When I first created my blog page, I included the header message:
"It's education. There is no more money. There is no more time: there are only 24 hours in the day. It's also the greatest job in the world, so let's get on with it.".
After five years of blogging and reflection, I believe in this statement even more today. Regardless of the increasing cost pressures due to things such as tech purchases, infrastructure upgrades and professional development requirements, there has been no sudden, magic influx of money. And with an ever expanding number of initiatives being introduced along with the concurrent pressures to produce students that are creative, collaborative and resilient contributors to society now and in the future, the time that we can dedicate to any one program to improve student and educator learning has actually decreased--we seem to be cramming more and more in to our 24 hour day. "Do more with less!", we groan together in unison.
Several years ago, I was listening to Douglas Reeves speak at the Effective Schools Conference in Phoenix. He asked the audience to make a list of all of the initiatives that they had been working on in their schools or districts over the last five years, or what we were planning to work on in the upcoming year. I proudly wrote down a dozen or so initiatives that I felt were going on at our school, and then added a few that I was interested in investigating for the future. Many of the participants around me had similar lists, and some were much longer!
He then asked us how many initiatives we had STOPPED doing in the last five years. A nervous smattering of laughter rippled through the audience, and everyone quickly got the point: we never seem to stop doing anything, we just keep going.
Bearing this overriding philosophy in education, of course our plates are full! We keep going back to the educational buffet table and filling our plates without actually removing anything that is already there. We wonder why we have no money for new initiatives when we continue to spend resources on programs that may (or may not) be having the desired impact that we envisioned when they began. Yet how many times have we actually turned over all of the stones in our schools and districts to see whether there are some things that we, well...just need to scrap.
Over the past few months, I have seen an incredible proliferation of the term 'innovation' in tweets and blog posts across my learning network. Teachers, administrators, schools and districts are beginning to dedicate time and resources to becoming 'more innovative', even if we don't quite know what being 'more innovative' is actually going to look like. Even with my new position as "District Principal of Innovation" for our school district, a number of my colleagues have asked me "So what exactly will you be doing for us in the school district?". Many believe that my job will revolve around technology. Many others feel that I should be helping to transform classrooms into '21st century' (groan...we are 15 years in...) learning spaces, or that I should investigate and then facilitate professional development on new apps or gadgets that make life better in the classroom. Not that these ideas are bad ones, however, I think I have a bit of a different answer for them. This answer is based in some ideas that one might call 'frugal innovation' in education.
Along with friend and colleague Simon Breakspear, I have been kicking around this idea of frugal innovation for the past few months. While frugal innovation is a term that is often used in fields outside of education, and there have been a number of books about the concept, it can be adapted to education with a definition such as this:
"frugal innovation is the co-creation of iterations of solutions to educational issues that contravene our co-developed values while embracing the 'immovable' parameters that impact our day-to-day operations"
As a result of this line of thinking, I believe that my new job will be to work with educators, administrators, students, parents and their local school community to
- develop a process to co-create their values with each of these partner groups
- determine basic rules for innovative solutions (sounds contrary, but actually essential)
- create diverse and eclectic groups of thinkers within the greater school community
- harness and increase the capacity of these groups to solve problems by developing mindsets such as those in the Field Guide to Human Centered Design from IDEO, such as creative confidence, learning from failure, empathy, embracing ambiguity, optimism, and iteration
- determine the parameters which contravene these co-developed values
- decide which parameters are truly 'immovable', and which ones are instead constructs that we have created on our own and can actually change (or let go of, as Douglas Reeves pointed out)
- make, reflect upon, and share solutions that not only work within but embrace these parameters
- continue to iterate, and not to lock in to any one solution to the point that it obscures ideas that can be gleaned from other solutions
Frugal innovation is going to be my focus for the foreseeable future in my new position. In the next few weeks, I am going to be tapping in to the talents of other educators in my PLN to develop tasks and activities for workshops in each of these areas. It will be both exciting and daunting all at the same time, but I know that there is no more money in education, and there certainly is no more time in the day. But I truly believe educators have the greatest job on earth, so it's time to get on with it and embrace the parameters that confront our educational values.
It's time to get started with frugal innovation in education.