Education and buzzwords go hand in hand. Terms like ‘learner-agency’ have evolved from ‘student-agency’ and taken on far wider meaning. My personal favourites include ‘scaffolding children’s learning’ and ‘creating a ubiquitous platform for learning.’ As ridiculous as it sounds, each term could (and has) stem its own blog post, lengthy conversation and a multitude of diagrams to explain the concept. And we haven’t even touched on acronyms! New terms like ILE, MLP and CoL are upon us like never before, each with their own literature and support documentation, their own PLD opportunities and sub-acronyms to relate to them! In truth, we live in a world of over-complicated, overused concepts.
And so I am brought to the title of the post, three glorious buzzwords in current use, but all of which have overlap, difference and genuine power if analysed. At their very definition, each word has change as a common factor. I can only attempt to define them based on personal experience and understanding.
What does it really mean to innovate? Last year, Dr Rebecca Jessen spoke at a large hui for a well-known cluster in the Tamaki region of Auckland. She suggested that innovation could be ‘thinking things that have never been thought’, to which I added ‘to solve problems we do not know exist.’ It is here that we also need to look at the term Innovative Learning Environments (ILEs) a little deeper. It is easy to see why so many focus ON the environment rather than looking at what’s happening IN it. Of course the environment needs to be conducive to innovation, but it is not the be all and end all. Innovation lies within the practice and learning that takes place.
By very definition, when we innovate we are changing something established. For example, the delivery of number knowledge through the use of digital technology, allowing student voice to filter through it and learners expressing their learning in their own colloquialisms and language. Yes, having somewhere to learn with freedom, comfort and flexibility is important but it cannot be the starting point for innovation.
Again, change must be identified as the commonality and underpinning factor within transformation. Whether students transforming their learning or teachers transforming their practice, the fundamental element needed for successful transformation is change. But the goal cannot be to transform without first identifying what is needed to be changed- not changing for the sake of change. Unlike innovation, transformation feels more like a process. Knowing your start point, developing new skills and wider pedagogy with the end-point (albeit flexible) in mind.
Could it be as simple as adjusting current practice to better suit the needs of learners? Arguably, yes. A teacher who is able to change their delivery and support to allow learners to grow and develop with greater independence and engagement, could be said to have transformed his/her practice.
Asking my wife what she felt it was to evolve she instantly replied, ‘that’s a much longer process.’ It was a viewpoint that hadn’t initially occurred to me, but in terms of evolution from a scientific perspective, time is a tremendously important factor. But I don’t believe it defines what it is to evolve. Even with nature, elements that evolve do so as they can no longer sustain their current form and survive. Whether we look at theories around whether humans had a tail through to the wider picture of how education practice has evolved since the use of pedagogues at Roman schools, there is a cross over with regards to need. Humans no longer ‘need’ a tail, our lives have changed, everyday activities no longer require the counterbalance and movement associated with having one. Much the same way in which education institutes have evolved into inclusive arenas that foster curiosity and exploration (stick with me here, I know there’s a huge spectrum to look at).
Teachers need to genuinely believe there is a need to evolve for it to happen. It needs to be organic, specific to the requirements of the individual, their mind, passion and views as well as to the styles of the learners they work with. The need has to be owned, not dictated. It has to be visible and obvious.
Sustainable Best Practice
I don’t believe innovation, transformation and evolution can exist alone. Not with any purposefulness and with any lasting change. Throwing around a few ideas on big pieces of paper, it became immediately obvious that one feeds the others.
To evolve we need to transform and innovate. To innovate we need the freedom to transform and learn from those who have evolved. And so on… There will forever be pockets of each but when all three are in unison, I truly believe we reach sustainable best practice. Of course, this differs from environment to environment, educator to educator and even learner to learner, as all have different needs and aspirations. It is a journey of exploration and learning. There are many sources out there that quote ‘best practice for 21st Century Learning’ or even those who attempt to define it. Whatever your standpoint, your best practice may be very different from the teacher next door, and I hope you can see how that’s a good thing. Different is not necessarily wrong, it’s just different.
And there were several diagrams in between!