Innovation is a tricky goal. We know what it sounds like and looks like as we promote the behaviors, attitudes, practices and language that we believe will make it happen. We don't want to feel that our efforts are not worthwhile, so we put time and space into public discourse about how innovative we are and how our ideas are working. We ask teachers, students and parents to write ideas on walls, post tweets and comments and talk about how everything is working the way we want it to. But does that mean it's really working? And how can we tell? What does real innovation feel like?
Schools have always been places that, when they were successful, masterfully combined public and private thinking, creativity, work and learning to help people learn and grow. Increasingly we are losing our private spaces (inside our heads as well) to public ones. In many ways this has been a positive development but real innovation needs some privacy as well.
Scientists, artists, designers, inventors, musicians, (and teachers and students) need time to think.
How can schools, already so busy and already so public, provide opportunities for private thinking (as opposed to group quiet times like meditation and yoga classes)? How can schools make private space and time available for those who want it?
1) Take the Silent Reading Idea one step further: Take at least 15 minutes from one day per week for people to do whatever they want (at their workspaces ie. desks). Maybe it's reading, maybe it's journalling, maybe it's designing. There is no talking and no sharing (until later). If people want to nap, they can do that too. Creativity and innovation are not one-size-fits-all models; different people need different circumstances at different times in their lives.
2) Run a Thinking Lab: Once a year, after school, at lunch, once a month - make an elective. People can go to a quiet space and think and design and it's not graded and they don't have to share until they are ready. Pilot it with a small interested group - make people apply to get in - you can put safeguards in so that kids don't use it to hatch sinister plots. Make the labs short (as in a few weeks) at first so that you can see what students (and teachers) come up with in the end. Sometimes innovation needs a blank slate or at least not the 'problem' or 'challenge' that a school teacher or administrator or business leader has come up with.
3) Provide regular opportunities for everyone to clear their minds. Whether it's tech free days, mediation, yoga, reading, running, etc. We all need time away from screens and other people to relax and to stop worrying and take a deep breath. We think too superficially about too many things because we don't have time to think deeply. We have almost forgotten how to do it.
4) Help students learn to value their privacy by valuing it first. Don't make them share every journal entry, write reflections on every project, show you every plan for every thing they write or produce. This kind of thinking has good intentions but it ends up regulating, in time, space and language - HOW students think, create and problem solve. These routines can lead to the looks like it and sounds like it but isn't really what we want.
5) Be prepared for failure. Whether this is because the solutions are taking too long, or a student slacked off - when we trust each other with privacy and with time, sometimes things don't work out. Failure and mistakes aren't just made when people are working hard to create - they are also made when we make bad choices. We all do it and if we can learn from them, we are in a better position to think outside the box.