Monday, March 12, 2012

Innovation is Uncomfortable.

A couple of weeks ago, a learning team of teachers invited me to sit in with them. I jumped at the opportunity because I've heard each of the three passionate teachers individually, so I thought that having all of them in one place would be exciting. And it was. They talked about interesting things they had already done and really creative things they wanted to try. They also had this great synergy in that the ideas piled up on each other. I can't wait to see how it all turns out.

They had a deep knowledge base of their paradigm (as they had done graduate work in it). So they had a specific set of terms and a shared understanding from which to draw. It was like watching skilled architects at work with the technical terminology, deep theoretical base, and creative vision, plus a mechanism for implementing their ideas too.

I found it all very, very interesting.  I threw in little bits here and there, but I was really happy to just take it all in.  One of the parts I found most interesting was something that was not intentional to the meeting.  Apart from myself and the three teachers who invited me, there were three other people present at the meeting: a facilitator, a student teacher, and a teacher (B) who was on staff with two of the other teachers, but who had not taken on the same paradigm of teaching as those two.  The facilitator was equally passionate about this paradigm.  The student teacher had gained some understanding of the paradigm from her sponsor teacher, and was content to listen to the conversation. 

I found it really fascinating to watch B the most.  She asked questions once in a while, but mostly, she was silent like me.  I'd met her before briefly about 12 years ago, so I don't know her that well.  Maybe I am projecting things on her or misjudging her entirely, but I saw a lot of discomfort.

I know that feeling.  Sometimes when teachers talk, I get the confused feeling of "I don't really understand what you are talking about."  Or worse, I get the guilty, inadequate feeling of "Man, I'm not doing any of those things," (or I am doing the exact opposite).   I don't worry about those feelings as much anymore.  It's not because I've turned into a teacher that knows and does everything; it's because I've come to realize that I don't know and do everything, and that it is impossible to do so.  (See my previous post about trying for 80%).  I came to that realization when I worked for the district and met a lot of teachers who felt the same guilt and inadequacy (which was pretty much all of them).

That kind of discomfort though is well, uncomfortable.  It is not a good feeling.  It is tremendously aggravating and unsettling.  But the great thing is this is where innovation is born.  Think of the oyster cliche.  The squishy bivalve works at that piece of grit and works at it until he gets this precious, lustery, gall stone.  If you want to make some really big changes, you are going to have to get good and unsettled first.  Someone or some thing is going to have to really push your buttons in order for you to act (especially if you are a lazy dude like me). 

I'm sure the Wright brothers were right ticked that birds flew and they didn't.  I'm sure (Monkee bass player) Mike Nesmith's mom got irritated one two many times when she invented correction fluid when she was a secretary.  I'm sure that Steve Jobs didn't have enough black turtle necks so he had to raise another billion with the iPhone. 

On a smaller scale, with the work I've been doing in my district around innovation, I've seen similar examples of discomfort leading to great ideas.  This one teacher couldn't stand the idea of kids hanging out at the convenience store or standing around smoking during breaks, so he turned his classroom into a movie club.  Now his kids have a place to go and even have a common language around the shared experiences of watching these movies.  Another teacher felt cut off from her students the way her classroom was arranged, so she enlisted the guidance of her students.  Now she has a beautiful, peaceful classroom that flows and works for everyone.  This other teacher didn't like the way her students were treating each other, so she got them to go out and volunteer in the community.  Now the students have a common bond in the services they provide, and are seen as community leaders.  A math teacher didn't like how he couldn't get to his lower students during class without boring his higher students, so he freed up his time by showing his lessons on-line in advance.  Now, he spends class time working with the struggling students while the higher students (who already watched the lesson at home) spend the time working on their "home"work. 

So my advice to B is to hang in there.  Learn from those others on the learning team or, better yet, find your own way to get over your discomfort.  Something great might come out of it. 

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but discomfort might be the embryo of innovation.

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