Creating a Culture of Innovation vs a Transformation

I was recently questioned on my use of transformation rather than innovation in respect to a culture change in schools. I couldn’t immediately defend my choice of words, which caused me go back and revisit the definitions and reflect on my own beliefs, experiences, and the desired impact on learning environments. A few statements and articles have helped me rethink my use of both terms in respect to work in schools to ensure desired outcomes for all learners.

This graphic from a report, So You Think You Can Innovate by Learning Accelerator and 2Revolutions helped me deepen my own thinking. It crystalized my reluctance to describe the systemic change work in schools as “innovation”.  Innovation can be about individuals who are creating new ideas and working to improve existing practices.  I am all for this but innovation alone is not enough.  If we want to create environments where all students benefit from the new thinking and are also encouraged to be part of the process of revising and testing new ideas, creating a culture of innovation is the key to ensuring systemic change instead of a few great classrooms or schools.


As I was continuing to wrestle with the meaning of transformation and the impact this word has on educators,  I read an article from The Atlantic (featured on the Mindshift blog).  The points made resonated with me in respect to the role of the teacher in light of vast amounts of digital content created by publishers:

There is a profound difference between a local expert teacher using the Internet and all its resources to supplement and improve his or her lessons, and a teacher facilitating the educational plans of massive organizations….Those calling for teachers to “transform their roles,” regardless of motive or intentionality, are quietly erasing this line—effectively deconstructing the role of the teacher as it’s always been known.”

There is no substitute for a teacher who designs authentic, participatory, and relevant learning experiences for her unique population of students.   The role of the teacher is to inspire learning and develop skills and mindsets of learners. A teacher as designer and facilitator should continually evolve with resources, experiences, and the support of a community.  It is becoming increasingly clear that we don’t necessarily need to transform the role of teachers, rather create a culture that inspires and empowers teachers to innovate in the pursuit of providing optimal learning experiences for their students.

This work, however, requires leadership who can develop and sustain systems to support new learning and a culture that values the process and refining new ideas. As a strong believer in working from strengths rather than deficits, the 8 Characteristics of the Innovators Mindset have also helped me to think about innovation as building on what works in schools.  As many have pointed out, transformation can imply that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. My reflection has helped me deepen my thinking and clarify the language I use to mirror my beliefs and practices that develop characteristics of individuals that lead to a culture of innovation rather a top down transformation of a system.

6 Replies to “Creating a Culture of Innovation vs a Transformation”

  1. […] [3] Martin, Katie. “Creating a Culture of Innovation versus Transformation”, June 10, 2015. […]

  2. […] Katie Martin, dell’Università di San Diego, parla nel suo blog della necessità di creare una “cultura della trasformazione”, invece che una cultura di innovazione. Martin sostiene che non serva trovare una sostituzione al ruolo dell’insegnante, bensì creare una cultura della trasformazione – quella del cambiamento positivo – che incoraggi gli insegnanti a inseguire l’innovazione nella direzione delle priorità che hanno i loro studenti. […]

  3. […] Katie Martin, of the University of San Diego, writes on her blog about the need to create a “culture of transformation”, instead of a culture of innovation. Martin thinks that we do not necessarily need to transform the role of teachers, rather create a culture of transformation – one of a positive change and attitude – that inspires and empowers teachers to innovate in the pursuit of providing optimal learning experiences for their students. […]

  4. […] 12, 2013. 2 Bass, Carl. “The New Rules of Innovation”, February, 2012. 3 Martin, Katie. “Creating a Culture of Innovation versus Transformation”, June 10, […]

  5. Really enjoying the feeling of being re-energized by your ideas Dr. @KatieMTLC (as well as those of @gcouros)! A thought grasped me as I read this article: when I think of the concept of a “culture of innovation” compared and contrasted to “transformation”, the c of i wins every time. Here’s why:

    In a paradigm where we urge “transformation”, there is an implied destination that we are intending to arrive. Transformation suggests that where we are coming from is a place of lesser value or quality, and with work we can arrive at a location, stage, conceptual understanding, or performance level that is of higher quality. This can often make educators feel like the work they have done for past district and/or site leaders (or state or US Dept. of Ed.) doesn’t count or doesn’t matter. Suddenly conversations come to mind of cynical veteran teachers and principals talking about the pendulum swinging back and forth…(my father who was a career teacher always told me that if the pendulum HIT you, it was time to retire or leave education!)

    However, a culture of innovation suggests to me a culture of continuous improvement. It’s not the destination, but the journey! Deming focused on improving processes to improve systems. In a culture of innovation, the product of implementing a strategy of trial and error to produce something new or improved suggests that even THAT product could be innovated. If I am in a pretty good “place”, transforming makes my feel apprehensive..why transform? I am in good shape! However, if I am in a good place, innovating enlivens me! it challenges me to take something good and make it better! I add to some total universal value in innovating. In transforming, I feel called to move away from that “thing” that was seemingly effective. Now why would anyone want to do that?

    -just some ideas from a pretty average middle school principal…

  6. […] Martin, Katie. “Creating a Culture of Innovation Versus Transformation, “, June 10, 2015, // […]

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