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A Spirit of Problem Solving Leads The Way To a Future Full of Possibilities

The definition of innovation is quite simple -- innovation means "something new." Educators have been encountering innovations for decades, and we even have a set of tools -- Innovation Configuration maps -- to take the steps to realizing change. Yet beyond its most basic meaning, innovation carries with it the hefty burden of expectation. Innovation evokes the future, the potential for solving difficult challenges, the possibility of reaching seemingly impossible goals.

Many educators who have seen initiatives come and go are wondering why there is always another innovation on the horizon. The answer is that, in education, we still have a huge job left undone. Students are not leaving high school ready for careers or college, and professional learning is not adequately supporting enough educators to reach all students. This isn't acceptable.

There are many exciting innovations available to systems and schools now that have the potential to transform professional learning. The potential for results from these innovations is high. New technology products and services are effectively reducing isolation, increasing efficiencies and effectiveness, and ensuring equity.

While emerging technologies have a real wow factor, the innovations evolving in education weren't created for innovation's sake. There is a real spirit of problem solving that leads educators and researchers to find new ways of approaching intractable challenges. Those working to pioneer potential game-changing solutions see the possibility of systemwide transformations and collective impact -- without which our huge job will remain undone.

That is why the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made an enormous investment in what it calls iPD. Originally, iPD stood for innovative professional development, and now it means so much more -- striving to move from individualized to personalized and beyond. (Learn more about this evolution here in a Q&A with Gates Foundation Deputy Director of Education Carina Wong.)

Laying the groundwork for the kinds of innovation covered under the iPD umbrella is no different than establishing a systemwide mindset that results in effective professional learning in general. As always, systems must work in a culture that embraces the cycle of continuous improvement, considering data about student and educator learners, identifying critical needs and relevant strategies, and assessing progress along the way.

That inquiry mindset is identical to that of the most forward-thinking innovators. It's wonderful to experiment with the cutting edge, but if such innovations don't result in the desired outcome, they aren't worth continuing. Unless, of course, in continuing to develop the innovations, those at work tweak, adjust, and refine until the solution meets the need. By the same token, educators must hold iPD to the same standards to which we hold any professional learning. An innovation doesn't get extra credit on the standards scale for using cool technology. We must continue to demand results.

Tracy Crow
Director of Communications, Learning Forward

This column appears in the February issue of JSD on innovation. The full issue is available to the public.

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The opinions expressed in Learning Forward's PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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