doug — off the record

just a place to share some thoughts

About Innovative

I got dragged, not unwillingly I’ll admit, into a conversation yesterday.  It all started with a blog post from Paul McGuire.  He starts off with an observation.

Last week I read a Twitter post from a colleague who works for my former school board it read, ‘Education is the key to making innovation the new standard.’

I’d actually blogged on the topic a while back.  The word is …

I could stand on my thoughts on that post and move on.  But, I’d like to expand a bit.

Paul has written quite a bit recently about his personal observations of his former district which he extends to education in general.  His post continues his thoughts in this post Innovation – the New Overused Word in Education.

I still stand by the thoughts my original post.  As I mentioned yesterday, very often when I’m faced with a word, I’ll look at alternatives and then opposites.

So, in this case, I was off to my friend



Is there a message there that there are more synonyms than antonyms?  I wonder.  Regardless, it’s probably George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset that has elevated the frequency of use of that word in educational discussions.  Does it still have the same meaning though?

So, what would I consider truly being innovative?  The very best example, and it should ring true for long time hockey fans, is the career of Bobby Orr.  Before him, defensemen were clearly on the defense and forwards were clearly on the offense.

Yes, youngsters.  There was a time when hockey players didn’t wear helmets.  The role of the defenseman was considerably different.  Seldom did you see them go more than a metre or so inside the offensive blue line.  And scoring?  Pffft.

That all changed with the innovative play of Orr.  His impact on the game was truly innovative (in the very best sense of the word) and he has changed the game forever.

It’s truly sad when you think of the things that we see today branded and considered “innovative”.  I would think a better word might be “tinkering”.  And, there’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s only through tinkering that some changes will be made.  Education is such an institution that full-scale change or complete innovation just isn’t impossible.

Perhaps even the most challenging abuse is when the use of any technology is considered innovative.

You can even get a badge to be “innovative” or “certified” or “distinguished”.  Do they do justice to the earned word?  Or does it just means that you’ve bought into a particular technology or at least reached a certain skill level.

How many times do you visit a person’s biography on social media or on a conference program and read that they are an “innovative educator”?  Just step back and realize that the adjective was more than likely written by the individual themselves and not earned through peer acceptance or to some standard.  Has this “innovative educator” changed the game in their classroom, their district or the education world with the same impact that Bobby Orr did to hockey?  As an aside, have you looked at your own biography lately?

Paul reports another personal observation…

I was really surprised by the number of educators who were able to admit that they too had been scapegoated by their board for working outside the norm.

I wish he’d included specific examples to support this statement.

It’s my experience that teachers I dealt with as a program consultant were always looking for ways to do things better.  I would be constantly asked for assistance and advice about how to change this or that (I still do get requests).  Perhaps it was our environment but our teachers were eager to try new approaches as well as listen to other’s advice about how to improve student engagement and achievement.  I don’t think anyone was under the illusion that they would change the entire educational system but, if a change here or there resulted in success for a student, it was worth it.  Therein lies the discussion point for me.

There are some words that change and take on new meaning over time.  In education, I would suggest that “innovative” is one of them.  While none of us will ever have a Bobby Orr moment, we can learn and improve a little bit at a time within a system.

I don’t think that any system will expect anything more or accept anything less.


2 responses to “About Innovative”

  1. I think your last three paragraphs sum things up so well. All of this being said, I can’t help but think about our new K Program Document, and the Problem Solving And Innovating frame. Will the use of this word here impact on the use of it in education? How might it?



  2. Margaret Thatcher said “Power is like being a lady… if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
    There are a lot of things like that. Being innovative is likely to be one of them. I wish I were innovative but in all honesty I mostly use a lot of ideas I have seen other teachers create. I was fortunate to spend a couple of years traveling and meeting a lot of really good teachers. I’ve tried to learn from them. Things I come up with tend to be incremental changes rather than true innovation. I think that is fine. Not everything needs to be totally disruptive.

    Liked by 1 person

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