culture of innovation

Creating a Culture of Innovation in Schools

By Heather Kelly, Innovation & Photoshop Educator at Troy High School

I’m sure by now you are sick of hearing about, thinking about and seeing the word innovation! We are inundated with the overuse of the word in both business and education. Wired magazine touts “Innovation” as “The Most Important & Overused Word in America.”

“Innovation has become the new buzzword, but its overuse and generalization has caused more instances of eye rolling than actual innovation. To get the results we need, the focus should shift from the term to the skills and behaviors that are needed. The word “innovation” is not important. To paraphrase a famous innovator from literature, ‘Innovation by any other name, is just as innovative.'” Michael O’Bryan – former intelligence analyst & founder of 360 Thinking

Develop the Skills and Behaviors Needed for Innovation

Countless articles and books, like the aforementioned article from Wired Magazine, explain that in order for us to stay viable as a country, the United States needs to not only innovate, but to develop the skills and behaviors needed for innovation. Tony Wagner in his book Creating Innovators explains that as our country moves away from manufacturing, we need to be rethinking our goal of making our K-12 students “college ready” and instead make them “innovation ready.” While many educators and administrators understand the importance of creating a culture of innovation in classrooms, very few know how.

“Most policy makers and many school administrators have absolutely no idea what kind of instruction is required to produce students who can think critically and creatively, communicate effectively, and collaborate versus merely score well on a test.” Tony Wagner, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World Before

Innovation as a Process

Before educators can cultivate a culture of innovation in their classrooms, they need to experience and understand innovation as a process, instead of an end goal.

When your goal is to teach and cultivate a culture of innovation, it’s important to try to define its nebulous definition. After diligently researching this buzz word for over five years, I came to see the similarity between innovation and my other area of expertise: art. “Innovation” is much like art and love. Everyone knows what art and love are, but few can agree on exactly how to explain or define them. Additionally, I learned that much like art, there are different styles or categories of innovation: disruptive innovation, strategic innovation, etc. I finally have crafted a definition that synthesized my five-year journey: “Innovation is the process of bringing a new idea into the world that has value.”

Innovation Learning and Innovation Lab

I’ve curated a system for teaching students how to be innovative based on some of the best programs, research, and literature available. What has resulted is a program that teaches students creative confidence, design thinking, collaboration skills & the communication skills they need to bring a new idea into the world. The Innovation Course I developed is a two semester course: during the first semester, “Innovation Learning”, I focus on building the community and harnessing creativity skills necessary to innovate through hands-on experiences. During the second semester, “Innovation Lab”, students apply what they have learned to an innovative project/authentic assessment of their choice.

I have watched this system work with my students, some of which have gone on to participate in exclusive learning opportunities including the “Oxypreneurship” program at Occidental College, the Michigan State honors engineering program & user design program, Pepperdine University, etc. Other students that are still currently in high school have been awarded spots in coveted internship programs like a student that is currently interning in Africa.

I am now open-sourcing the course for other districts to use. I am dedicated to spreading this type of learning experience to schools around the country.

The first and most important step in creating innovators and cultivating a culture of innovation is to create a community. What I mean by community is a place where all members of the group feel safe from ridicule or judgment. This means eliminating the “carrot”. You heard me correctly eliminate grading! According to all the brain and motivation research I have done, the “carrot” ruins everything! “Carrots and sticks are so last century. For 21st century to work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose.” Daniel Pink

If you are interested in learning more & creating an innovation course in your school district visit 21 Consulting for information and a step by step guide.

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How are you developing innovative thinkers in your classroom? Tweet us @RubiconAtlas or find us on Facebook!

Heather Kelly is an award winning artist, innovator & educator. She has been working in the public school system for twenty-two years. Four years ago she developed an Innovation course at Troy High school in Michigan for eleventh and twelfth graders that is changing lives. She is dedicated to creating more twenty-first century learning experiences that are meaningful for all students. She hopes to spread the Innovation class she created to school districts throughout the country.

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