Four Ways to Create a Culture of Innovation

Never before has there been a time in education where students possessed computing devices so powerful that they allowed them to be graphic designers, movie makers, editors, directors, authors, developers, music makers and more. Yet in many conversations with educators around the country, the number one question is often how can we allow students to enhance and develop these skills when we have to adhere to the standards. The culture in our educational system, one that does not always permit our teachers or students to take risks, is ironic given the innovative nature of our society.

Our Heritage of Innovation

From our earliest days, we have been an innovative society. If we examine the lives of industrious Americans such as Andrew Carnegie and JP Morgan to Henry Ford and Cornelius Vanderbilt what quickly became evident is how early, real-world experiences as adolescents shaped these men's successes. Their experiences provided them with an opportunity to explore their passions and develop key skills, allowing them to face challenges head-on and become creative problem solvers. Malcolm Gladwell describes these individuals "outliers" - people commonly thought to possess talent and intelligence far above that of the average person. In his book, he examines the backgrounds of notable people and illustrates that outliers all had opportunities to gain an enormous amount of experience early in their lives.

Resources today allow schools and students to delve deep into discovering and nurturing their passion and gaining that critical experience. Digital tools break the barriers to global communication and create opportunities for educators to design learning experiences both inside and outside the classroom. Based off of Guy Kawasaki's talk, If I Knew Then What I Know Now, here are four ways to start building a culture of innovation in your classroom.

Fail Fast. Fail Forward

Salman Khan, creator of Khan Academy recently shared, "Why I'll Never Tell My Son He's Smart." In his post, he cites the research of Dr. Carol Dweck at Stanford University who has been studying people's mindsets towards learning. Dr. Dweck has found that most people adhere to one of two mindsets: fixed or growth.

"Fixed mindsets mistakenly believe that people are either smart or not, that intelligence is fixed by genes. People with growth mindsets correctly believe that capability and intelligence can be grown through effort, struggle and failure."

In our classrooms, we need to leave more time for students to sit with problems, to work out their own solutions, and to uncover their own capabilities. We can do this by encouraging inquiry, engaging in socratic discussions, and allowing our students to use a variety of tools to demonstrate their understanding.

Life Long Learning

Self-reliance is one of the most important skills to develop early on. Given the constant nature of change due to the rapid influx of technologies as well as the 24/7 access to a global library via the device in a student's pocket, it seems frivolous to spend valuable classroom time simply disseminating content rather than constructing understanding of the information.

As Shawn McCusker writes in Teachers' Most Powerful Role? Adding Context, the teacher's role has shifted from one of distributor of information to conductor of the classroom orchestra. Rather than provide students with content, teachers should challenge their students to seek out their own meaning and create context. It is through this process that students are learning to learn and becoming self-sufficient.

The "Art" of Articulation

What you have to say is just as important as how you say it. When presenting an idea, a proposal, or an effective argument, you only have a few minutes. Turning on PowerPoint with slides full of text that you intend to read probably isn't the best way to present an idea. Yet how many times do we see students presenting in exactly this manner?

Guy Kawasaki shares his secret to great presentations - the 10-20-30 approach - in his book Art of the Start. He says that when presenting an idea you need 10 slides, 20 minutes and 30 point font. This concept of clear, focused messaging extends beyond the classroom or the board room. It happens every minute of every day both in person as well as on social media. Knowing how to communicate across digital and physical spaces is a skill students that students need to master.

In the world of social media where everyone is exposed to information, how can you make your ideas stand out? Posts that contain images are known to gain much more traction with an audience than those with only text. Amy Burvall (@AmyBurvall) stresses the importance of visual literacy and creative design as students develop their critical thinking skills. Not only do they need to be able to articulate their points, but to also represent them through a variety of media.

Digital tools such as Canva allows students to create and design everything from social media posts to presentations. Engaging students in this process of creative design allows them to learn how to share their ideas in a variety of formats.

Make Meaning

Ultimately, the skills that our students develop - creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking - are best used in the service of community and in the service of making the world a better place. In Kristen Wideen's elementary class, students launched #KidsCanCreateChange. Jodie Deinhammer's science students are Teaching the World about healthy living. Billy Corcoran's 4th graders are collaborating with their local Conservation Commission to educate their community about biodiversity and conservation.

How do you create a culture of innovation in your classroom? Share your ideas here or find me on Twitter @AskMsQ