Why Schools Should Focus More on “Innovation” Than “EdTech”

I received an excellent message from a friend of mine that I have made over the past couple of years, Donna DeSiato. Donna is the superintendent of East Syracuse Minoa School District, which I have been lucky enough to speak to over the past two years on the topic of innovation in education. I have written about Donna and her district before, and they are pushing the boundaries of what school could and should look like. I am making an assumption here, but I know Donna would say that she is very proud of the work that is being led by her staff, but that can always grow and get better. That is what makes their organization special, and others like it; the constant pursuit of getting better.

What Donna had shared with me today was an article outlining the significant increase in graduation rates of their school district. From the article:

The East Syracuse Minoa school district showed the greatest improvement in graduation rates among all districts in the state with more than 200 students in a class, a Syracuse.com analysis shows.

Graduation rates improved from 81 percent in 2016 to 92 percent in 2017, according to records released last week by the New York State Department of Education.

The statewide average was about 80 percent.

Superintendent Donna DeSiato attributes the success to the hard work of students as well as staff and parental support for both high achieving and struggling students.

The school district was recently recognized as one of 26 in New York state to qualify for the Advanced Placement honor roll, which requires diversity in AP class enrollment and high test scores.

The district also analyzes data to identify struggling students, then works with each one to develop skills or figure out why showing up for school might be the challenge.

I asked Donna if their focus on “innovation” made an impact on this increase and she replied, “Without a doubt! It is the 10th anniversary of the implementation of our Strategic Plan, and the integration of innovative learning models clearly has contributed to these significant gains.”

This makes my heart and mind happy.

A few things:

  1. The focus is on “innovation,” not technology. I am sure that technology is present, but the focus is on changing the mindset to continuously new and better ways to serve students.  Schools need to shift away from the idea of “EdTech” to a focus on “innovation.” They are significantly different as the first seems to focus on the “stuff,” where the second focuses more so on the “learner.” Big difference.
  2. Do I believe that the results are 100% due to a focus on innovative practices? Nope, and it would be impossible to separate all things to see if that focus had a direct result of what happened here. What I do know is that the team at East Syracuse focused on innovation and their results went up. They were able to “innovate inside the box” and get results that are measured, while also changing the school experience for their students in a way that will serve them beyond schools in our present day and future.  Too often, people believe that “innovation” and the box of school can’t work together, but I disagree wholeheartedly.  How you teach is more important than what you teach.
  3. Someone said to me, “The more innovative I have become, the less classroom management issues I had.” Think about that statement and how true that is.  This is not only for classroom management but also with kids showing up to school in the first place and wanting to be there.  You are more likely to be able to push a student to their fullest potential if you create an environment that they both want to be in and feel valued.

I know Donna would say (and has said) that this is only one measure and should not be the only thing communities focus on to show if a school or district has been successful.  But I wanted to highlight this as proof as the idea of “school” and “innovation” are not necessarily counterintuitive.  If you have people embrace a different mindset and create something better for our students, while still working within the constraints of the system, incredible gains can be made within the present of what is expected, and the potential of what can be created in the future.

Source: George Couros