Innovation Has a Branding Issue in Education

Because we have made such a big deal out of the end result, the perception about innovation is that we need some creativity superpower to be a change agent.
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More people make New Year's resolutions in this country than watch the Super Bowl. The number one New Year's resolution? You guessed it, is to lose weight. Yet only 8 percent of those that make a resolution actually achieve it. If you talk to any expert about why so few people struggle with losing weight or achieving their New Year's resolutions, most will tell you that it is an issue with lifestyle. We put so much emphasis on the "what" meaning the healthy recipe or the tough workout, and little on the healthy habits one must possess in order to make lasting and sustainable change in their life.

If this is a post about innovation in education, why are we spending time talking about healthy habits and weight loss? Well, the pitfalls many Americans face when attempting to lose weight are very similar in nature to the pitfalls that educators face with innovation. While many will paint a different picture, I can assure you that the majority of educators want to innovate the experience for our students. However, the way we have talked about innovation in education has been all around the "what" or the end results. We evaluate and reward innovative initiatives, programs, lesson plans, and services. These things are the end result of an innovative process. They are a reflection of the many unconventional steps an educator took along the way. Innovation is not about the end result, it's a lifestyle. However, there is a serious dissonance between the reality and the perception around innovation in education.

Because we have made such a big deal out of the end result, the perception about innovation is that we need some creativity superpower to be a change agent. We think that innovation would be great if only we had more time. Sound familiar? It's just like our attitudes towards wellness! We think in order to be healthy and fit we need a superpower or more time. These misperceptions about innovation are a serious problem because it is stunting our ability to meet the needs of a diverse student population and keep up with a rapidly evolving society. We need to refocus the discussion, and concentrate on the habits of innovation. We need to stop solely focusing on the "WOW factor" or end results, and start to evaluate and reward educators on these habits. When an educator seeks feedback from various colleagues and students to enhance their idea, we should celebrate that behavior. When someone blends expertise from outside education to come up with a game-changing idea for students, we should acknowledge that unique approach to generating ideas. Exhibiting these behaviors and possessing these habits will empower educators to create sustainable and lasting change for students.

Join in creating change: Replace your "most innovative ____" award with a more regular recognition of habits like failing fast and forward or passionate curiosity.

Let me be clear, in saying that innovation is about grit and executing ideas. I don't say all of this to take away from the end results that are so important to our students. You can't be innovative without producing, but we also can't let the conversation around innovation be solely focused on the end result. We must focus on the journey our innovative educators take to get there. You don't need extra time in your day, and you certainly don't need a creativity superpower to be innovative. You simply need to evaluate and tweak the way you are solving problems in your work with students.

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