June 6, 2012
By Meredith Cox
What is educational innovation?
Innovation in public education falls primarily into two categories – classroom-based and administrative. Within the classroom, a new curriculum package or service offering may result in product innovation; a shift in instructional techniques—for instance, the implementation of online learning—may contribute to a process innovation. Administrative innovations can also be classified in two ways: as marketing innovations, such as changes in district advertising or admissions policies, or as organizational innovations, such as modified employee contracts or communicative structures.
Regardless of the type of innovation strategy implemented by a district, it is important to note that innovation, by nature, is typically experimental. Results are unpredictable, which may lead some risk-averse educators to reject organizational change. To prevent this aversion and facilitate strategic risk-taking, districts should strive to create a systematic cycle of innovation. Below we discuss several aspects inherent to the development of such a cycle.
A school district’s ability to create a culture of innovation embedded in a strategic plan is imperative for 21st century learning. Bellwether Education Partners have outlined the characteristics of an iterative innovation cycle, which begins with the identification of a pressing problem or issue. After identifying a program, the focus shifts to creating a solution, and finally, to evaluating long-term efficiency. Bellwether Education Partners identify five key elements of successful innovation:
Dedicated funding for innovations
Incentives, rewards, and responsiveness
Supporting Innovation: Organizational Change
Organizational change has become a central aspect of innovation, as 21st century skills have played an increasingly more significant role in curriculum development. Some districts have developed new leadership positions (e.g., Chief Technology Officer, Innovation Officer) to support district technological development and implementation. Similar innovation offices are emerging at the state level as well, with goals centered on school turnaround, expanding virtual learning, and improving teacher quality.
Private Sector Models
Some districts have found the adoption of private sector leadership models effective in improving efficiency and fostering a culture of innovation. Community Consolidated School District 15, in Illinois, adopted a Six Sigma methodology to improve pedagogical and organizational quality standards. The district found that applying Six Sigma principles in a K-12 setting helped to foster connections with local businesses, establish an ongoing cycle of evaluations, reduce inconsistencies, create benchmarks, and increase monitoring of support processes.
Innovation in schools is not instantaneous; instead, organizational change should be the result of an ongoing cycle of experimentation with district administrative processes and instructional practices.