Does the word innovation bring positive or negative associations to your mind? Does it bring to mind hopefulness, promise, and excitement or fad, “the latest and greatest,” and “this too shall pass?” What can truly be considered innovative when we know, as Proverbs tells us, that there is “nothing new under the sun?” Why mess with new when you can have tried and true? On the other hand, didn’t Christ come to make all things new and as Christ’s followers shouldn’t we be participating in this effort that will need to be innovative in the best sense? Besides, what qualifies as innovative? To what degree must something be different to be considered innovative? Perhaps we should explore innovation a bit more and consider why it has become such a popular word in today’s educational environment.
In his book, Creating Innovators, Tony Wagner suggests that innovation happens in every aspect of human endeavor from inventing the iPad, Ghandi’s non-violent resistance, micro-credit lending to alleviate poverty, Teach for America, or bikesharing, to the Arab Spring movement. From his synthesis of research, Wagner notes these qualities of innovative people:
- Curiosity, which is a habit of asking good questions and a desire to understand more deeply,
- Collaboration, which begins with listening to and learning from others who have perspectives and expertise that are very different from your own,
- Associative or integrative thinking,
- and a bias toward action and experimentation.
It is Wagner’s contention that most people can become more innovative given the right environment and opportunities. Yet in educational circles, innovation sometimes gets a bad rap – why? At least three reasons: First, as educators we have seen ideas come and go. We have been sold magic bullets and quick fixes; we know how research can be skewed to demonstrate the result we want to see, so we are rightly skeptical. Secondly, we are the “keepers of the knowledge of the ages.” We feel a great responsibility to pass on all that we know to the next generation, and so are risk averse toward new ideas. Thirdly, in faith-based schools, our worldviews differ from the culture at large, and so we may feel more comfortable maintaining the status quo.
Yet given our options of having our schools be flourishing or dying, engaging our students or boring them to death, seeking an owned faith for kids rather than a cloned faith, and desiring to help bring forward the newness of Christ’s kingdom, I don’t believe we have a choice about seeking, testing, and implementing innovation in our personal and institutional practices.
We are experiencing seismic shifts in educational practice in our time. Considering the idea of innovation is a great place to start our journey toward change. How do we move from traditional practices to implement innovation? What are the practical ways we are seeing innovation happen in the classroom? We will explore these questions in upcoming posts. We welcome your ideas also in our comment section.