Defining Innovation


“When the world is flat, you can innovate without having to emigrate” Thomas L. Friedman

Last year, I was seconded as the Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning.  As innovation is a major topic at the conference I am at this week, I thought I would do a little research on the term and reflect on the role.

From Wikipedia:

The term innovation derives from the Latin word innovatus, which is the noun form of innovare “to renew or change,” stemming from in—”into” + novus—”new”. Although the term is broadly used, innovation generally refers to the creation of better or more effective productsprocessestechnologies, or ideas that are accepted by marketsgovernments, and society. Innovation differs from invention or renovation in that innovation generally signifies a substantial positive change compared to incremental changes.

With all of the new and creative ideas for not only classrooms, but organizations that are being shared, there is definitely a common thread of networking and collaboration across the world.  If we are to really promote innovation within our organization we have to continuously look at what other schools around the globe are doing.

I am often asked about my position and what exactly I am doing.  To be honest, if I could clearly articulate the “end” of my role, I am thinking that it would not be very innovative in the first place.  I have learned through collaboration that I am a lot better off working with others, then I am alone. With that being said, one of my major goals for this position is helping our own school organization build connections both in and outside of our learning community.  Through these connections that others make, our organization will definitely progress and evolve.

Crowd Accelerated Innovation – a self-fuelling cycle of learning that could be as significant as  the invention of print.  But to tap its power, organizations will need to embrace radical openness.”
Chris Anderson

Through somewhat simple and free tools such as Twitter and blogging, we have offered workshops to our teachers to start building connections themselves to bring new ideas into their classrooms.  The nice thing is that I am not doing this on my own.  There are people all over our division and the world helping out to push our schools forward.  Here is an example of a recent post from one of our division teachers:

I recently took an in-service that many of our colleagues attended regarding how to be tweeter. WOW, what an amazing resource. I cannot believe the connections that this social media offers. I am designing and planning lessons in less than half the time it took before. These lessons are current, creative and my students are totally engaged…I believe that through using this social media my pedagogy and student learning is going to improve. In just a short few weeks, I feel that my lessons are better developed and that my students are far more engaged. The anticipation of learning more about technology has refreshed me and rekindled my passion for being a lifelong learner and an effective teacher.

You would not believe the sheer joy I felt when I read Tara’s post on what she is seeing and how it is immediately impacting her students.

These formal sessions can be great, but what is essential that we provide continuous support for teachers jumping into this stream. We have high expectations but we also know that it is absolutely essential to back it up with support.  Through this networking we are seeing a new type of blended collaboration happening.  Teachers are continuously sharing their knowledge and support to one another not just in their own schools, but across this division.  It is truly inspiring to watch the sharing and camaraderie in such an open setting.  It is not only expected that my role is that of an instructional leader, but also as a connector.  I can tell you that there is no better person to help someone in a grade 1 class then another grade 1 teacher.  Hopefully I can help facilitate that.

“We can think more creatively if we open our minds to the many connected environments that make creativity possible.” Stephen Johnson

What we are trying to create in our division seems to be a “best of” type model.  Not in the sense of a “best” school where we are trying to be better than other schools. We are focused on being an open learning organization and are wanting to share the things that we are doing to help all kids.  The idea is that through connecting and sharing, each school can do what they need to do to create the “best” environments for their kids to be leaders today and tomorrow.  If every solution looked exactly the same, we really would have just created a “revamped” factory model of schooling.  We need to figure out how to do what is best for each child, each classroom, each teacher, each school, and every learner; that will always look different.

So ultimately, what will “innovation” look like?  If I do my job right, I don’t think I would be the one defining this.  If I could clearly create the image of “innovation” for each learner, is it really that innovative?  Innovation will and should be personal. We have to be open to the messiness of this process.  If we can help empower and connect our students, teachers, and schools so they can learn in better and more effective ways from each other, they wil be making the definitions.


  1. Love this blog! Collaboration and sharing of practice within the teaching profession seems to be being embraced, which is fantastic! The use of twitter and other social media tools, which are free and accessible, are brilliant for professional development.

    November 11, 2011
  2. Great post George! I think that innovation is a term that is used often in discussions about education reform, but I do not think that we spend enough time talking about what this means. In my opinion, innovation does not happen in a vacuum or as Johnson puts it:

    “Environments that build walls around good ideas tend to be less innovative in the long run than more open-ended environments.”

    As we both know, having technology available to connect with the amazing people pushing the envelope to make our schools better is a tremendous gift. Educators need to be able to share this gift with there students and in your division it is wonderful that so many are learning to take advantage of this.

    November 11, 2011
  3. Dan Bray said:

    A great insight George! What is Innovative to one is different to another which does make it personal. The important thing is that positive and empowering relationships continue between students and fellow teachers around the globe. 21st C Ed will help that to develop all on its own.

    November 11, 2011
  4. Shaye said:


    Great post. You have done a great job capturing the work that we are trying to do in PSD. Your work in my school has been well received and has led to many great discussions between teachers.


    November 12, 2011
  5. Jesse Bluma said:

    Innovation, impact, and effectiveness are key. The challenge is placed in front of us when we are “offered” to become Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). This is the lastest vehicle for “innovation” and “collaboration”, yet it often is top-down, feel good, look good cloaks. PLCs are said to be voted in by teachers, yes, yet most teachers only do so because they don’t know all the facts or they want to be a good team player with the principal and district. It’s only after being in one that one realizes most of it is Teaching 101. If administrators see a need for improved teaching methods, then it is far best to coach a small group of teachers than to coach a whole staff on what most already do. Exactly what a good teacher would do in the classroom, you don’t teach all your students how to add fractions if only a small handful don’t know. PLCs are only one vehicle to operate as a staff, there are many other vehicles. PLCs are much like a semi-truck, it has a lot of benefits. Yet, you don’t always need a semi-truck. Sometimes you need a pickup, a limousine, or a compact car. Once you are in a PLC it is near impossible to get that semi-truck to do all that you want and need. I would caution any school staff to remain flexible chameleons, rather than choosing to become one type of vehicle. I would also encourage you to learn about “Race to the Top”

    November 16, 2011

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