Innovation may come from the bottom, but only with support from the top
- Ted Dintersmith, author of “What Schools Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers across America” is a businessman and education philanthropist who espouses the philosophy that true educational innovation comes at the grassroots level in the classroom, but requires support from school administrators and lawmakers, according to the Hechinger Report.
- The actions of North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum are an example, Dintersmith says. Burgum is working to transform education in his state by recently signing ia bipartisan education bill that gives school districts scope for radical innovation, including one district’s efforts to abolish grade levels.
- Every state has innovative teachers who have ideas about how to help students to succeed, but they need permission to innovate and permission to fail, Dintersmith said.
Because teachers are working on the front lines of education, they often have valuable insight into what is working —and what is failing to work — in the classroom. Research shows that empowering teachers to become leaders increases student achievement. Therefore, there is great value in giving teachers a voice in what happens in the classroom. Administrators can support teachers by using strategies that empower those teachers to succeed. The result is often an increase in student achievement and an improvement in teacher retention as well.
When it comes to efforts at true innovation, however, the problem sometimes lies in communication. Jordan Shapiro, writing for the Hechinger Report, noted this phenomenon as he discussed the use of new technologies at education conferences: “Afterwards, both teachers and administrators always approach me to share their enthusiasm for experimenting with new tools and teaching methods. The trouble is, each one seems to identify the other as an obstacle. Administrators want teachers to adopt new trendy methods, but they feel that teachers are resistant to change. Teachers yearn to be more creative, but feel it is impossible to do so within a rigid bureaucracy. Both blame the other, creating a gridlock that seems to obstruct innovation,” he said.
Efforts at true innovation are also more difficult in some states than others, depending on the willingness of lawmakers to support innovation. However, a degree of teacher innovation is possible even within strict accountability systems. States have a vested interest in seeing student improvement and many seem more open to innovation now than in the past. A degree of caution must also accompany these efforts. Not every educator is supportive of Dintersmith’s ideas concerning innovation. While innovation is often necessary, innovation just for the sake of innovation can backfire in the classroom.
- The Hechinger Report Making room for grassroots change