Monday, February 28, 2011

Innovation, creativity and traditional school?

I am about to conduct fieldwork to explore teacher experience with innovation in the classroom. Many, including myself are wanting teachers to shift their practice away from an authority of knowledge to what the Alberta government calls in Inspiring Education an, “Architect of Knowledge”. We want students to use technology as a tool to support innovation and discovery. Good heavens have we stopped for a moment to really look at what we are asking here? Do teachers know themselves how to use technology as a tool to support their own innovation and discovery?

I sat today and played a little with a thesaurus and the three words, innovation, creativity and tradition. This is what I came up with:

Creativity is:












Innovation is:



cutting edge




latest thing

leading edge



state of the art


The thesaurus came up with what seemed to me a pretty positive list for creativity and innovation while a rather mixed list for tradition. Regardless of the list it appears, at the moment this 'shift' we want teachers to maneuver is an easy one step for some, and a great leap into the darkness for others. I look around and wonder what gives? I never lost my kindergarten curiosity, so I played around further with the collection of words from the tradition list a little and this is what I came up with:

We are asking teachers regardless of their age and experience to leave behind stable firm ground, a secure place of wisdom, heritage and a culture of established practice. Tradition is an accepted, familiar comfortable place founded on a confirmed, tried and true verified method to get the ‘job of school’ done. It has been endorsed by the popular, everyday way of thinking about school by society in general. It is a system instituted and entrenched by time-honoured tradition. While at the same time acknowledge as a universal over the entire planet. Tradition is old, it is old school, old hat and without thinking it produces same old, same old teaching. I think the problem for some that travel in the teaching landscape is that they may have been pulled into a rut, fixed there firm on custom. Perhaps becoming too familiar leads some teach more out of habit, playing it safe with the conventional and happy with the ordinary. Based on the collection of words I came up with. Tradition can be both a wonderful and constrained place if the rules become fixed and the stories of experienced are hushed. I think at the heart of this is perhaps the question of what school is for has shifted as we leave the industrial age. School in the industrial age was meant to be efficient. Teachers were just ‘cogs in the wheel’. School became a place of ‘teacher musts’ sent from a place that did think deeply about what school was for. Traditionally teachers were never really invited to participate intellectually in curriculum as John Dewey suggested about 100 years ago. I am more interested in the question of how do we shift a the system that once discouraged participation to now encourage teachers to engage in mindful, thoughtful interaction with why we have school? The rug that teachers stand on has just been pulled. The question should not be what is wrong with teachers? We need to ask how do we support teachers to find their own feet? As a teacher do I really own my own learning? How do we give teachers a voice to their own questions in their own learning and to treat them like participatory citizens that Dewey suggested?

The questions that continue to concern me as a teacher/researcher are:

1. What opportunities do teachers have to make sense of their experiences with innovation and change?

2. We do not make it easy for students to be innovative by making it difficult for teachers to be innovative. Can we describe clearly what is standing in the way of teachers becoming both creative and innovative?

3. Technology changes quickly, teachers regularly come into contact with technology they have no experience with. How do we help them gain this experience and reduce their frustration?

4. To become an architect of learning requires teachers to teach differently than they were taught (we can not give what we do not have). How can we support teachers to build their own profession learning networks during working hours?

5. Given that People not technology will be the solutions to problems, how do we adjust the structure of the working environment to allow for the free flowing exchange of ideas to support their personalized learning?

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