Oxymoron: Established Routines and Innovation?

What is the optimal environment for creating a culture of innovation?

Photo of Robin U
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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.


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Photo of Tom Sayer

How do you think you can create the environment you describe? I completely agree that an innovative culture requires people (students and teachers) to be able to respectfully disagree. This has to be set up as a norm, which in turn requires some sort of signalling (rituals?)

An immediate start would be demonstration by leadership that disagreement is welcomed, but do you have any other ideas how a leader could try to shift a culture to one in which teachers ans students felt empowered to disagree?

Photo of Robin U

Your question is really thoughtful and I appreciate it. You are right that we need ways, routines or rituals to help establish norms of respectful disagreement and/or dissent.

One practice that can be applied in the classroom and outside it is the Socratic Seminar. We use it with our students and we have used it with teachers on professional development days when we discuss issues where teachers have strong opinions.

For example, before rewriting our tech/computer policy, we held a Socratic Seminar with interested teachers and administrators on digital distractions and tech in schools. We chose some readings and invited other participants to do the same. We all read the same articles before the discussion and then had a really interesting and focused meeting full of disagreement, strong opinions and respect.

With Socratic Seminars you do not debate - you must refer to what others say and/or to the shared text and you must be respectful in the way that you state your opinions. With students and teachers alike, this process and practice helps us learn to talk and listen to each other and to reach new understandings and take risks with solutions that only surfaced as a result of the meeting.

This is just one example of something that can help school cultures shift.

Photo of Emma Scripps

Hey - Great point. So important to establish that different perspectives are valid in order to be truly innovative. If people don't feel empowered to share their differences of perspectives, then new ideas don't flourish. At IDEO - we try to encourage building on each others ideas through simple language rituals like using "yes and" instead of "no but" or "what if" instead of "no, here's why."

Melissa talked about creative abrasions in this post: https://teachersguild.org/challenge/how-might-we-create-rituals-and-routines-that-establish-a-culture-of-innovation-in-our-classrooms-and-schools/discover/the-capabilities-your-organization-needs-to-sustain-innovation

Give it a read! you guys are aligned. I could see magic happen between you two in the Ideate phase - where you can team up to post ideas.