It's time to chase Innovation instead of reacting to the status quo.
The Coronavirus isn't going away fast...
According to Aljazeera, there are currently (on Feb 16, 2020) "pushing 70,548 people".
The virus has caused world wide travel restrictions. Cruise ships have become floating quarantine structures, a small step above a floating prison. In some areas of China and Asia, school has not come back from the Lunar New year holiday. Schools in and around Shanghai and all major Chinese cities dismissed for Chinese Lunar New year at the end of January and they have not returned back into the building because of precautions of the virus.
Shutting schools down makes sense. Think about the waves of germs that can travel down a hallway. The flu, strep, pink eye, and the common cold can travel through the hallways, creating a pattern of sickness as clear as the directional lines on Google Maps. "Pink eye, take a right at room 101".
I have a personal connection to the events that are happening in China. For six years, my family and I lived and taught at the International Christian School in Hong Kong. It has been quite an experience hearing the different experiences from friends and family who are being affected by the Coronoavirus. Here are a few observations to consider:
-School has been canceled since the end of January 2020. This is not saying that classrooms and learning is not happening, just simply the traditional brick and mortar building is no longer a place of congregating for learning and activities.
-Unless schools want to completely reformat their schedules, learning must continue so that local, state, and international education requirements can still be met. Think about those who are in their final year of high school? AP students, or students preparing for their IB Diploma Exams?
-Innovation has always been a “choice” action for educators. Making something new, better, and more efficient, a.k.a innovation has never been something that has been forced in a grand manner throughout education.
How the Coronavirus has changed education, and what we can learn from it.
I am currently writing this post from within the United States. Though the Coronavirus is something that comes across my twitter feed and news channels, this is something our country and district are currently not having to deal with, but the change that is happening is quite remarkable.
In a conversation with an international teacher based out of China, her statement about her situation was, “I have come back to my home country and I have 2 days to learn how to be an online teacher”.
In history we can bring out many examples of forced innovation that was necessary for the populations to move forward. Here we are again at this crossroads, but yet we have an opportunity unlike others. Within the medical world, when a vaccine/cure for the Coronavirus is developed or found, there will be a world wide sigh of relief. However, in the education world, when school doors open again across Asia, the students, teachers, administrators and parents will all be coming back into this learning environment changed forever. The forced innovation of having to go from a face to face model, or maybe blended model to a fully online school is incredibly exciting for a futurist educator like me.
Each of these students will know what it is like to manage their time, meet deadlines, and complete projects without a physical teacher in the room. They will have to develop enhanced communication skills in joining the chat boards, discussion events, and video calls. Their concept of “school” has expanded exponentially, understanding that learning is not reserved for the hallways and desks they know so well.
Think about the educators and administrators! This forced innovation has thrown every idea of “this is how I have always done it” out the window. For some, the change will be the hardest, most difficult professional experience. For others, the most inspiring. In talking with another teacher, he had been testing different tools and programs to be able to connect directly to his students with both discussions and video. He excitedly told me that Microsoft Teams was the choice and it has been wonderful to interact and teach the students in this way. Another teacher has been able to bring ideas previously ignored to administrators and leadership because now the strategy is a necessity rather than a luxury.
What about us on the sidelines watching what is happening?
What if innovation was such a luxury that when someone came to your school with a new idea, it wasn’t shut down right away?
What if administrators and educational leaders were able to see the changes that have been happening in Asia and realize that the ability to problem solve and grow the learning environment is essential for more reasons than a possible building shut down.
Innovation is a choice. There is something that needs to change so that it can be more effective, memorable, or impactful on the users. I believe innovation will still be a choice once the Coronavirus has been eradicated. However, the changes that we are seeing happen are making an immense impact on education and it is important to consider that we must prepare for the future, even when we aren’t forced to do so.
In his book, This is Marketing, Seth Godin makes an excellent statement about the marketplace:
"The problem is that the marketplace of people who are happy with boring is static. They aren’t looking for better. New and boring don’t easily coexist, and so the people who are happy with boring aren’t looking for you. They’re actively avoiding you, in fact."
The forced innovation of the Coronavirus in Asia has caused the educational marketplace to become dynamic. Standards and goals need to be accomplished. Students prepared for life altering tests and preparing for the next level of information. Innovation, the elephant in the room that has been actively avoided is now making a ruckus. Educators and students are growing and will be so much better from the experience.
Questlove, musician and artist, most famously known as a member of the Roots, has written many books. The most recent book, Creative Quest dives into the struggles and victories of creativity. I the book he says, “Be suggestible from time to time. Allow unexpected influences to shift your ideas...Be a tourist in other perspectives.”
The misconception in education is that if it isn’t broken, we shouldn’t fix it. Yet the reality is, we must be evolving our thinking beyond the proverbial lesson plans that have always worked, and move into empowering our students to take ownership of their learning, creating innovative thinking as a new cornerstone that can greatly change our world of the future.
Ultimately innovation is a choice. Innovate because you can, not because you have to. And those that have had to, we will look to you to lead us into the next iteration of education.
Taylor Williams is a currently serving as a Coordinator of Digital Learning in Fort Worth, Texas as well as Instructor and Instructional Designer for the Teach-Now Graduate School of Education.
Taylor currently serves as a Coordinator of Innovative Learning for a mid-sized school district in Texas. He is a speaker, writer, and coach for all who are in conflict with the status quo.