You are all innovators

Tom Barrett
3 min readApr 18, 2018

I recently started a keynote talk with the message, “You are all innovators.” This was not some empty platitude to win over the audience, and the message remains sincere for you dear reader.

After becoming pretty jaded with the polemic and doom-laden openings of most education keynotes these days — I wanted to start on a more positive idea.

Teaching and the world of learning design is one of the most creative of pursuits we have. It certainly is one of the most challenging environments to work in.

Innovation can only be defined in context

One of the main reasons I believe teachers are all innovators is that we apply new ideas, big and small, in a continuous effort to improve the learning experience for students.

Sometimes those ideas take time to implement, but often they occur at the point of learning we share with our students.

When we think of innovation as ‘renewal’ (from the Latin root ‘innovare’) — any teacher will understand the constant questioning and reflection on “what more can we do?”, “how else can we explore these ideas?”, “how might we approach this in a more accessible way?” or “where can I continue to challenge these students?”.

This type of curiosity leads to creativity and taking action. That is innovation in my book.

What needs “renewal” and what doesn’t, is completely defined by context. What is new for one region, district, county, school, department or class, is not necessarily new for another.

There are still people reading my articles on ideas I implemented over 10 years ago and sharing how interesting and exciting they are. What I perceive as innovative is defined by the context I am in, the same is true for you.

Keeping Up with Joneses

This popular idiom refers to people’s tendency to compare their own social standing according to that of their neighbours. It originated from a comic strip that went by the same name, created by Arthur Momand in 1913.

Within the frame of innovation in education, we might consider how we are influenced by the work and progress of other schools. I also think within the echo chambers of education social networking FOMO is generated, a Fear Of Missing Out.

If my class of 30 students is different to the one down the corridor, and to the school across the road / border — perhaps comparisons to other innovation stories is limited in utility.

You can gain inspiration, but whether it is innovative or not, to what degree it is a story of renewal, depends on your context.

Writing in a shared Google Doc

I have had the chance to work with lots of different schools throughout the last fifteen years. One example of innovation that sticks out is the use of Google Docs.

The ability for multiple users to simultaneously work in the same digital space, renewed the process of writing and feedback in my classroom. I was one of the first classroom teachers in the world to be using the technology with my Year 5 class in 2005–2006.

(If you go far enough back in this blog’s archive you will find those posts.)

For my class of students that technology helped with the way we were writing — it was innovative for us in 2006. Using that idea is not innovative for me any more though, it is no longer about renewal.

Since then I have worked with organisations and schools who have never used Google Docs. For them the process still can be renewed. It is still innovative for them even 10+ years after it was for me.

It all depends on our context.

The key thing is not to get caught up chasing other people’s innovative projects. They might just not be applicable for you. Ask yourself is this idea “new” for us or “new” for the world?

Pay attention to the needs of your own context and the students in front of you.



Tom Barrett

Re-discover the curiosity you had when you were 6. Learning, Leadership, Innovation. Join Medium to support my writing << Affiliate link