Spaces for Innovation

Optimizing Innovation in Praxis

If we are to truly transform education, imagining new possibilities and realities, then we need to embrace different models of education, structuring our systems accordingly. What do these new models need to be like? What are the factors that will enable new possibilities to emerge?

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Masters Thesis (May 2012)

Optimizing Innovation in Praxis: Imagined Possibilities and New Realities – Exploring Narratives of Educational Transformation

Through my research, I explore the ways in which educators imagine new possibilities and create new models for things that cannot yet be seen. I also consider the ways in which individuals negotiate and navigate the constraints within organizations. I seek to understand the degree to which innovation is embraced or exhibited as a result of the metaphors we live by and the intersection of the individual with the language and culture of an organization.

Personal Narratives of Educational Transformation (excerpts from Thesis)

I invite you to explore these narratives and share your questions and comments in the comment box below. Thank you for taking time to accompany me on my journey of transformation.

Narrative #1: Creating Our Future

“As Human Beings, we are defined by the causes we serve and the problems we struggle to surmount. Whether it’s Nelson Mandela battling the scourge of apartheid, Craig Venter unraveling the human genome, or Larry Page and Sergey Brin bringing order to the vastness of cyberspace, it is a passion for solving extraordinary problems that creates the potential for extraordinary accomplishment…You’re going to need passion for some very specific, very noble challenge.” (The Future of Management, Gary Hamel, 2007, p. 37)

It was mid September 1990 and in my newly appointed role as Vice Principal at Sechelt Elementary I was keen to put into practice suggestions I had encountered in the numerous leadership readings I had been doing, in particular, one that made reference to “managing by walking around”.  As I wandered the hallways of the main floor, I soon came across a group of boys outside their respective classrooms, engrossed in a game of eraser hockey, oblivious to my presence and keen on scoring their next goal…(Read more…Creating Our Future)

Narrative #2: Beyond the Diagnosis

“A narrative is composed of a unique sequence of events, mental states, happenings…these are its constituents. But these constituents do not as it were have a life or meaning of their own. Their meaning is given by their place in the overall configuration of the sequence as a whole, its plot or fabula. The act of grasping a narrative, then, is a dual one: the interpreter has to grasp the narrative’s configuring plot in order to make sense of its constituents, which he must relate to the plot. But the plot configurations must itself be extracted from the succession of events.” (Jerome Bruner, Acts of Meaning, 1993, p.43)

In this chapter, I share my experience with cancer and the way in which this unfortunate disease entered my life. I use the notions of dimensionality (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000), wakefulness (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000), wide-awakeness (Greene, 1978) and metaphor (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980), as the lenses to look back upon the events leading up to the diagnosis, the actual diagnosis of cancer, the subsequent treatment and finally, the arrival on the other side of this disease.

Through the narration of these events I intend to show that what I initially perceived as an unfortunate event is in fact extremely fortunate because of the insights and new plot line it created for my life’s story. Thus, for this narrative, the title Beyond the Diagnosis, which gets to the heart of seeing beyond “what is”, came into being…( Read more…Beyond the Diagnosis)

Narrative # 3: Transformation, Creativity, Caring & Accountability

Our Vision: Achieving global impact

Our Mission: Exemplary patient care, research and education

Our Purpose: We are a caring, creative and accountable academic hospital, transforming health care for our patients, our community and the world.

Our Values:  * Caring * Excellence * Teamwork * Innovation * Integrity * Leadership * Respect  (University Health Network)

It was three days following my cancer surgery. I lay in the hospital bed reflecting on my journey with this frightening disease. A rare form of bone cancer had resulted in the necessary removal of a large portion of my hard palate. The typical course of treatment following the surgery would have involved insertion of an obturator (a prosthesis used to close the opening left as a result of the removal of bone and tissue), but fortunately for me, my course of treatment was not typical…( Read more…Transformation, Creativity, Caring & Accountability)

Narrative # 4: A Question of Renewal

In this case study, I look back on my experiences as a newly hired music teacher given the task of bringing greater diversity to a school’s existing music program and I reflect on the choices I made and the factors that guided or influenced the program renewal that I was embarking on. As a narrative inquirer, I seek to understand the decisions I made in light of several theoretical contexts, in particular, connections to the theories and research of Maxine Greene, Paulo Freire and Homi Bhabha.

The telling of this story is intended to be a “mode of knowing” (Bruner, 1986, p 11) and through the process of retelling, I seek to find connections between the events in the narrative, how they have come to shape my identity as an educator and ultimately, how this retelling might inform others seeking paths of renewal and transformation within their spaces of learning… ( Read more… A Question of Renewal)

Chapter 4: Narrative Interviews

In this chapter, I share excerpts from the narrative interviews conducted with Tsimshian artist Roy Henry Vickers and surgeon Dr. Ralph Gilbert. Through analysis of these two interviews I seek to connect research on innovation, creativity and the imagination to factors that enable innovation and creativity to occur within systems, organizations and institutions. In this analysis, I draw upon the notions of wideawakeness (Greene, 1978), metaphor (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980) chaos theory and connectivism (Seimens, 2004), as well as concepts of what constitutes meaningful work and joy from The Progress Principle (Amabile & Kramer, 2011).

Interview 1: Through the Eyes of an Artist

Interview 2: Through the Eyes of a Surgeon

It is my contention that by tapping into sources of inspiration such as those described by Dr. Gilbert, inspiration empowered by “artful-mindedness” (Steffensen, 2012) and an open learning stance, organizations, schools and educational systems will be truly generative, responsive, free of borders and limitations, thereby optimizing the identity of individuals and the entire organization. This artful-mindedness will ultimately enable us to move us from a state of entropy to renewal and innovation in praxis, transforming and eluding “the politics of polarity”, where we might emerge “as the others of ourselves” (Bhabha, 1994, p. 39). ( Read more…Narrative Interviews )

Thesis: Conclusions: The Four Directions of Leadership

Moving Beyond the Diagnosis: Redefining the Possible

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

(T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, 1942 No.4 Little Gidding, V)

One of the greatest challenges facing educational transformation is getting beyond the diagnosis in order to redefine the possible.  We have been tinkering at the edges in education for a long time without, in my view, any significant change or lasting effect. What will it take to get schools and systems to a place of truly “imagining forward differently” (Zatzman, 2009)?  In seeking insight to this question, I ventured outside of the field of education in order to garner insights that might provide inspiration and inform thinking anew…

As I further reflect upon the personal narratives, case studies and interviews that have informed this research paper, I now see that these experiences have afforded me an opportunity look to each of the Four Directions for understanding: the Teacher (A Question of Renewal); the Healer (Through the Eyes of a Physician, interview with Dr. Gilbert); the Visionary (Through the Eyes of an Artist, interview with Roy Henry Vickers); and the Warrior/Leader (as captured by the case study Creating Our Future.

The narrative Beyond the Diagnosis embodies all Four Directions, a story about healing, teaching, vision, and leading change. It is my contention that together these narratives offer us a model for transforming the places and spaces within organizations that have become fixed by the status quo. ( Read more…  Conclusions: Thesis Karen Steffensen)

13 comments on “Optimizing Innovation in Praxis

  1. dwees
    August 19, 2011

    I really loved the parallel you found, and I’m sure we can find other parallels between visionaries in different fields.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I can only imagine how frightening the whole experience must have been for you.

    • Karen Steffensen
      August 19, 2011

      Thanks, David.

      Yes, I think we can learn a lot from fields outside of education, particularly when passion, inspiration and creativity are concerned. While my journey with cancer was an unexpected life event, it has proven to be the greatest gift in my search for the kind of thinking required to change the status quo in education– my search for thinking that enables innovation and accesses the places and spaces within ourselves and within our interactions with one another that will result in great changes to the “what is”.

  2. Pingback: Optimizing Innovation in Praxis | Spaces for Innovation | E-Learning-Inclusivo |

  3. Karen each narrative offers a remarkable story and together they provided me with an opportunity to better see how theory underscores practice and the courage necessary to do so.

    Love this quote, especially: “the hybrid moment of political change- the transformational value of change lies in the re-articulation or translation of elements that are neither the something else besides which contests the terms and territories of both”

    • Karen Steffensen
      December 6, 2011

      Thanks, Mary Ann, for your comments. I found the work of Homi Bhaba very inspiring. As I strove to understand the meaning inside these personal experiences and subsequent writing of these narratives, Homi Bhaba’s theories regarding the ‘Third Space’ provided an interesting lens through which to re-examine events, interactions, decisions and outcomes.

  4. Brian Harrison
    May 3, 2012

    Hi Karen

    Your stance on innovation and the morality that drives us to innovate is compelling (and one I can entirely agree with). I also appreciate the voice and clarity with which this is written- more so because I have the good fortune to know the person behind the piece.

    The importance of challenging the status quo- through creativity rather than complaining comes across as central to the process of innovation- something I deeply believe.


    • Karen Steffensen
      May 3, 2012

      Thanks, Brian. It has been an interesting journey to arrive here in this current mindset. I am glad to know that this piece resonated with you.

  5. Tim Taylor
    January 1, 2013

    Hi Karen

    I enjoyed reading your blog and thesis very much, especially your reference to the work of Jerome Bruner’s Acts of Meaning.

    For me narrative lies at the heart of the learning process – Meaning making emerging from significant moments as a process of collaborative inquiry.

    My great hero is Dorothy Heathcote who spent her life inventing and demonstrating a pedagogical approach, involving the conventions of drama, which embraced sign and metaphor at the intersection of individual with language and culture – to paraphrase your credo – which is why this statement leapt out at me. I wonder if you know of Heathcote’s work? If not I think you would enjoy it very much, especially the film made of her by the BBC in the 1970’s called “Three Looms Waiting”

    Coincidentally I can also relate to your experience of being diagnosed with cancer. In October, 2012 I was diagnosed with NHL and am currently in the middle of six months of chemo. Luckily it seems my tumour is responding well to the treatment and I’m beginning to get better. Nevertheless, it has been a horrible experience and has had a deep and significant impact on my life and my young family.

    Interesting things seem to be happening in Canada. From what am reading your system seems to be moving in the right direction, while education in the UK is going the wrong way! Do you know Kieran Egan? He is one of my favourite academics and I had the pleasure of inviting him to a conference we organised in Norwich about 12 years ago.

    Best wishes to you – Tim Taylor @imagineinquiry

    • Karen Steffensen
      January 1, 2013

      Thanks, Tim, for your response. Yes, I do know the work of Dorothy Heathcote– a true inspiration. I know of Kieran Egan, but not personally– would love to have a conversation with him one day 🙂

      My thoughts are with you through your cancer journey– I wish you and your family the very best for this year. One day at a time was my approach, seeking what was the best thing I could do each day.

      Best wishes to you. Please keep in touch!


  6. Tim Taylor
    January 1, 2013

    Thanks Karen

    I’m so pleased you’ve heard of Dorothy. I didn’t know her well, but had the fortune of spending some very happy times learning from her on courses she ran and a very memorable two days at the Heathcote archive in Manchester. She was a wonderful and inspirational teacher, very sadly missed.

    Kieran Egan I know is running a conference at Simon Fraser University in July – I don’t know if you can make it.

    • Karen Steffensen
      January 1, 2013

      Thanks for the link to the conference, Tim! Looks very interesting.

  7. Jim Holt
    October 24, 2016

    Thanks for an inspiring read Karen!

    As an experienced eraser hockey player, I’ve always enjoyed meeting and being challenged by folks like you.

    Love that you support and understand the arts from four directions.

    I found myself reimagining myself in 2000 with end stage renal disease. A kidney transplant 2004 and a pacemaker 2014 were handy catalysts as well 🙂

    All the very best to you for every second of time you spend and every grain of sand you explore.

    Happy Fractals :0
    You’ve made my morning!
    Jim Holt @DeltaWatershed

    • KS
      October 24, 2016

      All the best to you, too. Quite the journey you had as well– it is interesting how these life experiences lead us towards greater understandings.

      Thank you for taking time to explore the thinking shared in this work. You’ve made my day sharing your appreciation!

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