Peanut butter pop tarts

Just what we needed: another buzzword in education.  And to be fair, as far as buzzwords go, “innovation” has become a seemingly ubiquitous one that is being used in ways that are moving it quickly from descriptor to cliche.  The Wall Street Journal wrote recently about the tendency of CEO’s to tout everything from the Peanut Butter Pop-Tart to temporary tattoos for pets as innovations. Innovation is more than staying competitive within a market or making periodic upgrades to products.  Innovation must meet a higher threshold than marketing suggests.

As CIL’s (and The Glint Blog’s) own Janet Twyman so engagingly discussed at last night’s Indistar Summit keynote, innovation requires a fundamental change in what we can do within certain contexts.  The key to innovation is less about tools or inventions and more about this simple word “do“; and the heart of doing is our own human behavior.

Developed over 5 years ago, Indistar’s® contribution was to provide a web-based vehicle for educators at each level of the system to guide the improvement process based on evidence-based drivers of improved learning. It facilitated ongoing and dynamic continuous improvement rather than static annual plans and provided for remote, just-in-time coaching for Leadership Teams.  Frankly, most of those elements were known to be important.  Indistar® wrapped them into one convenient tool.  But it remains a tool, an invention.  To be an innovation, it has to change behavior, or at a larger scale, practice.

Here’s the difference between a new flavor of coffee (ok, that’s great, but I’ll still be making it in the same way and consuming it at the same time of day) and putting a chic coffee-shop on seemingly every corner (Ahem, Starbucks).  We now have coffee available practically whenever we want, can have it made in highly-personalized ways, and we are willing to pay an arm-and-a-leg for it.  And for many, the coffee shop itself is now a virtual office. And consider the difference between a push-button phone (an improvement upon the rotary but still tethering us to a wall) and the cordless phone (“I can walk and talk!) and especially the game-changing smart phone, which we only partially use as a phone at all.  These are innovations. These have changed not only our expectations and worldviews, but our behaviors and practices.

At today’s Indistar® Summit, we began with an overview of enhancements to the Indistar® system.  That’s all well and good and important. But then we got to the good stuff.  The practices.  And states are providing examples of how this tool with great promise is, in fact, allowing them to do things, to operate, in ways that are new and needed.  They’re connecting directly with schools by providing coaching that extends beyond what’s possible in-person: no need to be “shoulder to shoulder” to have a candid dialogue.  Indistar® coaches foster constructive relationships  with school leaders that are reinforced virtually. They’re using data to show evidence of improvement that are consistent with, but go beyond student outcomes.  They’re capturing educator practices, then connecting the dots to understand what’s happening at-scale within their states.  They’re understanding challenges and providing support to faltering schools that has been mandated by legislation but hard to achieve at any level of significance in the past.  They’re helping schools link strategies within their plans to indicators of practice, building capacity for planning and evaluation.  It’s inspiring.  Two more states are here this week to discern if Indistar® makes sense for their practice.

Is Indistar® the Starbucks or the smart phone of school improvement?  Not yet.  But it’s no peanut-butter pop tart either.  It’s facilitating changes in practice, changes that have been frustratingly simple in concept but challenging to execute in an efficient and sustainable manner.  With system enhancements happening constantly and capacity-building rolling out with SEA partners, Indistar® is shooting for innovation . It’s a high bar, and it’s no cliche.  So marketing execs….can you give us a break with all the innovation chatter?  We’re not here to sell products.  We’re here to see change for the better.  One. Behavior. At. A. Time.



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