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  • Writer's picturegaurav muradia

On Tinkering with Innovation in Schools

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

The term ‘innovation’ tends to conjure up images of technological marvels in our minds. During my ‘Leading Schools’ course at Harvard University, I had the opportunity to reflect deeply on the true nature of innovation. It is interesting to think over what exactly is innovation, and how we instinctively recognize innovation when we see it. More interestingly, it is also worth puzzling over how the pursuit of innovation can be perceived as being different from pursuing novelty.

Innovation can be understood as distinct from novelty because:

  • Rather than being a product or an outcome, innovation is primarily a mindset- a way of life even, that sustains itself through an iterative cycle of reflection and improvement. Novelty on the other hand, is necessarily tangible.

  • Novelty, especially in acts of creation, refers to the act of introducing new aspects or elements. While innovation is similar, in the sense that there is a change, it necessarily leads to a genuinely transformative experience, which is not always true of novelty. Innovation is not only merely increasing the complexity of things- not just rearrangements, or upgrades, or the introduction of new policies- but that it can even interestingly include simplification, bringing in ease and clarity to an idea, theory, framework, curricular offering and so on.

  • Unlike novelty, innovation tends to be sustainable over time, and is larger and more systemic. While novelty brings excitement, its impact is relatively short-lived.

These distinctions possibly hold significance for schools because:

  • They can act as guide-posts for decision-making- especially for those decisions that involve considerable investment of organizational time, resources, energy and personnel.

  • They can guide school-improvement planning- by adopting well-defined goals and qualitative practices that are more suitable for long-term implementation, and better aligned with the school vision, than merely being à la mode.

The next question that naturally arises then is how can the innovative mindset be acquired, or better still, cultivated in schools?

There is no doubt that the spirit of innovation is somehow magically infectious- in many ways it builds itself when it is given the right space and conditions to flourish. School cultures that are innovative, value, recognize and inspire innovation in visible, collective ways.

Here are some experiential insights that can perhaps be used as starting points for schools exploring what cultivating innovation looks like in their own context:

1. Contemplate Inviting Reflection What some of the most influential ideas in pedagogy have in common today- whether it be Ritchart’s Making Thinking Visible, Costa and Kallick’s Habits of Mind, Murdoch’s inquiry cycle and so on - is the emphasis placed on reflection. By encouraging learners and teachers to pause and calibrate before, during and after learning, we can open up transformative possibilities. Better still, are opportunities created for collaborative reflection that precede or succeed independent reflection. Innovation is often born in the pauses within discussions, and that is why school leaders are implicitly entrusted to curate and create ‘spaces’ for discussion and exchange.

2. Consider Supporting Playfulness through Intellectual Space

School leaders would ideally safeguard these rare, sacred spaces for dialogue, and treat them with reverence. Innovation requires an element of courage, experimentation and playfulness. Creating safe spaces for intellectual-risk taking is made possible when educators model challenging assumptions, the exploration of counter-claims and the demonstration of active perspective-taking. By attempting to be reflective of our responses and instinctive reactions to playfulness, and by being mindful of our own intellectual humility, we can do much to okay playfulness. It can be helpful to remember that the innovative mindset can be fragile, prone to being easily crushed by criticism, especially in the early stages of ideation.

3. Explore Building Resilience This brings us to the significance of developing intellectual resilience. Popularized as the ‘growth mindset’ by Dweck, and even celebrated through ideas of prototyping in design thinking, intellectual resilience helps learners understand that learning is iterative. Feedback loops supported by assessment opportunities for and as learning make it possible to harness assessment as a vital source of inspiration and innovation rather than judgement. When learners and teachers alike feel adequately supported, they begin to be fascinated with error and develop a deep appreciation for the thoughtful exchange of feedback. Building intellectual resilience also helps learners become more adaptive in many other unique ways. Resilient thinkers are more likely to innovatively transfer or combine conceptual understandings across subjects, or attempt to apply learning to unfamiliar contexts.

There is no end to the next steps we can chart from these starting points for reflection. It would be great to hear how you are exploring innovation in your school or organizational context- do let me know in the comments below!

Dr Gaurav Muradia is a progressive educationist and director of leading K-12 international schools. He is also an Advisor to several schools with whom he works with to establish and sustain innovative systems and practices.

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Kalpna Prakash Gulati
Kalpna Prakash Gulati
Dec 06, 2021

Very well written. It not only applies to schools but also to the organizations at large. Very well though of.

gaurav muradia
gaurav muradia
Dec 07, 2021
Replying to

It's definitely interesting to think of how innovation applies to other workspaces and organizations!

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