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Innovators or Pioneers?

by Alfonso Gonzalez on November 7th, 2011

When I think of innovators I think of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. They come up with something new and people use it. I guess there are people who are innovators whose stuff we don’t use or whose stuff aren’t so famous but I am familiar with many Apple products and the lure of Facebook, which is why I used Jobs and Zuckerberg as examples of innovators. What got me thinking about all this is something my wife said. She remarked about how when Facebook makes a change we’re stuck with it. So I thought, why? Why is it that when Zuckerberg makes a change to Facebook we’re for the most part stuck with it. Why is it that when Jobs created the iPod or the iPhone or the iPad millions bought them? They created something new that people found a use for. That’s pretty awesome. Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning for Parkland School Division in Alberta, Canada, George Couros, wrote a great post just recently about innovation (Defining Innovation?) just as I was thinking about writing this blog post. (How cool is that?) In his post George determines that for innovation to happen we as educators and leaders need to create the climate for creativity to happen. We need to create the space for innovation to happen without dictating what the innovation is supposed to be or going to be because if we did that it wouldn’t really be innovation.

I thought about Zuckerberg and Jobs who come up with stuff no one has thought of and how I’d love to do that, but I am not an innovator. I can’t think of anything that I do or that I’ve done that is innovative. I can’t think of any of the things that I’ve done where I didn’t get the idea or part of it from someone else. I’m great at taking off with ideas from others. That why I love twitter and my PLN. I get ideas from my PLN. The ideas that I I’ve taken off with seem to be things that not all educators are doing. Things like having kids blog, having kids use social networking in class, having kids share their work with kids in other schools, and having kids comment on the work of others seem like things that not all teachers are doing. There seem to be many teachers who don’t do things like going gradeless or finding non-traditional, non-factory-models of teaching. So I see myself as a pioneer. One definition of pioneer is, “a person who is among the first to research and develop new areas of knowledge or acitivty.” I may not come up with any new things on my own but I will try all sorts of the new things if I think it will motivate my students to work and learn. Since I am the only teacher at my school doing the things I do, that makes me a pioneer at my school at least. And from what I hear on twitter, I’m not alone at being alone.

Don’t we need pioneers to use the innovations? To test them? To see if they work, how they work? Are you a pioneer?

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  • http://www.postdewey.ca Martin Goldberg

    Perhaps you might find you are closer to being an innovator than you think. Pirates of Silicon Valley shares a perspective on how Steve Jobs borrowed a great idea to improve the Mac. If you have the chance you might want to check out http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0168122/.

  • Toddloomismiller

    Interesting thoughts. Something I think that gets short shrift though when it comes to creativity and innovation is quiet time or in fact, boredom. Speaking personally (I always think of the personal first since I am a narcissist at heart) I consider myself a somewhat creative person, hey I even have a patent. But I was a terrible student, particularly in high school. I spent a lot of time in class disengaged with the topic with my mind in the clouds. But just because my mind was in the clouds didn’t mean it was blank. I was thinking, a lot about girls, but besides that, I was tinkering mentally. I remember doodling in my notebook as the teacher lectured, I am sure the teacher was pleased that Miller was finally taking notes, but I was designing a guidance system for a model rocket. Now that I know some physics I realize it wouldn’t have worked, but my point is that I was bored and it gave me a chance to imagine about something I was interested in.
    As a teacher I am not sure that I want to encourage boredom and giving students downtime in class usually means social time. But I do think there seems to be a hysteria about keeping kids “engaged” which often times is “eduspeak” for busy. Just some thoughts. Todd

  • http://educatoral.com/ al_gonzalez

    Thanks Martin, I do think we pioneers are close to being innovators. And I’m not giving up hope that someday I’ll do something or create something that people find of value and will use. In the meantime I’m trying to be happy doing what I’m doing because even though I’m taking the ideas of others I don’t think I’m doing anything new or making any substantial improvements like Jobs did.

  • http://educatoral.com/ al_gonzalez

    You’re right, Todd, we worry so much about keeping kids engaged that they don’t get time to process. They usually need to process what they learn outside of class. It’s too bad that kids bore so easily AND that they think boredom is a bad thing! I personally get a bit short with kids when they tell me they are bored. I usually respond with something like, “so what?” It’s okay to be bored and it’s okay to day dream. But you’re also right that in a room full of students our disengaged kids will socialize with each other and rarely give each other quiet time.

    Creativity and innovation take time! You never know when the inspiration will hit. But I’m still not quite sure how that will work out in a “classroom.”