The Biggest Barrier to Innovation

“Being realistic is the most commonly travelled road to mediocrity.” Will Smith

Maybe it’s because I have been listening to “motivational speeches” on 8Tracks, or maybe because I have been emotionally touched by so many tributes to all of the moms out there in the world, but I have been thinking a lot about our mindset towards innovation and the barriers that we need to overcome to create better learning opportunities in our schools.  This post is a tribute to my mom who is my hero for more reasons than I could ever count.

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I saw the above picture a few months ago, and it is one that has resonated with me.  When we talk about “change”, it is often something we think about when talking about others, and rarely in connection with ourselves.  It is easy to want others to change, but it always starts with “us” and our attitudes to change.  Constantly looking at the life of my parents, I learned from them that change is an opportunity to do something amazing, and that when we embrace new opportunities, even when they seem like obstacles, we can create something much better than what currently exists.  Change is scary and we often stay with a “known bad” than take the chance on the possibility of a “great” new opportunity.  Fear can stop us or make us reluctant, but it doesn’t have to defeat us.

My mom has proven this to me over and over again throughout her life.  Having a grade six education in Greece, and nearly dying from meningitis as a young child, she decided one day to come over to Canada to create a better life.  If you think about the time that she came over, she probably had no idea whether she would see her family again.  Yet she worked hard, and with my dad, created a life for themselves and for my siblings that had more opportunities for us than what they had as children. I remember her taking lessons to read in her 50’s and 60’s because she knew that being able to read and write would create opportunities, even though learning it would be an obstacle. To this day, at almost 80 years old, she constantly sends me emails and it is amazing how she gets better with every single one.  I save each email that she sends to me in a folder, and it is like my mom’s own learning portfolio. I cherish each one.

In the last few years, I have watched her deal with so much adversity and come out strong, although not without her struggles.  My dad passed away two years ago, and her only brother passed away a few months ago.  The older we get, the more we seem to lose, yet my mom still goes out of her way to show me love and connect with me and give me advice.  With such a little amount of formal education, she is wise in so many areas that I need her to be.  This wisdom comes from her attitude to the world more than anything.  She sees light in not only situations, but people, when it would be really easy to see dark.  If I could be one-tenth the person my mom is, I would be happy.  Although I am all about embracing change, I don’t know if I could have done what she has done in her lifetime.

In relation to this attitude, I have been thinking about the challenges that we face with school.  Budget restrictions, policies that don’t make much sense, and curriculums that are way too static for a world that is constantly changing, we could just throw in the towel and be okay with the notion of school in the past.  But like my mom who wanted better for her kids than what she had, I am hoping we can create something better for our students than what we grew up with.  When we know better, we should do better.  People challenge others to think “outside of the box”, when really we need to think how do we become innovative inside of the box.  When Vine came out, many people asked “what in the world could you possibly do with six seconds?”, when others said, “I wonder what I could do with six seconds?”  While some looked at the constraints as a barrier, others looked at the constraints as an opportunity.  It is your perspective.  One of the questions above is not a question, but an excuse.  Are you asking questions to stay still or to move forward?

Often, the biggest barrier to innovation is our own way of thinking.

It is not the policies, it is not the curriculum, it is us. I hear things like, “Well we can’t possibly do that because of our (parents, students, teachers, principal, lack of resources, government, etc.)”, yet someone somewhere has done whatever you might be trying to do facing the same adversity you face.

In fact, the story is better because of the adversity.

Do you know why people love reading comics or watching movies about super heroes?  It is not only because they often go beyond our imagination, but more importantly, they do it while overcoming adversity.  The story becomes so much more compelling when it is not easy.  Have you seen those shirts that say, “I teach…what’s your superpower”?  Just being a teacher is not a superpower; the way we teach is. That can help change the world.  Just showing up each day is a start, but it’s not enough.

I thought of this when I recently heard the quote, “be the hero in your own story,”  I think of my mom who taught me to always look in the light when all you can see is dark, and who has overcome so much adversity to give everything she has to her kids, to create something better, while showing love and kindness to everyone she encountered.  She’s the hero in her story because she focused not on what she didn’t have, but on what she did have and what she could do with it.  This (her) mindset is crucial to the innovative educator.

If the adversity wasn’t there, would the story even be that interesting?  How will you become the hero in your own story?

I am thankful for my mom, who constantly teaches me to see the light in the dark, who treats every person with nothing but love, and through adversity, not only has created opportunity, but does it with a smile, laughter, and joy, when it would be easy to choose a different way.

4 Comments

  1. Fantastic post!
    I have been trying to innovate and spice up my classes with technology but unfortunately my school does not have enough computers for core subject teachers, they are only for Computer Science classes and this is an issue. What would you do if a “colleague” who is supposed to be coordinating a department, criticizes an experienced teacher who is always trying to engage students in innovative activities, who is always looking for something new to practice, which combined with the coursebook could lead to super wonderful results as she has always achieved: great response from students!?
    Thanks for posting! I promise I have always done my best! (English is not my first language as you can imagine! but I do try!)
    Greetings from Argentina!

    June 2, 2015
    Reply
  2. Cynthia Gordon said:

    I see these barriers all too often in our own students who have challenges in their lives before they even step out their front door. Some come with no food, lack of clean clothes, and little foundation in early learning. At our Welcome to Kindergarten event last week, we talked about parents reading with their child as they truly are their first teachers, but what if that parent can’t read? Educators must work very hard to find innovative ways to support students, not just academically but socially and emotionally as well. The innovation that we find in our own way of thinking to come up with creative, compassionate and fun ways to reach students will be the lessons they take with them, and not just the curriculum.

    June 3, 2015
    Reply
  3. Elisa Waingort said:

    Wow! What an amazing post. It brought tears to my eyes. It also made me reflect on how I sometimes don’t power through adversity and the times when I do. It’s so important to change up that question and say, what can I do to make things better? What can I change in myself to become a better teacher? What changes can I make to create a better working environment, classroom culture, etc? It’s accessible to us if we choose to do it.

    June 3, 2015
    Reply
    • Thank you for your comment Elisa 🙂 Appreciate your openness!

      June 7, 2015
      Reply

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