Sunday, September 1, 2019

It Won't Work...Or Will It?

When we look at various aspects of society, there is always an innate desire to improve through innovation. However, there seems always to be impediments to this process. Perhaps it is the little voice in your head that says any new idea or strategy is a waste of time, as it has no chance to succeed. Maybe it is the collective voices of colleagues pushing you to abide by the status quo and not rock the boat. Throw in fear, complacency, or a myriad of other excuses and the pursuit of innovative practices either wane or never transpires. You will never know what could have been if you don’t take the chance to try something new. Don’t just take my word for it. Check out all of the innovations that people thought wouldn’t work below.

Pretty interesting right? At one point, all of the ideas above were deemed crazy or doomed to fail. Each has been a disruptive force that has changed how people watch movies, book hotels, listen to music, access information, get assistance, store files, or get from one place to another. Many lessons can be learned from past innovations that have reshaped culture and society. For starters, you need to believe in an idea or strategy that might be obscure or shunned upon now. Sure, it might not work, but history has taught us that some of the greatest successes of all time resulted from failure. Always base any decision to try something new on the premise that is it better for your learners and will ultimately improve professional practice.

Another element to consider is moving beyond the misconception that innovation in education has to do with technology. I often look at two ideas that were implemented during my time as a principal that had very little to do with tools or gadgets and everything about improving either school culture or the learning experience for our kids. From a cultural end, we developed learning academies, a school within a school model, to move away from an environment where we continued to do what we had always done. The result was three distinct academies, open to all learners regardless of GPA or label, where they not only pursued a distinct area of study of interest to them but also ultimately graduated with ten to fifteen more credits than the state of New Jersey required.

Grading is another entity that is ingrained in many schools and districts. Some have gone so far as to get rid of grades, which in my opinion, is both innovative and disruptive. Sometimes learning is devalued by a number or letter. We tackled the grading culture when it became apparent that we were failing too many kids. After looking at the research and forming a committee, a new policy was put in place. The result was a 75% decrease in failures over three years, increased achievement gains, and a graduation rate that was one of the tops in the state. Both the academies and grading example are not to say that technology doesn’t play a role. The true innovative nature of tech isn’t to tool or program, but instead how the teacher uses it in a way to improve learning outcomes for all kids.

As I have written in the past, innovation is more than an idea that purports to be new or better. The differentiator is that there is an actual result to substantiate a claim. When looking at the examples in the image, or the ones I provided, there is clear evidence that an idea morphed into something that led to improved results or even a new status quo. There should always be a willingness to innovate that is substantiated with significant changes to learning.


  1. It seems to me the 10 innovations in the graphic meet Christensen’s criteria for being disruptive innovations, e.g., affordable, accessible to a wider audience, easy to use, and typically replace an established product or service. Have you considered what the graphic would look like if you did it for 10 K-12 education innovations? For example, “Virtual Professional Learning Won’t Work” according to “School Systems” wherein virtual professional learning is based on the tasks of teaching and delivered in web conferences, self-paced learning layouts, and product sharing in online learning communities versus district controlled opening school assemblies, after school meetings, expert speakers not aligned with teacher needs. That would be an interesting graphic to demonstrate the disruptive innovations in education that have replaced outdated ways of teaching and learning.

    1. I would love to see that graphic. Also, PLN through twitter & other social media...

    2. Nick - now you got me thinking about all the innovations that I see in schools and a corresponding graphic would be ideal.