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For the whole of March, we'll be sharing exclusive content centred around Innovation On A Budget. How can schools ensure steady progress with often-stretched funds?

"The need to innovate despite limited funds is a familiar challenge for schools," comments leading edu-preneur and Giglets advocate, Helen Bowen. "Innovation ought to bring improvement, but we’ve all encountered examples of ‘the latest thing’ that brought only confusion and delay.

"In this context, the thought of changing practices in an attempt at innovation is easily dismissed. Why spend money changing what we know? I can only recommend that each of us becomes extremely picky when trying new products and services. For example, Giglets is perfect for quickly updating a school library with high-quality fiction and nonfiction books."

Change is good, but it’s also challenging. The best resource is one where you can’t imagine how you ever managed without it – but you need to be ready to take the first step.

8 qualities for innovating a nation

Michael Strachan

Michael Strachan is deputy headteacher of an outstanding international school in Dubai. He writes a wide variety of materials, ranging from textbooks to opinion pieces on leadership and pedagogy. A seasoned CPD presenter, Michael has been involved in the University of Cambridge's Festival of Science, the Abu Dhabi 'Education experts' conference and occasional guest spots lecturing on the University of Middlesex (Dubai) MA educational leadership course. He is currently writing his dissertation for a Master's in Educational Leadership and Management, at the University of Bath.

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Image credit: Flickr // United Nations Photo. Image credit: Flickr // United Nations Photo.

With the aim for the UAE to be #1 in the Global Innovation Index by the year 2021, it is hardly surprising that there is a heavy focus on innovation as part of the nation’s school inspection framework. However, as with most buzzwords, the term “innovation” has become somewhat debased. Even among experts the term is fiercely debated. This ambiguity leaves the average teacher with a quandary: they are being expected to increase the level of innovation in their practice, as well as helping foster innovation amongst their students, all the while being unclear of exactly what they are working towards.

Good teachers are inherently innovative and so a cottage industry has sprung up, with pockets of outstanding practice scattered across the oil-rich country. A number of schools have hosted innovation conferences to showcase this homegrown talent, alongside keynote speakers on innovation. While these conferences have helped to inspire and bolster the drive for innovation, these efforts have lacked the economy of scale.

Enter InnovationX

Against this backdrop the InnovationX team, founded and led by Evo Hannan, are seeking to upset the applecart by developing a student and teacher innovation profile called INNOV8TR. Inspired by the International Baccalaureate learner profile, the team - made up of“Ask ‘What is an innovator?’ rather than ‘What is innovation?’ to upset the applecart.” influential international educators - have analysed the traits of the world’s leading innovators. They identified eight characteristics that defined these successful trailblazers regardless of industry, profession or field. By choosing to ask “What is an innovator?” rather than “What is innovation?”, the have team cleverly crafted a question that could be answered. Although the team have only been working in their spare time, they have developed a number of resources which they have already shared with schools in the Emirates and beyond.

In a bid to compensate for the nebulousness of the term innovation, the team have worked tirelessly to provide clear definitions of what each innovation characteristic looks like in the classroom. They have then gone a step further, creating an actual innovation evaluation that can be used by students to determine which traits they display more than others. It is hoped that by making students aware of how they can utilise their natural tendencies, a greater degree of innovation development could take place.

What does an innovator look like?

The eight INNOV8TR characteristics for students and teachers are each led by a ‘trait ambassador’, who embodies the characteristic and leads development of resources and training.

1. International

Globalisation is not going backwards and, increasingly, we are living in a much more interconnected world. Future innovators will need to be aware of global trends and sensitive to differences in culture and belief systems to be successful. Ambassador: Baz Nijjar, @MrNijjar.

2. Noble

Too often, businesses and industries are run with scant regard for the rest of society. The next generation will need to have a social conscience if they plan to have a long-lasting and positive impact on whichever the field they join. Ambassador: Patricia Deo, @teaching4future.

3. Networker

The rise of social media, including professional networks, have only reinforced the old adage “it’s not what you know, but who you know”. With relationships playing an ever-increasing part in the path to success, moving forwards students will need to the skills to build and maintain a large number of contacts. Ambassador: Michael Strachan, @StracHacks.

4. Opportunistic

With the pace of life increasing at a near exponential rate, tomorrow’s innovators will need to be ready to pounce on any chance that comes their way. Identifying and capitalising on projects and opportunities will be essential skills for the creative elite. Ambassador: Jade Lewis-Jones, @JLJbusinessed.

5. Visionary

No longer will it be enough to be outstanding in a given field. Our students will need to be looking over the horizon for the next trend or technological advance when they join the workplace. Companies will employ them not for what they can do now, but what they can develop for the future. Ambassador: Scott Baldwin, @ScottBWin27.

6. Abstract

Looking at the majority of innovators in any given field, one factor that links them is their ability to think differently. The term ‘thinking outside the box’ has become overused, but the concept of looking at the world, or a problem, in a completely different way is still what separates the good from the great. Ambassador: Evo Hannan, @Evo_Hannan.

7. Tenacious

Failure very much is an option for successful innovators, but this can come with an emotional toll. Being able to doggedly pursue an idea until it becomes a reality will be an in-demand asset in tomorrow’s economy. Ambassador: Anastasia Filippova, @AnastasiaSongs.

8. Resourceful

The ability to use what you have to create something new is one of the most primeval forms of innovation. Going all the way back to the first humans to strike two flints together to create a spark, the ability to collect and use resources to do something new or different has always been an advantage. Ambassador: David Cole, @OlKingCole68.

From small acorns

This is just the start for InnovationX, which will hopefully grow the INNOV8TR platform to be used by more schools across the country and eventually the region. One thing is for sure; with increasing pressure placed on schools to show how they are being innovative, having an external resource that will take the hassle and effort out of fulfilling these obligations will be popular with lots of teachers.

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