broken” and it doesn’t need to be changed — maybe.  But, if that was always the case — or even most of the time was the case — we’d all still be:

  • old desk 3

    Nostalgic for Sure, but Not Where we Want to be in BC

    filling the oil lamps on the wood burning stove

  • ensuring that our horses had enough oats to eat while we went to school,
  • while we sat our desks filling our ink wells before getting out our slates.

Death, taxes and change — my version of life’s  inevitable realities.  If formal education is to remain relevant and necessary it also needs to continually reinvent itself.  We’re doing a disservice to our children’s current and future needs if we aren’t always asking ourselves what we can be doing better:

  • How can we get better at engaging students?
  • How do we broaden the learning experience beyond the walls of the classroom?
  • What new programs would better meet our students’ needs?

I belong to the EdCanNetwork .  This Canadian educational organization provides great access to current educational research as well as providing outstanding professional development opportunities for educators.  EdCan helps us sift through the almost bottomless well of educational knowledge that is out there in the world.

If you go to the EdCan WEBSITE and type “innovation” into their search field, your search results in 13 pages of ‘hits’  — a large number of articles, research papers and editorials on the topic — and this is only a sampling of what’s out there in the ‘edu-sphere’.   It speaks to the reality that innovation is “in” these days.

We've always done it this way

Change may be Difficult – But isn’t it Essential for Improvement?

If you’re in education you’ve heard many experts toss around terms that can make you cringe.  You know what I mean — the jargon that is used so often that you start to feel a big “sigh” welling up within you when someone mentions them.  One of the terms that do it for me is “21st Century Skills”.  I mean seriously — stop saying we need to develop 21st Century Skills — we’re already 17 years into the new century.  And I’m pretty sure there are skills that may still be important from the 20th century.  Instead, what about using “Relevant Skills” or “Flexible Skills” or “Critical Skills”?   Those seem more appropriate to me.  See?  Even I can get a tad agitated.

I worry that “Innovation” may be coming one of those educational terms that people start to roll their eyes at when it’s mentioned — that we are becoming complacent with innovation.   And that would be truly unfortunate.


It’s Both the Place we Want to get to and the Means by Which we Want to get There

innovation spin

 Innovation is at the Center of Improvement

Innovation needs to be the central axis on which education turns.  To remain one of the preeminent educational jurisdictions in the world BC needs to continue to innovate — its curriculum, the way we deliver it, and the way we assess student progress.

If the WHY of public education is the need to build a society of well-informed, articulate, critically thinking and compassionate citizens then the HOW we do that is through being Innovative in our practices.

Innovation is the Engine that Drives us Towards Student Success

One of my goals as Superintendent is to encourage a culture of risk-taking and an understanding that it’s OK to not succeed at something the first time you reach beyond your comfort level.  Sometimes failing at something is necessary before we “get it right”.  By encouraging risk we are also encouraging success and improvement.  I’d much rather take the odd step backwards if it can also result in two or three steps forward.


Cute but not Very Useful

Let’s try new things, new courses and new programs — and let’s not be afraid to let go of some things from the past, things that no longer make us better or serve a useful purpose — although the puppy at the right who’s using an obsolete abacus is pretty darn cute.

Let your imagination run wild with the possibilities of where we can be 5, 10 or 20 years down the road.  Take that risk on a new teaching unit, a new assessment strategy, a new course, or that new field experience.

And remember, it’s OK to fail.  It’s just not OK to stay where you are right now.

2 thoughts on “Are We Becoming Innovation Complacent?

  1. Dave,
    I had a 37 year career in education – teaching, helping teachers, and being a school administrator watching “Innovations” come and go. I have come to the conclusion that the word itself is dangerous in the public school system.
    The centre of education is knowing what works for individual learners and doing it well.
    We are still doing the bits that were done 100 years ago, we have to heat the buildings, we have to get the kids to school, we have to make sure they have the tools they need for learning and we have to make sure they’re being connected with learning in a productive way.
    The tools and methods have changed in our society and we constantly need to learn how to use the tools and methods that constitute being current in our world.
    I agree strongly with the idea that risk taking and trying other ways of doing the job is vital to the enterprise but don’t give it the kiss of death by calling it “Innovation”. Maybe call it “Professionalism”. Doctors, lawyers and accountants are required by their professions to stay up-to-date.

    As to the abacus, it’s still a big risk for the puppy.


    • Dear Silverbear,

      You make some interesting points, especially the one about keeping individual students at the centre of what we do in education. I agree with that completely. And while I don’t believe in change for the sake of change, I do believe that innovation is critical if we are to remain current and relevant in today’s world where content is ubiquitous and trying to find our way within it is essential. The ability to relate to our students who are immersed in a digital, face-paced world means we can’t rely on many of the old ways of the past.

      I’ve noticed that the innovations that don’t ‘stick’ are those ‘programs’ or ‘tools’ that really don’t make anything better. They often replace one action with another one without making any significant improvements — and that typically will be the ‘kiss of death’. We don’t need new tricks or toys — we need change that improves education and learning.

      You could be correct that ‘innovation’ isn’t the best word to use, but I still believe what it stands for is an important part of our educational landscape.

      Thanks for your comments.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s