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Is it research based?

March 22, 2015

Prove It

This week, I had the opportunity to attend the M.A.C.U.L. (Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning) Conference in Detroit.  It was inspiring to see and hear all of the stories of innovation and creativity that are occurring across Michigan, and highlighting the efforts of several Saline Schools staff.  It brought to mind an article I recently read, titled “Two Words that Kill Innovation.”  The words are, “Prove it.” Those are the two words most deadly to innovation.

A variation of “prove it” in education is “research based.” Often, it makes sense to ask for analytical proof before making a decision, but this phrase can set a standard that is impossible to meet. There is no data to measure how a genuinely new idea will interact with the world or impact student achievement, so there is no way to prove that it will work in advance. While one might think that rigorous adherence to the strict norms required in academia germane, that rigor might end up killing innovation and potentially important new ideas. To keep these innovators and early adopters from being discouraged, we need to distinguish between when we are refining an existing system/program and when the aim is to create something entirely new. If refining, it is most appropriate to ask for supporting data. If truly invested in  new ideas and strategies, one needs to take an entirely different approach. Giving educators permission to take risks with the implementation is important in the process. Throughout the Saline Area Schools, the focus is on prototyping, testing, piloting, rapid iterations, to test innovative ideas in small ways without much up-front investment. Iterative experimentation will generate data that can then be used  to refine the solution.

Do not mistake our interest in looking for new ideas to help students as us as not being concerned about the impact on student learning.  We continue to use various strategies and measure student learning to make sure growth is at or above targeted levels.

Innovation in a highly regulated system such as public education can be very challenging.  As leaders, it is important that we both encourage and model the approach that allows staff to develop new ideas that help all students succeed.


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