Public Education could learn a lot from some businesses about innovation. My experience with public education was that there was a tendency to become complacent in believing that public education is an institution that can’t be dismantled. And as such the motivation and urgency to change seem less clear than my experience has been working in the corporate world.

In my short tenure in the corporate world, I’ve felt a sense at all times of needing to stay out in front in order to stay relevant and to ensure ongoing success. That culture tends to promote innovation and a willingness to take calculated risks.

Newton County Schools' Innovation Expo
Newton County Schools’ Innovation Expo

One school district in Georgia (Newton County Schools) has found a way to promote a culture of innovation. The third annual Innovation Expo happened recently. Teachers are given an opportunity to create a presentation selling an idea for a project that they’ve been working on in their class and for which they would like to get funding. All attendees at the expo (community members, parents, students, other school system employees, etc) are given a chance to vote for the projects they believe should receive the funding.

It’s a novel approach to innovation. Some projects focused on augmented reality, others had elements of gamification and still others were focused on various hardware – tablets, wearable cameras, etc. The teachers who participated learned from each other and explored new ideas for engaging students. Some created videos to present their work while others engaged those visiting their booth in experiencing the project directly.

But where is the line between innovation and improvement? When does an idea cross over from improving the existing to innovating to new? Tom Vander Ark writes quite eloquently about this on the Getting Smart blog in a post titled Improvement vs. Innovation. Vander Ark says “Improvement is playing for singles and doubles. Innovation is swinging for the fences.”

As education leaders we need to keep innovation front and center. It’s important to stretch people not break them. Watch for the tolerance for change, support people through the anxiety around change, break change into manageable bite-sized pieces and reflect and celebrate every small win. And consider an innovation expo as you create a culture of innovation in your own place.

Creating a Culture of Innovation
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