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Wouldn’t it be interesting if we spent more time and energy in education trying for “business as unusual” than supporting a system that works to maintain the status quo?

I’m intrigued by Clayton Christensen’s work on disruptive innovation and I believe there’s compelling application for teaching and learning.

“Disruptive innovation, a term of art coined by Clayton Christensen, describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.”

Christensen first introduced the idea twenty years ago. It’s a model for business and industry, but doesn’t it have relevance in education? Obviously many think so because I’ve read a lot about it lately, but mostly as it relates to improving education through technology.

What if we thought of disruptive innovation as Michael Horn posits in his 2014 article in Forbes Magazine?

…helping our schools use disruptive innovation to disrupt the classroom—the way they arrange teaching and learning—is possible. The theories have a lot to offer schools to help them manage innovation—both of the sustaining and disruptive sort.

Disruptive Innovation.

I want to do that. Be a disruptive innovator.

If, in my new job as Disruptive Innovator, I stay true to Christensen’s theory of disruption, I’ll work from the bottom up to meet the needs of consumers (students) eventually replacing established “competitors”.

Established competitors?

Like, for instance, mindless tasks students are required to complete which have no bearing whatsoever on their ability to develop their own unique intellectual capital, which they’ll in turn “market” for a promising future.

Established competitors?

Any undertaking in the learning environment that may be accepted, common practice but does not lead to increasing student agency through investigation, problem solving and real-life application is, in my opinion, a nefarious competitor.

If you were brave enough to click through to Christenson’s site you would have seen that he mentions yet another type of innovation: sustaining innovations.

Some educational practices are worthy of sustaining and maintaining. Others–not so much.

Sustaining Innovations

  • Practices that promote an open community of inquiry
  • Classroom environments that celebrate differences in opinions and ideas
  • Teachers who model empathy, reflection and respect
  • Content that is relevant and meaningful to students
  • Opportunity for individual, customized learning

Disruptive Innovations

  • Resources in the general ed classroom that allow all students to have access to the content in meaningful ways (and I mean all)
  • Student choice in regard to process, product, learning environment and assessment
  • Teachers as learners alongside students
  • Authentic texts (not basal anthologies) as the basis for students to practice their growing repertoire of new reading habits
  • Environments that look much more like a studio where the teacher can guide as a master craftsman and students work as apprentices (all day) in authentic ways to perfect their craft
  • Transformational learning visible in a portfolio (hard copy or digital) that provides evidence of measurable outcomes as opposed to standardized test scores as a single measurement

In Rob Abel’s keynote address at a Learning Impact conference four years ago he shared:

“Education, if done correctly, is life success enabling. The more unique and distinctive your educational experience is, the more valuable it is. The ability to produce knowledge is the key currency in the current and future global economy.”

I don’t know about you, but I have an amazing life. My education and my upbringing provided me with the “currency” to enjoy a successful future.

Can’t I do everything in my power to disrupt the antiquated, program-centric (versus student-centric) educational system for all the students I serve?

I believe I can. And I should.

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