An increasingly popular job title in schools these days is director/coordinator of innovation, a responsibility given to a teacher or administrator to see that the school’s program and teaching is innovative. I am absolutely in favor of innovative teaching, and I do not begrudge the title to those professionals who hold it, because their work is vital for independent schools to remain relevant and deliver a high-value educational experience. However, I find the trendy designation unsettling because it runs the risk of signaling to the faculty that innovation is someone else’s job, the director of innovation. Schools do need more innovative teaching, but the way to get there is to build an innovative culture across the organization; for each teacher to take personal responsibility for and embrace the many innovations that have been brought to our work in recent years.
Hiring an innovation director could indicate that innovation isn’t present in the right places or with the right power and direction behind it. It might be a marketing-driven decision fueled by a need to demonstrate to target audiences how innovative the school is. It might also function as form of indemnification; a way of saying, “We’re innovative because we have the title to prove it,” instead of other more organic proofs of the claim.
Hiring an innovation director is in some ways analogous to hiring a diversity director and then concluding that diversity is, ipso facto, “covered” at your school. [Disclaimer: I do believe the position of diversity director/coordinator is essential for schools because innovation and diversity are significantly different parts of a school’s proverbial landscape.] Again, it’s a question of what responsibilities faculty members think they have to their profession, their students, and their school.
If you have an innovation director already, consider what actual powers are given to that person. What real budgetary, HR, and structural power does he/she have? If you don’t have an innovation director you are ahead of the curve. Just make sure that you are fostering innovation at the grassroots level. To use Pat Bassett’s phrase about how to bring technology into schools, “Bet on the fast horses.” In other words, promote the innovative and don’t rely on a title to do the work.