Teaching Innovation

What I love about Jami is that she is fearless. She challenges everyone around her to go courageously into the unknown – including me.

Soon after that event she asked me to help her write a job description for a new teaching position at her school. This new hire was going to teach innovation.

I was taken aback. How does one teach innovation and what were the teaching qualifications needed? I had no idea.

I helped her write a broad description and off she went to post the job.

A week before school was to start, she asked me to come down to meet Patrick, the new innovations teacher. Patrick's previous experience was teaching social studies. This was to be his first full-time teaching position. He had limited technical background. He was perfect.

Patrick was curious and confident, and he was fine making things up. Because that was exactly what we were going to have to do.

But first we had to find a classroom for Patrick to teach this new class. We walked around the main school building, going into each of the available rooms, some of them old computer labs that I figured would work well. Then we walked out to the ag shop, a separate building behind the school.

This was Mitch’s building. Mitch was the agriculture teacher. He had many amazing attributes, but organizing things was not one of them. This building was filled to the roof with old projects, old equipment. Just stuff, several feet deep. In the center of this mess was one unused but cluttered room. The school had turned it into a graveyard for broken and mismatched chairs and tables.

Patrick walked into the room and smiled. This is where he wanted to teach his Innovations class.

Jami and I looked at each other, shrugged and sat down in the middle of the mess. He continued, telling us how he could use these tables and chairs. There was something about this building that felt right. He could make it work.

What he was feeling was, undoubtedly, Mitch's spirit. Mitch, through his ag program, had been teaching kids to think, to be creative problem solvers. That was why his students were continually bringing home awards from national competitions. But Mitch was an outlier. Like many vocational education teachers, he had to teach differently, because he had to inspire those kids who didn't understand why they should sit in rows all day while someone talked at them about things that didn't interest them.

He had created a place in his building for those students to learn. And Patrick felt that.

While we sat there an idea came to me. I turned to Jami and asked a ‘what if’ question. What if this entire building was reimagined from an ag shop to a center of creativity? A place where all students felt empowered as makers? A place of inspiration, innovation, and invention?

Something that we might call the i3 Center. Jami looked at me and her eyes said it all. The i3 Center was launched.

But then, she turned and asked me a very practical question: "So how do we teach innovation?"

I had no idea.

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