Innovation in Education – Our 6C’s Project

Over the last few months, I have been investigating various views on innovation in schools (specifically at senior areas of the curriculum). These finding will help determine the path I will follow with my Google Innovation project: How can we create more innovative opportunities in senior levels of our curriculum. For more on my project, check out my earlier blog post: Creating Tomorrow’s Innovator. This research is a collaborative effort with the Young Innovator Awards (YiA) – an organisation in Tauranga, NZ, who are doing great, innovative work with students in our region.

Over this time, I was able to interview a range of teachers, students and education leaders. Typically, my interviews would be driven by the following questions:

  • What is your experience of innovation within education?
  • What are your expectations around innovation in the curriculum?
  • What are the barriers and frustrations you have in regards to innovation in the curriculum?
  • What would you like to see happen to allow for more innovative opportunities in schools?

I also sent out surveys to students in New Zealand schools where I was also able to get great insight into student’s views on innovation in education. These survey results will be displayed in various pictures throughout this post.

Through this process, we were able to generate some key insights as outlined below.


  • The business environment is evolving rapidly with pressure from disruptive technologies and a changing outlook of the future workforce – this is driving the shift to skills rather than content for talent hiring. However, there is a significant disconnect between the business world’s needs and how children are being prepared at school. Many of the challenges that schools face with shifting this culture is the same as business, which presents the opportunity for transferable learning between business and education.
  • There is a general societal view and expectation of what schools should be, strongly related to the experience that parents had when they were at school, where the teaching model was content driven. This is underpinned by the view that academia is content driven and ‘if it worked for me, why change it’ but this perspective doesn’t appreciate the non-linear change that the business environment is going through. This illustrates that the change in school culture towards skills is a product of three areas – business, education and community – but also the barriers to change are generational, systemic and innate.

  • The desire to teach innovation skills is underpinned by understanding the need. This ultimately rests on the teacher’s understanding and acceptance of how work is in a transformational phase leading towards skills being more relevant than content. A basic acceptance of this belief is the catalyst for change. Framing the need for skills around future survival is compelling.
  • A limited understanding of this core need for innovation skills can ring fence these skills into either elitist classes ‘for the talented’ or, by contrast, relegated as a sub-standard class. We heard comments like “not all students are innovative” which highlights a lack of understanding of what is to be taught (i.e. non-binary) and the pressure for assessment where teaching has to be results driven, not outcome driven. It shows a direct conflict between skills for the future not being available for all.
  • Several interviewees commented that NZ’s curriculum can effectively be used to teach innovation skills if used correctly, and in this sense is ‘world-class’. In fact, some believe the NZ curriculum is used in a traditional way while the intent was for an integrated style. This highlights that the challenge lies in the cultural approach to teaching and not so much the structure of the curriculum. One teacher commented that the curriculum can be used to “find the credits to match to the learnings” but this is time intensive in an environment where time is scarce.
  • There was a relatively split response to our question “Does assessment kill innovation?”. Many said that assessment in the traditional sense does, but if we can use assessment to drive learning, then it should be a key factor in enabling true innovation to happen in schools.
  • An integrated teaching model where innovation skills are taught across traditional boundaries, and away from traditional content subjects, requires a different approach to teaching where teachers need to become ‘facilitators and not fonts of all knowledge (content)‘. This change underpins the main challenge due to the perceived effort and resource to change while supporting teachers along the journey – for many, this perception is too much.
  • The key tension is the perception of ‘teaching innovation’ in an integrated format is too much work and teachers are fundamentally time poor. There is an overwhelming concern from teachers that shifting the structure of schooling to integrated assessment is too big a change from the current siloed model – both structurally and culturally. Being time poor was also a factor that limits senior entries into YiA when students at this level are fully committed to the assessment requirements in NCEA. It was interesting to hear that a year 11 student, even though he interned with YiA last year and fully motivated, wasn’t entering this year due to pressure from senior NCEA assessment – NCEA pressure will always win.
  • The currency of the school system is assessment credits rather than the quality of the teaching that determines the credits. This creates contradictions that challenge teaching innovation skills. Students need credits to progress in life; teachers are judged on the success of their students (fuelled by the media); ‘credit farming’ is a result of the pressure to achieve credits. This illustrates that ‘school’ is assessed on the wrong metrics.
  • Parents are a significant influencer in a child’s future pathway and are required to be part of the change journey. A child’s academic success reflects on the parents which is why parents advocate traditional subjects, even if in non-traditional careers themselves. Schools with smaller and more discreet communities can effectively engage these communities in the innovative approach and rally support – this is similar to the tribe effect created by purpose-driven businesses.

  • A common theme was that of stories of innovation teaching coming from motivated, individual teachers rather than entire schools. However, it was also clear that even though these individual small-scale success stories exist, developing an integrated mindset for innovation across a school was much more challenging. This was frustrating for passionate teachers without the ability to change a culture for widespread adoption. Teachers said they needed support to drive a cultural change and leadership was regularly a barrier. Scaling innovation teaching in school is challenging.
  • The passion to change and experiment with new forms of assessment is augmented by a feeling of being valued as teachers. We learnt that undervalued teachers are less willing to try new approaches. Feeling valued is related to tangible realities like pay but also support – feeling supported, well equipped and qualified with the skills and resources, motivated and encouraged to try new approaches were all factors required for trying new approaches to teaching.
  • True digital natives, who have grown up with highly accessible digital technologies, are leaving school in the coming years. This generation is adept at accessing information on-demand from a number of sources and comfortable with technology platforms. Self-directed learning is a natural learning approach to these students where choice is expected so they can follow passions. The ‘spoon-fed’, systematic approach to traditional learning is counterintuitive to digital natives natural orientation. School is failing to adapt to today’s student’s behaviours, needs and interests.
  • The ‘spoon-feeding’ approach also neglects softer, more character building traits critical for work – grit, resilience and embracing failure are important character traits for students today that, when combined with critical thinking and creativity, build the future-focussed skills.

Whilst some of these insights may be quite confronting for those involved in our education system, the barriers that were highlighted give us some context into what we face as we try to create more innovative opportunities within the curriculum. At this point, we are able to break down our next steps into two main (yet very broad) tasks:

  • Communicating the purpose
  • Developing learning resources

From these two tasks, we are now able to come up with some “How Might We (HMW)” thoughts that are outlined below:

Communicating the purpose

  • HMW work with parents to shift their view?
  • HMW bring the needs of the future to life?
  • HMW create content relating to the changing nature of work/skills to share with the community?
  • HMW engage parents in the idea of innovation skills to build a tribe of supporters?
  • HMW change the Principal’s mindset?

Developing learning resources

  • HMW demonstrate simply how today’s curriculum can be easily adapted for innovation skills?
  • HMW design an integrated subject that schools can use and where students are able to gain credits?
  • HMW use students to design their own learning programme?
  • HMW design an integrated subject where students are able to gain credits while having a choice in the content they want to learn?
  • HMW leverage credits for non-traditional teaching?
  • HMW engage tertiary to acknowledge an integrated subject?
  • HMW use the feedforward approach?
  • HMW leverage the innate skills of today’s digital natives for self-directed learning?
  • HMW build and assess character skills

It has also become evident through our research process that the 6C’s will be at the forefront of our minds when designing resources that will allow students to practice the skills that will allow them to be successful in the future.



It would be great to hear your thoughts on any of these findings or ideas around some solutions, so feel free to add your comments to this post or get in touch.