“What path innovation?”

Posted by Butch Owens on October 12, 2010

Are common standards and national tests the panacea for our nation’s woes?  Some seem to think so, but I’m not so sure.    Just last April I had the opportunity to hear Yong Zhao, author of Catching up or Leading the Way,  speak at our annual Leadership 3.0 Symposium.   He argues that while for years, politicians and the public have been looking for what is wrong with American education by constantly comparing the test scores of American students to those of students in such places as Russia, Japan, Singapore, and China, test scores don’t measure how well a country itself is doing. One striking example is how far America is ahead of all other countries in the number of patents issued; China, by contrast, is ahead in toy production.

The irony is that while we are busy trying to catch up with countries that have better test scores, those very countries are trying to emulate our educational system—or at least the one we used to have.  China, Korea, Japan and Singapore, for example, all have national initiatives to move their educational systems toward more local control, more autonomy, less emphasis on test scores determining a student’s or school’s future, and greater choices for the individual.  These are traditional characteristics of our system which have contributed to our success in turning out well rounded and innovative citizens.  And all of the latest literature argues that the ability to innovate is what we need in the future.

How would you judge an effective school?  Here are some top criteria on my list:

  • The number of  varied opportunities a student has beyond the core academics
  • The degree that students enjoy their school and feel they are important
  • Teacher behaviors that convey the expectation that all students can learn
  • Opportunities for students to progress at their own rate
  • Strong art and music programs and curricular activities that connect students to school

When you look back on your school days, is it the test scores that really motivated you to excel, or all of the opportunities you had to be an individual and find your own purpose and passion?

Take away those things that have enabled our system to produce the inventors and innovators of today and what will be left?  At best, a technically capable American engineer competing for the same job as an equally capable engineer from India who will do the job for $7500 a year.  A better alternative is an educational system that creates an American engineer with not only the technical skills but the imagination, innovation and creativity to design the new ideas that will need the $7500 a year engineer in India to help develop.

In an earlier post I wrote about what students really need to know and learn in school in this 21st century and ended with  the comment, “If it’s easy to test, it’s easy to digitize, and if it’s easy to digitize it can be done easily by a computer.”  What we really want are well rounded, innovative students prepared for a lifetime as productive, innovative citizens.  Will common standards and national tests ensure that outcome?

As you ponder that question, listen to Harry Chapin’s “Flowers Are Red“; how common do we want our standards to be?


Mentoring for Creativity

Posted by Sandra Miller on July 18, 2010

21st century learning is exciting!  I feel like the chains of No Child Left Behind are beginning to loosen.   Hopefully, testing will begin to take a more appropriate role, and teachers will be free to teach in ways they know will serve their students well in the future.  Now, for those of us who are principals, a part of our job is to help teachers move toward new ways of working with students.

We know 21st century learning covers a wide list of skills, but one area that is particularly challenging is “creativity.” How do you explain to teachers what it means to  “mentor students to be creative” when you really aren’t sure yourself?

Daniel Pink has two books that focus on the 21st century.  A Whole New Mind (2005) is thought-provoking, a fast read, and could easily be used with teachers to learn about creativity.  Pink explains creativity, presents tools and exercises to examine our own creativity, and talks about developing “creativity skills.”

Pink also discusses the skills needed for jobs in the 21st century.  He says high paying jobs will require that workers use their creativeness.  Much traditional work—accounting is a typical example—will be taken over by computers or outsourced.  Creativity will be the requirement for better jobs.

In his newest book, Drive (2009), Pink predicts tomorrow’s workers will be motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose; workplace rewards that may have worked in the past are outdated.  As educators, we have known for years that these are powerful motivators for learning, as well.  And, in fact, much of the work of the future will be all about learning.

David Kelly offers a complementary perspective.  While his research has been in technology design, his current focus is design thinking in K-12 education.   He believes students need to learn skills, but that for 21st century work, the creative side of the brain needs intentional development, too.  “Design thinking is basically a methodology that allows people to have confidence in their creative ability,” states Kelly.  “Design thinking is ‘intuitive’ thinking, it unlocks the other side of the brain.”  Sharing Kelly’s ideas with teachers can help them become better “mentors of creativity” to their students.

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, and constraints lessen, it’s an exciting time share new ideas with your staff.  Pink and Kelly are a great place to start.