- About ACCE
- Digital Resources
The Principal of Change George Couros
Stories of learning and leading
Updated: 2 hours 53 min ago
Arguments against innovative practices abound. Innovation comes from not only dealing with roadblocks but recognizing when to turn these same roadblocks into the conversation on how we can do things differently and much better.
Think about the way you (and others) ask questions. Is it in pursuit of moving forward or the hidden reality of holding on to what you have always done?
Here are three common arguments I hear against innovation, and how I respond to them.
1. We don’t have time.
No matter where you go in the world, there are 24 hours in a day. Why is it that some schools are able to do things in a much more compelling way? They do not have more time, they just use it more effectively.
Let’s retire the “we don’t have time” argument. Start to rethink what is important, and how we are using our time. It is not about adding more, it is about doing things differently and better.
I had this same conversation with a teacher years ago about how they could not have students blog because there was no time in the day, yet when observing them, they had students write (copy) for 20-30 minutes items into their agenda daily. The argument was, “They need to be able to learn to organize.” Reality check; I do not write any notes into a book that says “agenda”. It all goes onto my phone. I am also not learning to organize myself if I am told what to write down exactly. I am learning to do what you tell me. Send them a google calendar appointment (PS…this was a classroom where all students had a laptop) if you like, and then use the other 19 minutes and 30 seconds to do something where the students have to be thoughtful, not mindlessly write off of a board.
Reshape your time, because there is no more coming your way.
2. We don’t have money.
There has never been a school that I have traveled to where they said, “We have so much money this year! What should we do with all of it?”
How you use your money and where you spend it is crucial. Are you asking for innovation yet having the same textbook budget year after year?
Here is a great conversation starter for the “money” question. Check out this gif on the “Evolution of the Desk“.
The question I always ask after showing this, is that if your school has more access to laptops, is your school supply list exactly the same? Are there things that you can do with this one device, that you are spending money on elsewhere?
Again, it is not always about finding more, but rethinking what you have.
3.We are not sure this will work.
When I hear this reluctance to try something new because of fear of failure, I always try to get people to think about what they are doing now. Is that practice knocking it out of the park? Are worksheets “best practice” or “easiest practice”? If what you are doing right now is stoking curiosity, and a love of deep learning, while empowering students, there is no need to search elsewhere. Do what you are doing. But if it is not working for every kid, then you have to go out and venture and find (or create) something better for your students.
We also have to redefine “risk”. This is how I explain it to educators:
It doesn’t seem so bad when you see it that way, does it?
If you are not sure something “new” will work for your students, you also have to look at if the “old” thing is truly working, or if we are just doing it because we always have?
What is important about all of these “challenges” is that we use them as an opportunity to have conversations, not as roadblocks. If we start looking at the challenges as a great way to get people to think differently about the “why, what, and how” of education, we are in a good spot. If we ignore these statements and running away from the challenges, we are actively doing what we don’t want to happen in our schools.
If people are not comfortable sharing these statements, it doesn’t mean they don’t believe them. It just means that they are in a culture where they aren’t comfortable to have the conversation. Embrace the challenge and see it as an opportunity to move forward.
Every conversation we have is an opportunity to move education forward.
Speaking to a group of principals, one of the participants, thanked me for my time, and gave a very elegant “call-to-action” to the group. It was not simply discussing what I talked about, but what they needed to do to move forward.
One of her quotes that resonated with me was, “Intention is not good enough; we need to look at our impact.” It jolted me. There are very few people in the world that don’t want to do important things, yet what is the impact of our intentions? Everyone wants to be a great teacher, but do all educators do things that keep them up to date and moving forward in their work? This would obviously apply to any profession.
I have always believed that you could have been a great teacher ten years ago, changed nothing, and now be irrelevant.
This is one of my favourite quotes from a college dropout who felt a post-secondary education was no longer relevant to what he needed to be successful in our world today:
“Wanting” is not good enough on it’s own; the impact of our actions are how progress is always measured.
“Perfect is the enemy of done.”
I saw this quote and it has stuck in my thinking. Often we hold back our ideas because we are scared of being criticized, sometimes for the major components, but sometimes for little things that people will nitpick. If that held people back, nothing would ever get done.
For example, when the iPhone first came out, here were some of the criticisms:
- “Is there a toaster that also knows how to brew coffee? There is no such combined device, because it would not make anything better than an individual toaster or coffee machine. It works the same way with the iPod, the digital camera or mobile phone: it is important to have specialized devices.” —Jon Rubinstein, former iPod engineer
- “iPhone is nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks.” — Matthew Lynn, Bloomberg
- “There’s no memory-card slot, no chat program, no voice dialing. You can’t install new programs from anyone but Apple…The browser can’t handle Java or Flash, which deprives you of millions of Web videos.” —David Pogue, The New York Times
- No stylus is provided.” —Edward Baig, USA Today
Now would I want the original iPhone over the one I have now? Absolutely not. But without the first one coming out, we do not have the iteration we have now, which at one point, we will laugh at for being so outdated. Yet, as of August 2016, it has been projected that over a billion iPhones have been sold. Seems like it has appealed to more than a few “gadget freaks”.
If I had to choose one, I would rather be a creator than a critic. Personally, I embrace there are flaws and imperfections with what I create, write, share, and do. To be the first one to acknowledge this also gives me ownership and ensures that I do not become paralyzed by my own thoughts.
I would not want to be the one that holds back the ideas of another person because I have instilled a fear of imperfection in their practice; this is weak leadership at best. Life is in beta; flaws will happen along the way. Embrace it, move on, and move forward. Without that willingness, nothing from our imagination would ever become a reality.
I noticed this commercial (which is rare since I never watch commercials) from Chick-fil-A, which had a gentleman standing in a hole, and his colleague comments about him being “stuck in a rut”, to which he is oblivious. When he comments that he “thought it was a groove”, she states, “classic ‘rut’ thinking”.
It is pretty rare that a fast food restaurant gets me thinking about education, but this commercial really got me thinking. How often do we as educators think we are on a right path when in reality, we are just doing what we have always done and are not moving forward?
I know I talk about social media quite a bit, but I believe there are many educators were exposed to their own “ruts”, thinking they were in a groove. They noticed what others were doing in the same positions and thought, “Why am I not doing that? What is holding me back?”
When we have access to see what others are doing, it pushes us to become better. The traditional isolation of education is being challenged, and it changing the way we see education.
One of my favourite quotes is, “To innovate, disrupt your routine.” Sometimes we need that “shock” to our learning to make us wonder why we do, what we do. We need to sometimes provide that disruption for others (students and colleagues), yet, do we do that to and for ourselves?
I asked the following on Twitter:
Wide open question…what are some ideas or practices we need to rethink in education?
— George Couros (@gcouros) March 12, 2017
The responses were amazing and had such a wide range of answers (seriously…click on the tweet and see what educators are saying…it is fascinating).
As I was thinking about the responses here, I thought about this process with a staff. I have neither been a part of a professional learning day where this was asked, nor did I pose it in my role. Opportunity missed, because the conversation would be so valuable.
So an idea for a staff day…
Have groups discuss the same question (what are some ideas or practices we need to rethink in education?), and then think of a consensus three to bring to a larger group. Then pose “ways forward”, and what is possible now to make these realities.
Two things here…
This creates time for “problem finding” and “problem solving”, not one or the other.
The other point is that it shows people that we can create the change we want, and that we do not have to wait for someone else to do it for us.
As I have always said, the biggest barrier to innovation is often our own thinking, not any outside factor. Find problems, create solutions. No one is going to do it for us.
I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on Twitter. Yet the conversation about “intellectual property” and “does the school own my work?”, has come up several times in the last month and I wanted to share my thoughts.
From my rudimentary understanding of intellectual property, older practices in education (that still might exist today) state that when you worked for a school district, the things that you created in relation to your job, while under contract, are owned by the employer. When there is a physical element in play, this does make some sense. You create something, use school supplies, resources, and the only one for you to “own” the physical item, would mean either taking it, or copying it, which would cost money to your employer. But what happens when it is digital?
Technically, this would still solely be owned by the district (in many cases).
Here are a few problems with this thinking…
- Educators may become reluctant to spend time creating digital resources, or share them with colleagues, if they know they would have to start from scratch if they were to move.
- Because of the above, you may limit “innovation” because educators may be told that they have “ownership” over their learning, but in reality, it is owned by someone else.
- Not only does this hurt the move to a culture of innovation, this also just hurts culture. If you get into a situation as an educator when you are leaving and a district says they own your content online, this is not the best advertisement for new educators coming in. Many people judge their time in any organization based on how they were treated when they left, not necessarily the majority of their time with the school or district. Who will you attract long term?
Now with digital, it is easy for both parties to have access; not just the teacher, but the district. I can understand that if you created resources while working for a district, why they would want access, but I can also understand why the educator would want to take this with them moving forward if they are to leave. With digital, you can have both.
Since this is just something I am starting to research more, I would love your thoughts. Yet the reason I bring this up is that this is a traditional practice that needs a rethink in our world today. We need to look at ways where we attract and develop people who want to be innovators, not discourage the process.
“Who owns the learning?”, is not a question that applies only to students, we will have to look at this question from the viewpoint of educators as well.
A question that was posed recently was challenging the notion of “innovation” in education, and how it challenges best practice. “Best practice” can often be seen as the enemy to innovation. But “best practice” doesn’t stay as “best practice” forever. Look at the “Blockbusters” of the world. What was once best practice to them, was what they hold onto, and how they eventually collapsed. Standing still is the same as moving backwards in our world. You can have been an amazing teacher ten years ago, but if you have changed nothing in those ten years, you could now be irrelevant. The best veteran teachers in the world look back at the beginning of their careers and think, “What was I doing?!??!”, not because they were bad, but because they are now so much better.
Yet how dare a teacher “challenge” best practice? First of all, “best practice” in instruction and learning is not best practice for everyone. What works for one, might not work for another. I have been thinking a lot about the “eye test”; if a teacher doesn’t see that something is working for their students, is their professional wisdom trumped by a researcher who has never worked with their children? If something is working for your students, then keep doing that (and I am not talking about test scores, but growth in learning). But if it isn’t, teachers either need to learn something new, or create something new to serve those students.
There has never been a best practice in teaching and learning, that wasn’t at first an “innovation”. Someone, or some group, was in the pursuit of doing something better for students, and they saw their new practice as better than what they were doing before. This image summarizes the process of innovation in education.
Ideas lead to innovation, but only if we turn those thoughts into actions. Yet if those actions are new and better, they will become best practice for a period of time. There should be no better researcher of student learning than the teacher working directly in classrooms. They have to decide when to embrace best practice, and when to create “next practice”. That is where the true innovation in teaching and learning happens.