Wednesday, April 6, 2016

5 Barriers to Innovation

What is best for the student?

Dedicated educators are constantly asking themselves this question as we strive to create innovative learning experiences for our students. We need--our students need--new ideas and inventions that fly in the face of the status quo and transform our schools.

While our education systems has made great strides in recent memory, we need to do more. So why aren’t we making the necessary innovations?

5 Barriers to Innovation

Isolation Many teachers believe, “I’m doing fine. My students are doing fine,” they shut their classroom doors and go about their business. Even the most reflective teacher, who remains isolated, lacks the ability to share and learn from others.


For many years, I was an isolated teacher, one who was successful but whose growth was limited by my isolation. I was perfectly content to shut my classroom door and teach. In truth, it wasn’t until I became an administrator that my perspective widened as I began observing and communicating with peers.

Budgetary Constraints  Expansive collaboration--like shared collaborative planning time--requires time and money and many innovative ideas require increased funding.
For ten years, I was part of a high-functioning  freshman transition team. As part of our vision, we wanted to go to 1:1 technology. Our school administration was on board, we asked the higher ups for money, but alas no money was available. We wrote grant or two. Again a no go. We gave up. Back to traditional paper and pencil teaching.
Risk Intolerance: A child’s future is in the hands of his/her teachers. A failed standardized test can mean a student doesn’t graduate. Of course, many teachers are either formally or informally judged based on their students’ test scores. School communities, including the families they serve, are not risk tolerant.

After taking my class, students took a state-mandated standardized test; for many of my students this was their best chance to earn a required social studies credit. I’m proud to say that my students did extremely well on the test. But, knowing the “importance” of the test, I was always reluctant to take a risk, weighing the risks vs the consequences, far too often I stuck with the status quo.

Fads Filled with cynicism, many teachers see the next wave of innovation as a fad. I heard one teacher exclaim, “I’ve been doing this for so long. I’ve seen it all. Portfolios, technology, project-based learning. It’s all the same. It’ll come and it’ll go. Just like everything else.”

Innovative ideas, whether a fad or not, often complicate teachers’ work leading to disheveled implementation, dumbed-down instruction and ineffective instruction. Finding the appropriate balance between improvement and innovation

Control Who controls the decision-making in your school? In one system where I taught we were prohibited from straying from the state curriculum. Observing administrators opened up the state framework and tallied instructional time into three categories (black: directly related to the prescribed curriculum, white: outside of what should be taught, and gray: information that falls somewhere between black and white). Needless to say, “effective” teachers spent most instructional time in the black. Teachers were rewarded for PowerPoints that essentially copied and pasted from the state curriculum.


In writing this blog, I came across the stark realization that schools were not designed to innovate and are inherently risk avoidant. Innovation is risky, causing many people to run away from it and it’s almost become reflexive for many educators to say, “We’ve never done this before,” or “That won’t work.”

Too often we fall back on what is easy, what’s known or what’s comfortable.


We despiritedly ask, "Why bother?"

Innovation means working towards our ultimate goal of improving lives. Our mission as educators is to ensure each student reaches their potential, and we must constantly explore ways to ensure this happens. We must do what's best for our students. 

What are some barriers to innovation that you've experienced? Or better yet, that you've overcome?


Related Blogs
Creating a Risk-Taking Classroom 
Administrators Role in Encouraging Risk-Taking  

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