When Innovation & Best Practice Collide

The Rubik’s Cube — who didn’t have one when it was all the rage back in the 1980s?  What an innovation — certainly one of most unique puzzles or toys I had as a youth!

rubiks cube 2As the story goes, Hungarian sculptor and professor Ernő Rubik invented the device to teach his students about the mechanics behind 3D movable parts.  He soon discovered that he had a pretty cool toy on his hands and with that impetus, the Rubik’s Cube made it’s international debut at some European toy fairs in early 1980.  With sales at over 350 million units to date it is widely assumed to be the world’s top selling puzzle game … ever!

If toy stores had not decided to take a chance on this innovative new toy we never would have had been enamored with its unique challenge.

What if we treated the introduction of the Rubik’s Cube like we sometimes treat innovative ideas in education?

The Rubik’s Cube certainly wasn’t ‘Best Practice’ when it was invented.  Other toys worked just fine — Care Bears, GloWorms and Cabbage Patch Dolls were all popular.  And the Rubik’s Cube didn’t appeal to every child or adult — it certainly wasn’t universally adored.

So … since The Rubik’s Cube was a brand new idea, not loved by absolutely everybody, and certainly not extensively tested before coming to market … there’s no way that we should have introduced it.


We can sometimes fall victim to this same misplaced logic in education.  The argument being that if a new idea may not benefit everyone we’d better not use it.  Or, that we need absolute definitive proof of an idea’s success before trying it — that we should demand extensive testing before even considering a new teaching approach, assessment idea or reporting format.

Waiting for the proof of something’s success is actually missing the point. 

If we don’t have the culture of being able to try new things in education we’re never going to get better.  Things may be beneficial for some students and maybe ‘not-so-much’ for others.  My point is that to get better we need to encourage innovation, not stifle it by demanding definitive proof of its success before we even try it.

A recent blog post by educational innovator George Couros spoke to this issue:   Every “Best Practice” in Education was Once an Innovation. 

Couros: “Demanding proof stalls creativity. New ideas need room to breathe, and a good imagination will always be ahead of the best evidence.”

George asserts that if we never allow new ideas room to grow and potentially even fail we will never see improvement.  He’s got an excellent point.

dog learningWe sometimes talk about ‘best practice’ in education like it’s a done deal.  It’s not.  Best practice is only best until we learn something more or try something new that might make our schools even better places to learn and grow.

 Couros: “Everything we have ever deemed as “best practice” in education was once an innovation.”

Advancements in neuroscience actually provide us with a great reason to innovate.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, our increasing knowledge of how our brain actually learns is uncovering numerous implications for instructional practice.  The impact of this research on education is truly remarkable.

dog graduatingHowever, let’s not wait for brain science to lead the way in our classrooms.  We have the power within our own school district cultures to encourage innovation.  Our teachers and school administrators need to have license to try innovative instructional strategies … new programs … new courses … new assessments … new ideas.

So, go ahead and TRY —  we may end up failing some times, but that’s just another opportunity to learn and try again.

The risks we take today will lead to better student success tomorrow.


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