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Sep 1, 2011

Teacher Education Innovation Lab

Over the summer, I started to think more and more about innovation (see this June blog). One reason for that is that we failed to get ourselves into the news in any meaningful way. And it just occurred to me that we do not have any news, in the sense that the media would recognize. I also was listening/reading a lot of Harvard Business Review, the Economist, and the Financial Times, paying attention to the discourse of innovation in business. One simple lesson  learned is this: you need to actually spend time and effort on innovation, support and nurture promising ideas, kill the dead branches, and generally have a strategy. It does not happen on its own, or in occasional spurs. And we don’t have a strategy of innovation.

So, here is my plan for this year. We will have a group which I called TEIL. I only have a rough outline of the beginning – first two or three meetings; so we will spend some time talking about our own process. We start with thinking about everything but teacher education: about the world of business, non-profit entrepreneurship, politics, products, services, the internet, the social media, etc. There may be some homework here, where the group’s members will investigate a favorite company, or an organization to see how it innovates. Then we will take a very thorough look at ourselves – what do we spend our time on, how new ideas are born, introduced, how they are implemented or dropped, why and why not.  I want to talk about the quality of experience as the key criteria for improvement – our students’, our faculty and staff’s. Then we should try several structured brainstorming sessions to try to find several new ideas, especially if they fit together.

Just one example: Let’s think about the ritual. For us to make a stronger impact on our students, we need to employ what all cultures in the world do – ritual. We have a few; none is specific to teacher preparation. Why don’t we have admission to Feinstein to be a memorable event? Why don’t we ask them to take a teacher’s oath?

Perhaps at some point we will split into smaller project-oriented teams, and each team will develop a proposal, while other teams will provide feedback. Perhaps by Spring we will have a clearer idea on what innovation support structure we should have in place, and what resources we could muster to support it. By that time, we should have the Advisory board operating, and perhaps it can help by bringing an outside critical perspective. We also do need to look at a few truly innovative ideas that exist in our field today.

That’s what I have so far. Not much, I know, but this is going to be a collaborative and evolving process. How can I sell it to faculty and staff? How can I convince at least some people to come and spend a few Friday afternoons doing something in addition to their regular heavy workload? Well, only this: teacher preparation as a field has not shown a lot of innovation. We placed all our bets on the continuous improvement process spearheaded by AACTE and NCATE. While it is useful and in the long run is going to be effective, it is just simply not enough.

Another argument: I came to work to higher education, because I like to talk to people about ideas. If you do, too, sign up. You only need to make the majority of meetings, not every one of them. 

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