There is not one right way #IMMOOC

Why is Innovation in Education Necessary?

The conversation with George Couros and  Jo Boaler in the IMMOOC live session has had me thinking a lot about how we use research in education and the impact (or not) on how we innovate and improve.  As we talked about mindset, brain plasticity, making mistakes, the problem with homework, facing critics and so much more, much of the conversation revolved around research in each of these areas and the implications for innovation in education. Too often, however, these two are placed at odds. For example, I hear people challenge innovation in education because “it” is not proven by research or evidence-based.  It often sounds like this “We can’t just experiment with kids and their future.”  Or “We have to know it works first.” I certainly don’t want to do anything to harm kids but I also see how this can be used as an excuse to maintain traditions rather look at what’s best for those we serve.

Experimenting or Learning to Improve?

When I hear this argument of not experimenting on kids, I think of my experience as a parent and many parents I know. I can’t think of a parent that hasn’t “experimented” with their own kids to do what is best for them.  Just think of sleep schedules.  Some research says that babies need to be on strict schedules and cry it out, while other research says you should cater to their every whimper and feed and hold them whenever they want. There is research to support both sides (as there is in most cases) but as a mom, I tried some things out based on the research and make informed decisions about what I found to be some best practices. As I saw what worked and what didn’t and different needs and circumstances emerged, I tried some different approaches.  Sometimes it was better, sometimes it was not an improvement and I learned what worked in my house, with my kids and continually do so, daily. There is not one right way.

Relying on research is important but it isn’t everything.  If you don’t focus on the learners and attend to the context, the findings can be irrelevant.  This graphic from George outlines the process of innovative teaching and learning and demonstrates how it should be an iterative process.


In the Innovator’s Mindset, innovation in education is defined as:

A way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” (a change of something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new and better,” it is not innovative. 

I also looked up the definition of research (and you can find some different ones too, which is another interesting point). So here is a definition of research:

Studious inquiry or examination; especially: investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws

Essentially, the goal of the research is to find new and better ways to do things and continue to do so over time. So really, research and innovation are actually in service of one another. As new findings emerge we have to try them out in our classrooms, schools, and districts.  Likewise, just because something has been proven as a best practice once doesn’t mean it always remains so or just because it works with one group of kids doesn’t mean it will work with another.  Through rigorous studies, we can document and generalize findings but as we learn from research, we will always need to attend to the context to ensure we are best serving the learners based on the desired outcomes, which continually require innovation.

Are You Doing What’s Best for Learners?

If we are honest with ourselves, there are many traditions that don’t serve learners and research points to better ways yet we fail to try out new practices and innovate because they are at odds with long-held traditions. 

Here are some examples:

Traditional Practice Research Says How might we innovate in education?
Assign homework to kids of all grade levels each night to teach responsibility and get extra practice. There is no benefit to giving kids homework, especially in the elementary grades.
Tracking students based on intelligence and standardized measures of achievement. Beliefs in learners and their ability impact success. Students are capable of learning if they have effective learning environments and teaching strategies.
Value getting things right the first time, no make-ups, fixed view of intelligence Our brains grow with mistakes and make new connections between new and different ideas.
Treat professional development for teachers as an event and expect fidelity in implementation. Teachers thrive when they have opportunities to experience new learning, practices, get feedback and collaborate with peers to improve.

I intentionally left the last column blank because if we are focusing on the learners in our own context, the answers should vary.  Going back to George’s process of innovative teaching and learning, if you are asking what is best for each learner, determining what is already known through practice and research can help you determine what practices might serve them better. Based on this, try some things out, reflect, remix and revise based on the learners you serve and determine what becomes your next best practice for your context. Then share so we can all learn and improve based on your experiences, innovative ideas and lessons learned. 

Innovative educators look to research and best practices and base decisions on the learners they serve in their context to provide new and better experiences to meet the desired outcomes. In service of creating better learning opportunities, we also have to understand that there is never just one right way and change is a process. And that is why an Innovator’s Mindset should not be reserved for the few but is crucial for all of us in education.

____________________________________________________________________________________________I am participating in the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC #IMMOOC over the next 6 weeks.  If you are interested in more information, here is the overview and schedule.  We would love to have you join in!

8 Replies to “There is not one right way #IMMOOC”

  1. Katie, I’ve been thinking so much about the dispositions of organizations that learn. At the highest, this is organizational metacognition, an organization that can reflect and reframe and revise and innovate. We think a lot about learning as it pertains to students, but what if we began with the adults in our schools as the “first” learners? If we prioritized PD that is teacher/learner-focused, and encouraged educators to pursue their passion projects? Thanks for your post which has added more food for thought!

    1. I totally agree that we have start with adults as learners and truly become learning organizations. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. I’ve had similar thoughts about experimenting vs learning to improve. In my principal program my professors were adamant about only approving of PD that was backed by research. While I can appreciate not implementing arbitrary practices in the classroom, the stifling nature of only doing strategies that were shown to be successful in peer reviewed journals felt suffocating. Teachers “braving the wild” likely aren’t publishing research about their work. Evidence of what works can be found in blogs and corroborated with what I know pedagogically about what works for kids. Thank you for reminding us to be mindful of the big picture – taking risks with our kids is actually learning to improve, can help far beyond the walls of our classroom, and can get it us where we need to go much faster than holding onto research alone.

    1. Thanks, Brady! I love that you managed to get a BB reference in:)

  3. Dr Seuss:
    ‘Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!’

    Katie, your post brought these Dr Seuss words to mind – We have to ‘try and think up many thinks’ to inspire our students and to help engage them in their learning. There is not one right way.

    These ‘thinks’ are rarely prescripted. While teaching and learning are happening, we are actually ‘experimenting’ (as you mention) naturally, most of the time. Trying different approaches – what works for one student might not work for another. (Like your analogy to parenting)

    So we have to keep trying to ignite their thinking and learning in a range of different, interesting and engaging ways. This is our challenge. There is not one right way.

    1. Love the connection to Dr. Suess! Thanks for sharing you thoughts.

  4. Innovative educators not only look to research, but conduct their own research, both formal and informal. Each day is a new day and our kids change from minute to minute and we’re constantly observing them, making changes, both radical and minimal, to affect them in the most positive way possible. Wow, that was a long sentence.

    1. Ha! I certainly have my fair share of long ones. Lots of great thoughts packed in:). Thanks for sharing.

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