Prior to the last reauthorization of ESEA, school districts were encouraged to use "innovative strategies and proven methods for student learning, teaching, and school management... based on reliable research." This encouragement made sense. Teaching is both art and science. Learning happens by trial and error. Encouraging teachers to try innovative strategies alongside research based proven methods makes sense. After the last reauthorization of ESEA (which gave us No Child Left Behind), schools were told to employ "proven strategies and proven methods... based on scientifically based research." Did you notice what word is missing from the second directive to schools? If you answered "innovation," you are correct.
So why am I so concerned about stifling innovation in schools? What if the government told Henry Ford he could only manufacture the Model T using a method of car assembly already "successfully implemented and producing positive outcomes in a variety of situations?" I guess if the U.S. Department of Education was around and regulating Ford at the time, Henry's idea for the assembly line would be out of the question. What about limiting doctors to treating patients with proven methods while prohibiting promising methods. Would we ever discover new ways to heal people? I think most of us can agree on the answer.
Our schools should and must be local labs of innovation. Our teachers should and must have the freedom to try new strategies to increase student engagement and achievement. If we want our teachers to prepare our kids to be successful at careers not yet invented, how can we rely so heavily on proven strategies and proven methods based on scientific research applied only to what we already know? The answer is, we cannot.
Now I am not suggesting we go crazy trying every newfangled strategy that comes our way. What I do advocate for is a thoughtful approach, like the one we used prior to launching our 1:1 device program at Palos South. Integrating technology into our middle school curriculum is innovative. Before we decided to launch the program, we talked to our stakeholders to solicit their input. We visited other school districts already deploying devices to learn from their success and more importantly, from their challenges. Yes, we reviewed what the limited research at the time said about the educational benefits of 1:1 programs. However, if we had to rely solely on proven strategies and proven methods... based on scientifically based research, we most likely would still be waiting to launch the program.
This year, we deployed devices to all eighth graders at Palos South. Next year, we will deploy devices to all seventh graders and by the 2018-2019 school year, all Palos South students will have the opportunity to have their own device. Integrating technology into our middle school curriculum is happening organically through daily innovation in the classroom. Teachers and students need time to experiment with the new devices; to seek out ways to integrate technology into the great things they already do before discovering new ways to use technology to perform tasks that were previously inconceivable. We should encourage the type of trial and error that will allow for discovering new innovative strategies for teaching and methods of learning - strategies and methods not yet specifically proven with empirical data.
I am not sure when creativity, ingenuity and yes, innovation, became bad words in our public education lexicon. It was probably around the same time many politicians and policymakers stopped trusting our public schools to educate our nation's children. Perhaps that is a problem we need to research further. In the meantime, Palos 118 will continue to embrace innovation and our students will be better prepared for the future because of it.