As educators, we are all in agreement that in order to be prepared for the future, we need to innovate our schools. Yet, innovation seems elusive to many as they struggle to understand what it really means.
From a study about innovation in private schools in Dubai, it appears a common misconception, that innovation is inextricably linked to technology. Leaders and teachers who are not technologically minded believe that innovation is out of their reach because it is about computing, robotics or scientific inventions. During interviews with ten leaders of innovation in private schools in Dubai, most said their own perceptions of innovation have changed over time, mostly because their role as leaders of innovation, was to dig deep to find out what it really was and then share that with their school community.
Some participants in the study felt that because innovation is high on the agenda in UAE schools and has a raised profile of innovation in schools, it was becoming better understood. They felt that it was a positive aspect, working and studying in an innovative nation, with innovative ideas and projects surrounding them.
Couros (2015) argues that in order to have innovative learners, we need innovative educators and in order to have innovative educators, we need innovative leaders.
According to Baumgartner (2018), an innovative leader does not need to be the person who creates the idea but needs to enable it. Where innovation was successful, in the schools related to the study, it was because school leaders were brave enough to open it up to the students or where leaders modelled innovative practice and encouraged and trusted teachers to innovate their practice.
It takes an innovative leader to create a culture where innovation can thrive, by allowing staff and students to take risks but managing these well. In fact, managing risk is seen as the top skill of innovative leaders in a study of over 5000 leaders in different organisations (XBInsight 2017).
When asked to describe innovative teachers in their schools, the most common skills attributed to innovative teachers were risk-taking, followed by being open-minded, confident, adaptable, curious and resilient. Having a growth mindset, being creative, communicative and a good collaborator also featured in the list of skills. Only one participant described innovative teachers in their school as being technologically savvy. That is not to say they were not, it just did not feature when asked to describe an innovative teacher in their school.
An unexpected emotion linked to innovation by some interviewees was that of fear. They said teachers feared the word because a) they didn’t know what it meant, b) thought that it had to be linked to technology or a big invention or that c) they were frightened of taking a risk. Sutch et all (2008, p17), discusses similar factors that prevent teachers from engaging in educational innovation, which included a risk of failure, risk of wasting time, risk of expenditure that couldn’t be justified and risk of criticism from parents, inspectors, governors or students. Hargreaves (2003) stresses the importance of the level of trust between school leaders and teachers and teachers and students.
Innovative students were described by interviewees as being creative problem-solvers who were resilient and communicated well. Participants felt that although students were often more innovative than adults because they were not constrained by the word, they often thought that innovation is for later in life. Leadership roles and other opportunities provided by the school helped students embrace innovation. However, there were also views that parental support at home, gave students a suitable ethic of commitment towards innovation.
A study by Teachthought (2018), shows that a growth mindset is the most popular trend in education. This is just as well because it is a growth mindset that allows innovative cultures to exist in schools, a growth mindset that lets leaders take, encourage and manage risks, a growth mindset that helps teachers recognise that innovation is part of what they do, not something in addition to it and a growth mindset that helps turn young learners into innovators.
By: Francessca Affleck
Francesca Affleck is the Author of Discovering the United Arab Emirates, a School Evaluator and an Education Consultant. In between consultancy projects, she is often found in schools offering author talks and workshops, writing lesson plans. She has recently completed an MBA – Educational Leadership through a University in Finland.