Does your school have an innovation strategy?

Does your school have an innovation strategy?

Innovation is a word that gets thrown around a lot, and because of this, the true extent of its power can get lost and heaped among the other buzz words so common in education headlines.

Some schools, like St Paul’s School, located in Bald Hills, Queensland, and Saint Stephens College, located on the state’s Gold Coast, are two schools that separated the wheat from the chaff when it comes to ed-tech and educational innovation.

Last year, St Paul’s School, located in Bald Hills, Queensland, was recognised as one of the world’s top 100 innovative educational institutions by one of the University of Cambridge’s most influential bodies.

Likewise, Saint Stephens College is recognised as a leader in technology enhanced education and has received multiple awards for its digital teaching and learning practices.

At these schools, the effective teaching practices – and the impressive learning outcomes that spawn from them – speak for themselves, but the fact that the K-12 education landscape is so diverse means that innovation is often considered through the lens of a school making the most of the resources it has.

So for schools, the creativity they employ when using everything from digital devices to learning spaces can produce a meaningful impact on student outcomes. Having a strategy in this regard is key, and is something that many schools have top of mind as they progress into Term 1.

Christine Nasserghodsi, vice president of the TELLAL Institute at GEMS Education, recently published an article in Forbes where she shared five considerations for schools considering how to craft an innovation strategy. Here they are below:

1. Define innovation: Work with a team to define innovation within the context of your school or company. Begin with your mission and vision. Where do you see innovation? How is it a priority? Review several definitions of innovation. Which seem to resonate with your mission and vision? Which do not? Collaboratively craft your definition and share with stakeholders to adapt. A school I worked with, for example, has a vision focused on embracing their diversity to foster citizenship, justice and peace. Their aligned definition of innovation is "the reimagining and construction of ideas, actions, and ways of being to positively impact the world." An education technology company should pitch their solutions very differently to this school than to one focused more on student performance.

2. Decide who will innovate: Different skills are required to generate innovation than to implement innovation. An ambidextrous organization will want teachers, school leaders and students who can both innovate and implement. With this in mind, education technology companies should be clear about whether their product is based on an idea, is an innovation for school improvement or a platform for fostering student or teacher innovation.

3. Prepare for change: In a 2013 paper, titled: "Organizational Culture and Innovation," Thorsten Büschgens and his colleagues discussed the importance of having an organizational tolerance for risk; being willing to end existing initiatives; and incorporating opportunities to learn through failure. School or organization-based narratives can provide a window into culture. What stories, for example, exist about taking risks? What stories about learning from failure could be told or highlighted within the community?

4. Define your sandboxes: Schools or companies at the earlier stage of the innovation journey may create a zero period or innovation block that falls outside of the curriculum to reduce planning pressure on teachers or leaders while encouraging experimentation. Schools in particular might see an entire section, such as a middle school, as a sandbox. FirstPoint School did just this several years ago with their grade 4–8 students; they developed a student-led curriculum in non-core subjects and allowed students to book time with the teachers they felt they needed to support their work.

5. Create a theory of action to focus on impact: Impact data in schools specifically tends to come from high stakes tests. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to assess the impact of an approach to innovation in this way. In my experience, an effective innovation strategy includes indicators of impact and a timeline for data collection and use of data to iterate on one's approach.