Open The Future

CC Public Domain via Pixabay
CC Public Domain via Pixabay

It’s rather difficult these days not to trip over the word innovation within the educational ecosystem. The word is embedded in job titles, books, academic courses, etc. Innovation is shiny, eye catching, and looks great on a resume. It signals to a greater audience that you are doing something unique, that has never been done and moving the needle forward within your respective discipline. And, despite the prevalence of the word innovation in education we often find ourselves looking outside of the classroom for innovative ideas. But, what if we looked within our classrooms for innovative ideas and amplified the voice of educators?

Educators are some of the most innovative professionals in the country. On a daily basis they proactively traverse hours of questions and problems from students and facilitate the learning process for 21.2 elementary students per class and 26.8 secondary students per class*. In addition to an educator’s classroom duties, they spend countless hours outside of the classroom honing their skills and advancing their love of learning. Aside from creating more time and space for educators, a myopic, scripted curriculum unfortunately gets in the way of the innovative teaching process.

However, we have an opportunity in P-12 education to change this process and nurture innovative practices within the classroom. And, it’s happening across the country at several schools with the adoption of openly licensed educational resources. If this term is new to you, the Hewlett foundation defines openly licensed educational resources as, “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge**”. Fundamentally, openly licensed educational resources allow school districts to reinvest in the teaching profession and bring creative, local content control back to educators.

Let’s consider Pokemon Go for a minute (my apologies if this article distracted you from your mindless sojourn in search of Charmander), the latest trend that is trying so hard to find it’s purpose in P-12 education. What if we viewed an educator’s original work in this manner? Imagine an amazing project, or unit of study going viral. And, while this is happening through mediums like Twitter and blogs, it’s not happening enough. It is possible and it starts with a vision and an innovative approach to leadership within a school district. And, I am not simply talking about leadership that finds a way to get his or her entire staff on Twitter, but rather leadership that promotes a culture of ideas and inquiry to support teacher leaders.

In my previous life as the first Open Education Advisor for the United States Department of Education, I got to see this happening first hand across the country in some really amazing schools. I also got to witness the naysayers and those who feel this is an impossible shift and that it would create more work for educators who are already overworked. Which essentially translates to, don’t promote teacher empowerment with openly licensed educational resources because it may disrupt our business model. Personally, I enjoy those who don’t think new ideas can work and promote excuses rather than solutions. Historically, the naysayers (See Teachers Pay Teachers), with their objections, signal to everyone that this new paradigm is working and will sustain into the future.

Across the country in schools like Liberty Public Schools, MO, Vista Unified School District, CA, Tullahoma City Schools, TN, and Colonial Public Schools, DE, educational leaders are designing new paradigms for instructional design and leveraging the experience and expertise of educators within their respective school district. What’s more, these leaders are flipping the traditional on its head and pioneering the next wave of educational innovation.

Districts like Liberty Public Schools in Liberty, MO are not only flipping the traditional, but they are reinvesting in the teaching profession by providing compensation for teachers who collaboratively curate and create openly licensed educational materials. Similarly, Lawrence Public Schools in Lawrence, KS is compensating and supporting teacher leadership through their Teachers On Special Assignment (TOSA) model. This model directly reinvests money that normally would have been spent on static, traditional textbooks and supports teacher leadership and professional growth. I could go on with examples of other innovative districts, but instead I will simply refer you to the Office of Educational Technology #GoOpen story engine.

Innovation does not have to simply be associated with the latest application to burgeon out of Silicon Valley or the savvy keynote speaker, but rather, it can be seen in our classrooms across the country. By nature, educators are researchers and designers within their classrooms and have always thrived on the ability to share and repurpose. As educational leaders, we must find ways to reinvest in the profession of teaching and amplify the innovative work that educators design on a yearly basis. Fostering a shared culture of learning and instructional design within an academic institution can support teacher leadership and greatly impact student growth. Openly licensed educational resources can help spark this culture and promote innovative teaching and learning by openly sharing and amplifying what educators create daily. It’s time we recognize the innovative capacity of all educators.

*N.a. “Fast Facts.” National Center for Education Statistics, n.d. Web. 15 Jul. 2016. <>

**N.a. “Open Educational Resources | Hewlett Foundation.” n.d. Web. 15 Jul. 2016. <>