Thursday, February 19, 2015

How do we encourage innovation?

With all of the things we have to do as educators- no matter what our job is: teacher, administrator, coach, counselor - it's difficult to push forward and innovate. For example, Illinois educators have a few extra confounding variables to deal with: 1) PARCC (AKA: "Illinois' laughable implementation of" PARCC) and 2) the increasing demands of a poorly thought out and potentially damaging piece of teacher evaluation legislation (PERA).

Throw all of that on top of the usual bullet train that is a typical school year, it's hard to find the space to do things differently, to really innovate. In this Ted Talk, Steven Johnson ask the question "Where do good ideas come from?"

Obviously, the talk is worth watching (and animated is always better in my book!), but Johnson makes a couple key points worth noting. Unfortunately, if you're in education, these may be slightly problematic.  

1) Often innovations come from "the slow hunch" that takes 10 or 20 years to develop. They need time to incubate, in Johnson's words. Why is this problematic? When do we have time to go to the bathroom, much less cultivate a hunch that might lead to a big insight or innovation?

2) Hunches need to collide with other hunches. You have to cultivate systems that allow those hunches to come together and turn into something greater than the sum of their parts. Why is this problematic? Well, part of it is the time issue to develop the original hunch or hunches. Mainly, it's also our tendency in education to work in isolation. We try to mitigate against this with structured time to engage in Professional Learning Communities, but is does this really "create a space where ideas can mingle and swap and create new forms"?

Steven Johnson closes this talk with the statement, "chance favors the connected mind."

That's why we're excited for a new opportunity in Professional Development that we're unrolling starting next year: The Innovation Incubator.  We're encouraging teachers to apply to become sort of a "forward scouting team" for innovative ideas that can be used to demonstrate what can be done with our population, in our facilities, with our resources. 

Focused on interdisciplinary, team-based goals, the group will use an action research focus to push the envelope and (we hope) re-imagine what learning looks like at Leyden. 

Basically, we're going to let this team try things, with the understanding that some of them will work and some of them won't. I think that we're going to find some teachers with an innovator's mindset, and hopefully we can create the conditions to maximize those qualities. 


We are aiming to create that situation where there's structured time and space to allow innovators' hunches to develop and collide with other hunches. Some details and expectations about the team are: 
  • Interdisciplinary Team with a 2 year commitment
  • Daily common planning time built into team members' schedules
  • Use of video for reflection
  • Peer walkthroughs/rounds
  • Monthly support from coaches, periodic day-long collaboration time throughout the year
  • Meet as a PLC most late start Wednesdays
  • An expectation of sharing both within and outside of Leyden
  • Mandatory summer training in action research and design thinking

Here's to hoping that innovation is going to favor these connected minds!

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