The term “innovation” is often now used in education-speak, especially in combination with technology. And not everyone agrees about what it is.

Innovation for a Purpose

As part of my work with the Virginia Society for Technology in Education, where I serve on the board of directors, we try to un-cover what innovation is, in its many guises. One way we do that is to recognize a “Innovator of the Year” in education here in Virginia. They’ll receive this honor later in December. I won’t reveal here who it is, but it’s a school administrator from Loudoun County. She was nominated along with many other well-deserving, innovative educators. But the “flavor” of innovation was different, in almost every case.

Since I led the effort in collecting nominations, organizing my committee to review submissions, and then to vote on who they thought, ultimately, deserved the award, I took a back-seat and watched. I didn’t vote, but let my colleagues weigh-in. I did, however, put in my fair share of work. I had to normalize the process with my own definition of innovation.

I like what I read from Sir Ken Robinson earlier this year, and borrowed his concept for innovation: applied creativity. For the layman, the innovative educator is someone who works “outside the box.” They may think differently, try different things, and likely they’re the kind of person who isn’t stuck in just one or two ways on how to get something done. They refine and reflect, and go about tasks again, looking for ways to optimize, improve, and tweak. If this describes you, then you may well be an innovative educator, yourself. We have a few, I am sure, without reservation.

Is being innovative important? Critical? I think it is, especially so today. I recently have been studying the concept of student engagement in a more scholarly way, and I’ve had some great discussions about this concept with Drs. Gretz and Geyer. We’re interested in capturing observable student engagement in either a quantifiable or qualitative way. Ultimately, however, what matters is that

  1. We know how to engage students, and
  2. we know what stands in our way.

It requires some creativity to get there, and I think the onus is on all of us to exercise some innovation on using this concept towards helping students even more. Innovation is the grease on the wheels that lets us swerve fast to avoid a pothole, it’s using our imagination to take a new road to create a detour, sometimes it’s using a tool to help us be more efficient and mindful. If you’re reading this, I’d charge you to think about ways you tap into innovation to make your life or your job better.