I dig down deep in the ground, finding a root of a living tree and pull at it like rope until I can hold it in my hand and see what it is that is helping the tree to grow. And then I do the same with another root, pulling and pulling until I can feel the rough texture and earthy smell. Then I tie the two roots together, tight and fast. I replant the two roots and watch as the trees start to intermingle, germinating new fruit, different then when they were alone.They are better for having made the connection. They are better for having the ability required to expand into one another’s space, and better for being allowed time to find a single wish to inch up toward the sky. The trees soon are so intertwined that no one can tell the difference between them and their fruit is so delicious that people who eat it can hardly believe that they ever knew a world without. I eat the fruit too, but I also gather as much of it as I can and I share it with others. I gladly cut it up and serve it with fruit from other trees. I make whole meals with this fruit or allow everyone to simply help themselves to pick it right off the tree. And then I move on to another set of trees, where I must dig and pull and tie and watch, in the hopes of creating something new. I must find these roots, the essence of these towering wonders and join them together. It is my innovation, but perhaps not singularly mine.
While I know that this may not be illuminating for some, it is really the only way that I can express just how deeply important innovation is to me. I do feel as though there is something inherently life-giving about creating something new with your two hands. My innovation is in creating space. It is in creating the space and time to feel safe, learn and grow. It is in creating the space to be nourished by others.
My innovation is in looking for other innovators that mean something to me and pulling them together. I am not a universal connector, an individual who collects contacts or has the best networking abilities. But, I do know what it means to feel a part of something bigger than myself in Education. And that is what I try to create every day. I try to create something bigger, less flawed, and more intrinsically valuable than myself.
Which is why I am asking this question in the first place. I am most interested in imagining just what is possible. I do not want to think in terms of only the stories we can recite by memory. The stories of a single teacher figuring out that using a google document to allow collaborative note-taking to occur is going to lead to better learning for the kids inside the classroom and the one that stayed home sick. The stories of the teacher who has their kids present and connect in a voicethread. These stores are what is possible and even probable in a school where people have access and inclination to change their practice. These are past stories of innovation. They are evidence of things seen.
I would like to imagine the hardest problems that we can possibly come up with in education and find ways to solve them. That is why I think that it is important to reach for what matters as well. It isn’t enough to share the story of how you can use technology for authentic learning in your district. It isn’t enough to be proud of the work that you are doing right now (although you absolutely should be proud of what you do). You must at all costs justify why it is that your innovation is worth continual pursuit.
And so, I would like to propose two definitions. The first is that innovation is the power for an idea to cause change within an individual or system. The second is to identify what matters as the lasting effect on an individual or system to be successful (I mean that in all of the weighty goodness of the word, from monetarily, to fulfillment, to connectedness).
Within these definitions, creating the types of spaces that I do is innovation because I am causing those who inhabit them to change the ways in which they work with one another. I am causing them to look one another in the eye and focus upon a single idea for long enough to think it through. And I believe that it matters because without a ripe environment within which to grow, all of us just become weeds. Without the rich soil and cross-pollination, entire populations of great ideas wither and die.
So, what really is the challenge of this question?
I believe that the true challenge is in the fact that not all ideas are innovative and not all ideas matter. Trying to figure out which ones are both is where I want to spend the majority of my time. In order to help, I have created two things.
Because my innovation is in creating spaces, I have created a space that is specifically for answering questions. While it may not be a perfect space yet, it is one that allows you to learn from one another within and one that believes in the power of collaboration to achieve a common goal. The space is called SpeedGeek Learning, and the link to this question is at http://speedgeeklearning.com/educon22.
The second thing I have created is an entrance into this question, one that I did not give to those who did a “Prenote” video. This scale allows you to place your own innovation somewhere in the playing field in order to see what it is that you truly value and what it is that you believe is really innovative. While we may all differ on where we would put a certain innovation, I feel as though it will lower the level of entry because anyone’s work is on the chart at some point, no matter how far they reach up into the top right quadrant.
With this space and entrance, I would like to take this conversation to its logical end. I see that being the act of sharing the stories about valuable innovations going on in schools and organizations everywhere so that we can make them matter to as many people as possible. If we can pinpoint what it is that we need to be focused on when we look toward the future, then we will have answered more than this question. We will have found a truth worth holding on to. We will have found a story worthy of telling.