January 24th, 2021

Growing innovative thinkers

By Submitted Article on February 12, 2020.

Friday, Lethbridge School Division is proud to host its fourth ICE Scholarship Breakfast. ICE is an acronym for innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. It is an event I look forward to because it celebrates three key competencies that will be important for our young men and women to successfully navigate the future. It is also a morning that provides opportunity to see student projects that fall under the umbrella of ICE.

It has been my experience that the most misunderstood competency is “innovation.” The term innovation comes with a history that is often associated with science or technology. While it is certainly true that there have been many advances that benefit our world in the discipline of science and the body of knowledge that is called technology, innovation crosses all disciplines and human behaviours in the social context. There are a variety of definitions of innovation, but, simply put, innovation is about coming up with new ideas and applying those ideas to create something of value.

It is not so much about a “product” as it is about a process and the ability to leverage what might be called new imaginations. It might be a humanitarian project that applies new approaches to spark sustainable change, it might be a dramatic production that engages new processes, a work of art that applies new ways of thinking or a unique form of expression. With respect to having “value,” it may be that an innovation will be marketable, but value is framed in a much broader sense than money. Something is of value if it forwards a way of thinking that benefits people, saves lives, improves lives, enriches lives, provides perspectives that have never been uncovered, and so on. Ultimately it makes a difference.

So why is innovation an important competency to develop in children and youth both in and out of school? Thinking “innovatively” brings together ways of thinking that will contribute to an individual’s ability to respond to the constant change that characterizes our world. Innovation involves curiosity, the first step toward discovery. It engages imagination and critical thinking. Innovators do not try to solve problems trying the same things that have failed – they solve problems by leveraging the knowledge gained through those failures, having an open mind to possibilities, and the confidence to take a risk.

A Harvard University Innovation Lab “Expert in Residence,” Tony Wagner, wrote a book in 2016 called “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World.” He points out that children are naturally curious, and we manage to brush aside their many questions when they are young to the point that by the time they are 10 or 12, they figure out that it is more important to have the right answer than to keep being curious. He recommends to parents and schools that we need to create environments that are not focused on the “right” answer. He claims that play is the framework – play that is fun and engaging, and not entirely scripted by adults.

Curiosity and the opportunity to explore relationships among things without predetermined parameters is important. Fearlessness is essential; children need to be able to take risks and fail. Failure needs to be framed positively and viewed as a natural and productive part of growing. Finally, Wagner suggests that children and youth should be able to spend more time with what they are passionate about because passion contributes to purpose, and purpose makes finding solutions more urgent and rewarding.

Imagine a world with young people who have the competencies to solve our world issues as innovators across disciplines and social contexts – what a great place it would be!

Cheryl Gilmore is the Superintendent of Lethbridge School Division

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