Improvement or innovation? They are each necessary.
What is the purpose of innovation? I often get the sense when I listen to people talk about innovation that they believe it is simply about trying something new. That it is limited to doing things differently.
While innovation does involve doing things differently, there is a greater purpose to innovation than simply trying something new. Clayton Christenson, a professor at Harvard, coined the term disruptive innovation, and defines it as a process by which a product or service starts at the bottom of the market, eventually displacing established competitors. This disruptive innovation, "allows a whole new population of consumers at the bottom of a market access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill." You can read more about this here: http://www.claytonchristensen.com/key-concepts/
Tom Vander Ark, in a recent Education Week article -- http://t.co/WUAOhvZItr -- defined innovation more simply: "Improvement is doing things better. Innovation is doing things differently to dramatically improve outcomes."
We have a unique, and aspirational vision in the Spring Lake Park Schools - we want each of our students to be college-ready upon graduation. We believe that this focus will prepare each and every student for the pursuit of whatever aspiration they may have, be that attending college or going directly into the workforce.
Yet, as Richard Elmore, a leading educator and professor at Harvard, asserts, "The biggest constraint to student learning is adult expectations of what students can actually do." This expectation gap is what our college-readiness initiative is all about - developing a collective commitment to the highest of expectations for each of the students in our district.
However, changing expectations, without changing how we work with our students day to day, may only lead to incremental change and improvement. This is where innovation is important. As Vander Ark asserts, "Innovation is doing things differently to dramatically improve outcomes."
We need to consistently pursue innovative learning practices that capitalize on staff creativity. Innovations that are able to effectively adapt emerging change and technologies, and that result in flexible, customized learning environments. Why? Ultimately, it's about meeting the needs and interests of our students, while helping them to realize aspirations they may not even have yet so they see no limits to what they can accomplish.
Dr. Viktor Frankl, in this speech, provides what I have found to be the very best descriptor for why we need to have the highest of expectations for our students. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fD1512_XJEw
High expectations are essential for each learner. Seeing personal success and hope is a prerequisite to learning. However, again, expectations alone won't result in improved student learning. We need a combination of higher expectations -- our systemic, aligned focus on college-readiness -- combined with innovation that changes a system of education that is currently perfectly designed for our current results.
We are working to make this innovation happen in the Spring Lake Park Schools. It is my hope that you – no matter your role in the school district, relationship to the school community, or influence on young people anywhere – are able to join me in doing all you can to make the hopes and dreams of young people a reality. Together we will make a difference.