Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Overcoming The Barriers To Creativity And Innovation

It's been a few weeks since I returned from Doha, Qatar and the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). If you aren't familiar, this conference centers around scalable, actionable ideas for the future of education worldwide.

It is, by far, my favorite conference I get to attend each year because of the level of conversations that are had there. With some conferences the focus is on hot topics or what will bring in the biggest crowds. At WISE the conversations are on the topics that might be controversial or need to be addressed for education to move forward.

But there is always a focus on actions. 

The theme this year was on creativity and innovation and they were in full effect. In addition to some great keynote addresses on why creativity and innovation need to be cornerstones of education moving forward, there were thought provoking conversations around the future of universities and the value of college degrees, how important play really is to learning and more. There were makerspaces for attendees to build computers and work with Legos and opportunities for more unconference events to allow anyone to share ideas or resources. 

In all the conversations and sessions there were a few barriers to creativity and innovation in learning that kept being repeated over and over that we must overcome on a global scale. 

Emphasis on Standardized Assessments-As to be expected, many conversations centered around our global fascination with data and comparison of students. PISA, rankings, etc, where all cited as examples of our focus being on the wrong thing. One area I believe we all can agree upon is data is important. We need to know what our students are learning, when they learn it and how they know they know what they've learned. I also believe we can all agree that many of the data points used in education worldwide don't hold much meaning, other than to say one countries education system may or may not be better than another. 

To overcome we have to move this reliance on the wrong kind of data to the kind that truly matters. We must focus our efforts on the data that matters. What does that look like in your classroom? Formative assessments must be the norm. Relying on formative assessments to tell you what students know and don't, provide for an environment where kids can be creative and innovative. Sure, you might still have the typical standardized test at the end of the year, but students will be better prepared because your focus was on their learning, to ensure they are where they needed to be. And you will have provided an environment where kids can explore, reflect, grow and follow their passions through learning.

Lack of Fundamental Changes To Teacher Education Programs-Another, perhaps surprising area that was mentioned as a barrier, was the inflexibility of change in teacher education programs. Remember, this isn't just a U.S. problem, this is a global problem. Many of the programs worldwide still teach future teachers using outdated methodologies for a variety of reasons. In the U.S. there are many reasons but it is the lack of pushback from districts saying they need a different kind of teacher that is the main driver (or lack there of). If that is the case, why would programs need to change? This lack of change is turning out teachers in many locations that aren't prepared to use technology, amplify student voice or use the right kinds of data. 

This lack of change in teacher education programs is something that will take more than blog posts and conversations. It's going to take districts, Superintendents and others to better articulate the need for teachers to be prepared to be facilitators of learning rather than lecturers in the front of the room. Students need (and deserve) teachers who can, again, create those environments where they can explore, reflect, grow and find their passions through learning.

Leadership Crisis-As my friend Thomas Murray often says, what we have in education is a crisis in leadership, and I tend to agree. Despite many challenges and barriers, there are some teachers who exemplify what it means to promote creativity and innovation in learning. And an often cited reason for their success is a leadership who "get's it." A leadership who either gets out of the way and lets the teachers do what is best, or is hands on and pushes teachers to be better for their students. 

So if we have a leadership crisis, that begs the question, what do we do? As a classroom teacher it may be difficult to change the minds of leaders who might not understand why creativity should be more important than summative assessments. However, as I tell all who ask me, keep doing what is best for your students. The crisis in leadership can begin to be solved by schools and districts spending more time on the right kind of professional development for leaders. The kind that focuses in on those areas they need most like technology integration, understanding innovation can be part of learning and how to be a coach and instructional leader rather than a manager.

As you can see these are complex problems with no easy answers. One thing is for sure. Creativity and innovation should part of the learning process. And while there are no quick fixes, we all need to ensure kids have those opportunities to learn, reflect, grow and follow their passions, through learning. 

What do you think? What are the barriers to creativity and innovation in your classroom? How are you overcoming them? Leave a comment below. 

Photo Credit: Bernat... via Photopin cc
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