Teaching innovation and innovating the system. #BothAnd

From Thom Markham, as read on MindShift, April 1, 2013

One overriding challenge is now coming to the fore in public consciousness: We need to reinvent just about everything. Whether scientific advances, technology breakthroughs, new political and economic structures, environmental solutions, or an updated code of ethics for 21st century life, everything is in flux—and everything demands innovative, out of the box thinking.

The burden of reinvention, of course, falls on today’s generation of students. So it follows that education should focus on fostering innovation by putting curiosity, critical thinking, deep understanding, the rules and tools of inquiry, and creative brainstorming at the center of the curriculum.

This is hardly the case, as we know. In fact, innovation and the current classroom model most often operate as antagonists. The system is evolving, but not quickly enough to get young people ready for the new world. But I do believe there are a number of ways that teachers can bypass the system and offer students the tools and experiences that spur an innovative mindset. Here are ten ideas: (emphasis added)

Read the full post here.

I think Thom’s post is excellent. The three intro paragraphs are profound and thought-provoking – and, hopefully, action-provoking. Also, I appreciate his willingness and ability to empower teachers and classroom practices. Thom’s thinking and examples resonate strongly with me and with my experience co-designing and co-implementing Synergy – a transdisciplinary, community-issues, problem-solving course for eighth graders.

But I am also left wondering about and wanting more concerted efforts to actually affect the system purposefully and intentionally, rather than feeling that our only, or most practical, choice is to bypass the system.

How are you and the schools with which you are involved systematizing the learning of innovation? All of us – in education, in for-profit business, in non-profit organizations beyond education, and in our personal lives and families – should be more focused on such questions, issues, and solutions. The citizens can affect such change and impact current and future quality of life – if we commit to doing so. Of the people, by the people, for the people enables us to do so. We can affect the system. The system is made from us, by us, and for us. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

4 thoughts on “Teaching innovation and innovating the system. #BothAnd

  1. Bo,

    Thanks for bringing Thom Markham’s great post to my attention. I sympathize with your wish to revolutionize the system rather than bypass it. Perhaps though, Markham is focused on the child in that teacher’s classroom at this moment. That child can’t wait.

    Bypassing is a strategy that is necessary sometimes. Sun Tzu wrote, “One hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the most skillful. Subduing the other’s military without battle is the most skillful.” The system ultimately must and will be transformed. Victory, I believe, would be all schools offering “students the tools and experiences that spur an innovative mindset.” But not every battle has to be fought head on. A few pockets of triumph in classes here and there without any bloodshed may be the best way to “subdue the other’s military” in the end.

    Thanks as always for getting me thinking.


    • Holly, just to be clear, I believe it’s a BOTH-AND solution, too. That’s why I used the hashtag #BothAnd in the title.

      That being said, I struggle with statements like, “The system ultimately must and will be transformed.” And, trust me, I have those same thoughts all the time. But that wording makes it sound – to me – like we’re waiting for someone else to come in and do it. OR, it makes it sound – to me – like we are going to rely more on our incredible traits in “crisis management” as humans, and wait too long when things are more critical.

      Also, with my former principal’s hat on, I cannot help but thinking of scenarios like this… “Wouldn’t it be great if ALL teachers did this innovation stuff that Thom Markham is advocating for?! Wait, but what if a child’s five to seven teachers all did this independently and unsystematically? Couldn’t all those ‘goods’ actually result in a ‘bad’ cumulatively? Couldn’t my son working on seven independent projects in his seven different departmentalized subjects actually experience some of that ‘blood’ that Holly referenced in her comment? Couldn’t he be overwhelmed and miss the forest for all of those trees?”

      So, I like to think that I am thinking of the children, too. The system could be better optimized. Teachers WANT to do so. Administrators WANT to do so. Almost all of us have this at our core. But the system, ironically, prevents us from collaboratively optimizing. We could do better, if we would just be more disciplined and collectively committed to re-evaluating and re-designing the system.

      • Bo, I did catch your both/and and should have acknowledged the emphasis in your hashtag. The point I was making is that you and I believe so strongly that at heart the system has to change, but I wonder (and I should have made this more clear) if I don’t emphasis enough support for the teacher on the ground. I know that I myself often lose patience with the pace, wondering what everyone is waiting for. Worse, I worry that change will only take place when the top of the hierarchy feels pressured to act. It’s like wondering if we’ll have to wait until all the senators who enjoy skiing out west take note before we address climate change.

        So I responded in the way that I did because I’m scared that our children won’t be the beneficiaries of that change. Honestly, I looked over Markham’s “10 ways” once again, and although I think a systemic approach is always best, I don’t think any blood would be spilled if 5 of 7 teachers took this upon themselves. If they used thinking and creativity tools, if they rewarded discovery, if they made reflection part of the lesson, would there be any real harm? My daughter told me yesterday that she does very well in history because she just memorizes everything like the teacher expects.

        You write that, regarding optimizing the system, “teachers want to do so. Administrators want to do so.” I’m not sure that all of them do. Many, yes, but not all. I guess my question is how do we get the administrators and teachers to collectively commit? Who will make that decision to act? Are we all waiting for the visionary leader to arrive on a white horse?

        Until then, I support leading from within, honoring the needs of the students before us, taking great care that no bandaids are called for, and providing an example of why the type of teaching and learning advocated by Markham could be replicated system-wide.

    • I do understand your points, and I appreciate them. And I wonder about how much the description of the general changes matches the reality of implementation. That might be where we see with slightly different lenses here. Maybe not.

      I can’t help but think that this is related to my viewpoint, as well: http://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2013/03/what-matters-more-in-decisions-analysis-or-process/

      What processes are we using to make these decisions? At an individual teacher level, I can see and agree with your position. BUT (sorry), the student user experience is not just each individual teacher and silo-ed class experience. There is a system there, and it needs addressing too. #BothAnd

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