“Innovation” is all the rage, and it is probably the most used word in my blog posts as well. However, there are a lot of new ideas and methods that become wrapped up under the innovation label. A particular challenge is that, for everything new we add to the K-12 system, we also need to determine what will come out. Currently, we are trying to address a jammed-full curriculum, and adding new items without withdrawing other items only exacerbates the challenge.
The first thing we have come to realize is some interventions, ideas, courses, or programs have a shelf life. It is not that they were wrong decisions, the world changes and our programs need to reflect that change. I think this is also true with a number of initiatives intended to encourage technology and support digital literacy. As the use of technology becomes less “learning with technology” and more “learning,” the special initiatives — whether built around one-to-one programs for specific student cohorts, or some distributive learning programs — need to be recognized for the role they have played in moving education forward and then we need to move on. Of course, we are so much better at starting initiatives than we are at ending them, even when it is time.
This is not failure. When new research is being considered, and when new ideas are being proposed, stopping (before again moving forward) ensures the new innovations have an opportunity to grow. We have tried running all the courses we had last year along with the new ones proposed, to the same students, and sign-up is fragmented, often with many courses being cancelled because they haven’t had the opportunity to develop. We also can and do protect existing programs, even if they no longer connect with students in the same way they had before, thereby limiting the opportunities for new programs to develop. It’s a bit of a Catch-22, and it becomes further complicated as teachers have favourite courses they want to teach, and resources invested, but may no longer be a good match for what kids need and want.
In the private sector, where the free market rules, it seems to be much easier to abandon innovations that no longer work. I give full credit to one of the most creative district principals I know. Diane Nelson, who nurtures our sports academy programs, proposed a field hockey academy, and it didn’t work. So, instead of trying to force it to work, she moved on, and now she has a baseball academy set for the fall that is highly subscribed. She knew to walk away from the one, and to reinvest in the other, continuing the search to find programs to meet the needs and wants of our students and their families.
When courses disappear, or school rituals retire, it should not be seen as negative. In many ways, it is progress. Great ideas have a shelf life, and is often from where other ideas do develop and grow. So, while we are really good at celebrating all the “new” we are starting in education right now, we shouldn’t be shy about acknowledging the need to cull along the way to make a place for the better.