New Approaches to Old Ideas – Sarah Kay, Part 1


My definition of innovation is new approaches
to old problems. I think innovation in a broad sense can be a lot of different situations.
It can be a teacher who has been tackling the same material for years and years and
years and needs to find a new way of approaching it. It can be teachers who are faced with
the same problems in the classroom unrelated to the material, it can be about the social
issues that they’re dealing with, the cultural issues that they’re dealing with; just bringing
new vision, new technologies, new ideas to the same things that we’ve been tackling
for a while. Teachers need to find a balance between breakthroughs,
there are two different types of breakthroughs and two different ways we think about the
word breakthrough. One is what I call accidental breakthroughs; and that is a satori, a revelation,
an epiphany, something that arrives to you. And you can’t do anything to create that moment;
you can only be open to the idea that it may arrive whether you’re ready for it or not.
The other type of breakthrough or the other way we think about the word breakthrough is
what I call the hard work breakthrough. And that is something that you need to overcome
obstacles for, meet challenges in order to create the shift that you want to see made.
And these are two very different ways of understanding what a breakthrough is but despite the differences
between them, the similarity is how important what comes after the breakthrough is. So some
people experience a breakthrough and decide to ignore it, project it, try to return to
a previous state. Other people experience a breakthrough and embrace it, rejoice it,
try to build on it, and try to share with others.
I think teachers need to find a way to balance those two types of breakthroughs for their
students. When you’re a child you are pre-programmed to have accidental breakthroughs. Everything
about being a child is about having those moments where the paradigm shifts, where your
world is flipped upside down. That’s what being a child is. The first time you take
your first steps, the first time you hear your first music, everything changes; it happens
constantly. When you’re young what is harder to understand
is the second type of breakthrough which is the hard work breakthrough. When you’re
young it takes a lot to learn that sometimes you can’t create a shift, you can’t make something
happen unless you work really hard, unless you overcome obstacles and challenges.
But when we grow older those two positions start to reverse themselves, and I think for
adults whether it’s because of training or experience, we learn the lesson that most
breakthroughs only occur from hard work, and we learn how to work really hard. And then
we start to only value the breakthroughs that have resulted from hard work, so we only pay
attention to the ones that we’ve overcome the most obstacles for, and we tend to disregard
or ignore the accidental breakthroughs, and we don’t consider them important.
It’s really hard to be a 51 year old businessman and wake up one morning and realize you were
always meant to be a ballet dancer. It’s a lot easier to just ignore that and go back
to live as normal. And I think that teachers need to give their students the skills to
be hard workers and to meet challenges and overcome obstacles with innovation, with new
approaches to these old problems and old questions. But in doing that teachers also need to teach
their students that you have to also continue to stay open to the idea of accidental breakthrough.
You can’t only bunker down and work hard and not understand that there will be moments
that are out of your control where everything is thrown open. And that’s–that’s what
I believe is what being a teacher is.

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