Rituals and routines seem almost counterintuitive when it comes to innovation. Innovation by definition means, “making changes to something established.” Innovation comes from creativity, from thinking outside established norms and traditions and from doing something new or original.
Schools, however, are in the unique position of building cultures and of hopefully developing and nurturing innovation and innovators at every level, including students, teachers, parents and the school community. We want to ensure that the individuals and groups in our community have the time and the space to problem solve, innovate and work towards making the world a better place. In essence then, we need to establish some routines to ensure that a good environment exists for creativity, innovation, and truly collective work and learning opportunities.
From my experience, I think that three conditions have to exist before routines are even developed:
Plenty of opportunities for students and teachers to engage in intellectually challenging reading and writing. This is essential as complex problems involve complex solutions. Schools need to be places where struggling to understand, where reading work by experts in fields other than education and where expressing ideas clearly but with some level of sophistication are all valued, and encouraged.
Creativity and innovation flourish where discourse allows for disagreement (respectful) of course, raising different opinions and healthy debate and dialogue. Without dissent, the environment is not a safe or a productive one for the generation or development of innovative ideas.
Freedom for teachers and students to make decisions about how to formulate, investigate and communicate good questions and complex answers. Teachers need to feel empowered to design lessons that can bring out the best in their individuals and groups of students. Students need to feel empowered to make choices about their learning. All of this needs to exist within a solid structure of support so that everyone isn’t just ‘doing their own thing’ and so that the school administrators and parents know that this freedom and empowerment exists within a safe and consistent learning and teaching environment. Every student will not have the same experience but every student should have the same opportunity to flourish.
In my experience, when these three conditions exist, students, teachers (and staff), parents and administrators can work together in their specific institutions to create flexible routines and rituals that work for them. Creativity and innovation also flourish more when schools work with other organizations who are doing good work.