Common themes of educational innovation for NC schools
Innovation has been embraced by most sectors of our society and it is reassuring that interest in innovation in education is also starting to grow. While we often recognize innovation when we see it, educators and policy makers need more guidance if innovation is to play a greater role in improving education.
However, seeking a definition or a list of agreed-upon characteristics of what constitutes educational innovation may seem to run counter to the very idea of ââinnovation. Innovation happens in specific contexts with specific people and in response to unique problems.
It is therefore not surprising that there is no single definition of educational innovation. In fact, the Awning project, a non-profit organization that collects innovative practices across the country, lists 92 tabs, each describing a distinct innovative practice. On the other hand, since many of the practice issues are the same in all schools, there are common themes in educational innovation. Being able to describe these common themes can help clarify this important term.
The only theme common to almost all definitions of educational innovation is the desire to make education more student or learner centered. This is also referred to as âpersonalized educationâ and may include discovering the individual talents of students.
Four national organizations advocate educational innovation: Canopy Project / Transcend / Christensen Institute, Schools run by teachers, Education rethought, and Network of innovative schools. What do these four organizations mean by educational innovation? First, while all four organizations support innovation, it’s important to recognize that they all have a slightly different focus:
|Organization||Objectives / Objective|
|Canopy Project / Transcend / Christensen Institute||Build collective knowledge on a more diverse set of innovative schools across the country.|
|Schools run by teachers||Preparing students for a 21st century world and equitably honoring the potential of all students, which requires rethinking the design of learning to include students at the center.|
|Education rethought||Transform the current education system which has proven to be inequitable, inflexible and inadequate. Serve powerfully, include, value and love every child.|
|Network of innovative schools||Support the creation and growth of innovative, high-quality, research-based schools by providing professional training and guidance, and ensuring that educators can easily collaborate, connect and learn from each other.|
A database of innovative traits
Instead of advocating for a specific definition, the Canopy project wishes to record the diversity of innovative characteristics identified by school leaders.
The organization, which started in 2019, aims to develop collective knowledge about a more diverse set of innovative schools across the country. There is a two-step process for identifying schools. First, nominating organizations across the country identify schools to include in the Canopy. (See this article on North Carolina Canopy Schools.)
Second, principals identify innovative practices in their school using a ‘labeling system’ – a set of keywords describing innovative designs. The Canopy project distinguishes between beacons which are broad approaches, such as socio-emotional learning, and narrower design decisions like conferences led by students or makerspace.
Recently, the Canopy Project added a new step in which schools are asked to identify up to five practices that they consider essential to their school’s models. School leaders are also asked to indicate how long each Routine Practice has been in place.
A December 2020 blog from the organization says the label that principals most often cited as central to their school models was project-based learning. Socio-emotional learning was the second most cited basic practice. Over 60% of schools with PBL as a baseline practice report implementing it for five years or more.
Different strategies and definitions
Evolution of education is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that drives transformational designs for learning, broader professional roles for teachers, and policy environments that enable and encourage innovation. They describe the importance of honor fairly the potential of all students and rethinking the design of learning to put students at the center.
They state that learning “must be based on strong relationships, responsive to basic needs, motivated by student interests, respectful of their identity, adaptable to their academic needs, relevant to their life beyond school. , and not confined to school days and walls. ”
Achieving this requires 1) teachers to play a greater professional role in the design and management of schools and 2) policy change to allow and support innovation by creating space, removing barriers and by creating a climate of encouragement. The organization claims that over time the system changes organically, as innovative approaches to learning are tried, refined, replicated and adopted by others.
Education rethought is committed to transforming education, serving, including, valuing and loving powerfully every child. Justice, inclusion and equity are essential to enable all children to realize their full potential as empowered individuals. The organization supports a learner-centered paradigm, including personalized, competency-based learning involving a wide range of learning environments and adult roles.
Learning happens for students through self-directed discovery with their peers and under the guidance of adults. Learning happens over and over and in many places, and “all learning experiences, whether highly structured or exploratory and experiential, are valued, encouraged and integrated into the learner’s journey.”
the Network of innovative schools identifies seven broad areas of educational practice – pedagogy, curriculum, assessment, school design, governance, programming and relationships – and under each area provides examples of innovative practice. For example, within the framework of pedagogy, there are ten practices, including project-based learning, inquiry and experiential learning.
In addition to being student-centered, the following common themes emerge from a comparison of these four organizations:
- Learning is linked to the student’s interests and focuses on solving real-world problems.
- Anytime anywhere.
- Learning involves the whole child – social, emotional and academic.
- Priority is given to equity in student learning and discipline.
- Students demonstrate their learning through competence rather than sitting time.
- Meaningful assessment of learning through portfolios and public exhibits.
- Community and business partnerships.
With regard to teachers and school organization, the characteristics common to the different approaches were as follows:
- Culture of design-thinking.
- Creative governance and staffing.
Educational innovation is an important concept that can offer new direction for school improvement in North Carolina.