This is true innovation, because it makes a difference to how teachers teach, and it makes a difference for learners as their success is amplified. It moves beyond change for the sake of change which rarely ever made any demonstrable difference to learners.
Often we are asked, ‘What do you do? How do you do it?’ These are big questions in education. What do we do? More correctly, what are the things we do? If we are savvy, if we are strategic, then there are a select number of things that we identify and intentionally do, they become who we are. This is where and how we innovate.
These things are a change in our behaviour and how we teach, or more importantly as Robinson points out in Reduce change to increase improvement (2017), they lead to improved learning outcomes, not just doing something differently. It is this point of difference, this improvement to practice and subsequent student learning growth, that is true innovation.
When a school, and the educators that are powerfully positioned to make it great, commit fully to the challenge of transitioning professional learning innovations into daily classroom practice, they do this through effort and persistence, which is supported by leaders. Importantly, innovation is given time and status so that it does not become lost amidst a barrage of competing initiatives, that whilst important, can lead to teacher overload and resistance. Trial and error, and specific and targeted peer and student feedback abound in such an environment, leading to the refinement of teaching practice; innovation, which is sustained, and student learning outcomes are enhanced. These innovations makes a difference to how teachers teach, and they make a difference to how successfully learners learn. It moves beyond change for the sake of change which has rarely made any demonstrable difference to learners, or teachers for that matter.
A feature of this definition of innovation is that the actions that it produces remain a feature of teaching practice, they become innate. The reason they remain a permanent feature is because they result in sustained and improved student learning outcomes, all of which are measured and monitored by skilled, data literate teachers for whom evidence of effectiveness is a key priority. The importance of measurement must not be underestimated. Innovation should, and must, make a difference to student learning outcomes therefore the prominence of data that regularly identifies student progress, and innovation effectiveness, must be defined and implemented as an integral part of any initiative. Without it, we are putting too much to chance, and quite frankly, learners deserve more.
How do we define innovation?
At this point, I think it important to clarify my definition of innovation given it is central to school development and student learning success. Rather than viewing innovation as the next shiny thing that captures the attention of the powers that be, one which is more often than not soon forgotten and gathering dust on the library shelf as schools move on to the next edutrend, I view innovation as a long-term commitment by educators and leaders to do something new; all with the intent to be more than they already are. That something is worth pursuing, is evidence-based, and through hard work, ongoing support and re-engagement, becomes a part of every teacher’s and the school’s educational DNA.
- is both learnt and earned, it does not come easy
- makes a difference for students and is measured by improved and sustained student learning outcomes
- is personal, unique to each school and attuned to the needs of learners and the capacity of teachers and leaders
- is dependent on the combined efforts of all members of the school community and is underpinned by expectation, clarity and consistency
I think it is captured best by our mantra at PEC:
Through determination, collaboration and innovation PROGRESS FOR ALL, all of the time.
Obviously, identifying the innovation is not the end, and whilst important and a process within itself, it is the continuation of your school’s ongoing evolution as you pursue success for all learners. Choose wisely, be clear about where your school currently is and where you wish to be. Do your research. Do even more research once the innovation starts to be trialled in the classroom so that you are sure it is having the intended outcomes, always with student success and engagement as your measuring stick. And always, always, hasten slowly, so that your critical mass are on the ‘innovation bus’!
I will finish with some words of caution. Beware the stumbling blocks that if not accounted for, condemn innovation to nothing but ‘we did that once, it was another waste of time’. Acknowledge and account for the workload demands that come with anything new – be strategic and think systems support, be sure to measure effectiveness as this tells the story of improvement and motivates innovators and finally, projectitis. Hold the line, innovation that leads to improved teaching practice and student outcomes takes time.
“When the school is organised to focus on a small number of shared goals, and when professional learning is targeted and is a collective enterprise, the evidence is overwhelming that teachers can do dramatically better by way of student achievement.” (Michael Fullan, The Principal: Three keys to maximising impact, 2014)