1. The introduction of something new
2. A new idea, method, or device
Not only is creativity and innovation an essential part of 21st century educating, it is one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching. It is an opportunity for personal expression–a chance to share interests and assist students as they identify and develop their passions. Innovation actually becomes a necessity for educators who approach their profession with passion and a reflective attitude. You have likely seen instances where all three were absent. These classrooms are characterized by frequent utilization of “recipe” units, worksheet packets and canned curriculum from previous years. Very little individualization takes place in these situations, resulting in decreased student engagement, and ultimately poor achievement. Passion and reflection require that educators use innovation to make appropriate adjustments to instructional practice.
We have come to associate innovation with technology. Smart phones, iPads, netbooks and the advent of Web 2.0 tools are forever changing the way in which we deliver instruction. This is certainly a good thing, especially when technology is utilized to personalize learning for students. Educational technology provides avenues for student engagement, creativity and voice–allowing students to assume an active role in the educational process. I am obviously a proponent of technology use in education, but innovation does not have to be synonymous with technology. In fact, I will argue that for the purpose of education, innovation does not require a new idea, but an idea that is new to the user or his/her students. Education must be viewed as a dynamic profession–one that requires ongoing professional development. As educators, we have an obligation to stay up to speed with professional reading and maintain interaction with a learning community. Doing so allows for meaningful thought and discussion, leading to new ideas that will benefit our students. Educators must remain open to new ideas and must be committed to implementing them in the classroom, or at their school, if they are to be successful at continuous instructional improvement. It may not be new to the world, but if it benefits students, and it is new to you, consider it innovative. In other words, don’t be afraid to try something new.
Finally, I also believe that we have an obligation to expose our students to current technology and assist them in the development of the 21st century (and beyond) skills that will be required for their future success. Again, educators need to bravely pursue opportunities to implement new technologies to enhance their instruction, and most importantly, give students the opportunity to be “hands on” with technology tools. Don’t mistake a technology laden presentation with innovative use of educational technology.
We can no longer afford to drag our feet when it comes to change in educational practice. Innovation requires an appropriate level of risk taking. Educators must not be afraid to step out on the ledge and try new things. Professional development and learning communities must extend beyond the classroom walls. Most importantly, we need to create a school environment that encourages appropriate risk taking and provides the tools and training that allow it to happen.