Innovation: An Essential Skill for the 21st Century
By Hope Nordstrom
A few years ago I was training to walk for my very first half marathon. I really looked forward to Saturday mornings because those days would be my “long walk” days. As I would head out of the house, it was always a hassle to gather all of my needed supplies—a water bottle (to keep hydrated), an energy bar (for that little boost I might need), my MP3 player (to listen to my tunes), my cell phone (in case someone called or I needed to make a call), and my GPS watch (to record my pace). Oh, I couldn’t forget some type of bag to hold everything. I was tired before I even left the house! I kept telling myself that there had to be some better way of doing things. Well, there was something better during my next half marathon training…my new iPhone! I was amazed at how I could use one device to listen to music, make any calls I needed, and keep a record of my pace. All of the equipment I had previously used could now be combined into just ONE device. Training for a half marathon was a whole new experience for me because of this new innovation.
The word “innovation” seems to be a popular buzzword in today’s society. When it comes to big problems in schools, education and society, everyone is trying to foster innovation in order to make improvements to what we already have. Grants are being offered to promote innovative solutions to big problems. However, what exactly is innovation? When I started thinking about the term “innovation,” I immediately googled the word and discovered that innovation means “to begin something new; introduce” or “the act of innovating; a new way to do things and to make new changes.” When you have an innovation, you have a new way of doing something; innovation is a process. With innovation, you think about the knowledge and information that is out there, take what is already known in the world, and improve it by making it better.
Due to the ever-changing world in which we live, we know that we cannot stay idle. Things are constantly changing at such a rapid pace. Even President Obama recognized the need for innovation during his 2011 State of the Union Address when he called America a nation of Google and Facebook. He stated, “What we can do—what America does better than anyone—is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.” In the world of education, innovation comes in many forms. Today’s students want an environment that meets their individual needs. They want to connect to the world around them. These students challenge us to be innovative and to create learning environments that are challenging yet rewarding. In today’s schools, there are innovations in delivery systems, such as integrating new technologies into the classroom. The list could go on and on.
Innovation is a very essential skill for the 21st century; however, it may not come easy for everyone. When trying to cultivate an environment of innovation in a variety of settings, the following elements are needed:
- Creativity—a spark of an idea that makes connections across what is already known in order to promote innovative spirit
- Culture—committed to excellence and continuous improvement; having a vision and goal
- Curiosity—willingness to take risks and investigating to analyze assumptions
- Critical Thinking—based on questioning and problem solving; looking at new perspectives; may challenge the status quo
- Communication & Collaboration—working as a team to listen and share thoughts, questions, ideas, and solutions
Looking back to President Obama’s speech again, he declared, “In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It’s how we make a living.” As we look at preparing today’s students for tomorrow, innovation means doing something new, different, smarter, or better to make a positive difference and along the way give back to the world. Just as Apple’s innovation of the iPhone positively changed my personal experiences, I am enthusiastic about the impact of innovation in many fields—especially education.