What, exactly, is a director of innovation?

What, exactly, is a director of innovation?

I make a habit of flicking through the teaching position advertisements fairly regularly, whether that’s the old paper version or the online version. I’ve found teachers.on.net to be pretty good for this purpose, although it is hard to beat the SMH section. Anyway, something that I have noticed recently is that there are increasing numbers of jobs being advertised for positions like ‘Director of e-Learning’ or ‘Director of Innovation’ or something similar. Basically, as far as I can make out, the brief is to shake up learning and teaching at the particular school or institution, and there is usually a heft dose of learning technology (read 1:1 deployment of laptops or tablets) thrown into the mix. In the largest of these positions – which must come with salaries that are probably comparable to a deputy or assistant principal, the director is often responsible for managing a team of learning technologists and integrators – whatever that might mean!

It probably goes without saying that most of these positions being advertised are at top-tier private schools – the kinds of schools that offer boarding and are big on history, tradition and ‘old boys networks’. While I guess you could make an argument that it’s good that schools like this are embracing the opportunities provided by new technology, I’ve got two areas of concern about this idea.

Firstly, and perhaps not surprisingly, I’m worried that the creation of such a position implies that innovation can and should only take place in schools that can afford it; that is, unless you have the funding to pay for somebody to do only this, while schools that spend all their available funding on teachers, resources and dilapidated classrooms neither need nor should they experiment with innovation. It’s a similar argument to one that I’ve raised before – about the prevalence of laptop programs in wealthier schools, and their absence from less wealthy schools.

My second, and more serious concern, is that I think this kind of position is evidence of a kind of woolly thinking. I mean, what is a director of innovation? How, precisely, are they meant to encourage innovation? Are they responsible for all the innovation? Is no one else allowed to innovate except them? I’m being a little bit flippant, but if we assume innovation is important in schools – and I think that’s worthy of further discussion – and if we think that that innovation is intrinsically linked to the use of technology (and we’re talking about technology in the modern sense – i.e. computers, rather than it’s real sense, where it could be used to any application of science to solve problems) – then surely that innovation should be represented in the culture of all the teachers in the school? Now I acknowledge that some people will argue that you need a person to start innovative practice – I don’t necessarily agree with that: to my mind the culture of a school is expressed in the everyday practice of its teachers and ancillary staff. So, to be truly innovative, then almost every teacher in the school should be innovative – their own little director of innovation, if you will.