Innovation for "Learning Differences"

25 Nov 2008|Darrel Rhea

Recently, Roger Martin, Dean of Rotman School of Management, and I shared a conversation on stage at The Commonwealth Club. We discussed innovation from various angles, such as why companies should leverage innovation during times of economic stress.

But it’s not just the economy that is making innovation an imperative. There many parts of our social system that are also driving the need to innovate. One of those areas is Education.

A couple of decades ago I moved my family to Palo Alto in large part because we wanted our sons to benefit from its renowned public school system. As great as it is for many families (it ranks as one of the best in the nation), it has still failed many of us… How?…

A significant percentage of the student population are “non-traditional learners.” They don’t process information in the same way most kids do, and this makes standard approaches to learning very challenging for them. Traditional schools don’t recognize their need to learn differently. “Learning differences” doesn’t mean disabled or slow – in fact, most of these kids are bright, creative, independent thinkers who, if they find the right workarounds or the right learning environment, will become leaders in their communities.

The ranks of our most successful business leaders are filled with people who struggled through their youth with dyslexia or other similar challenges. It’s a tragedy for all of us that the typical public school doesn’t have adequate budget or trained staff to work effectively with these students. But that is where innovation in the non-profit sector can help.

After ten years of heartache watching my son struggle in public schools, always getting blamed for “his” inadequacies, we finally found the right place for him: Nawa Academy in French Gulch, Northern California. Nawa Academy is a leader in understanding, acknowledging and teaching students who thrive with hands-on, experiential learning. For those of us who don’t benefit from memorization and rote learning approaches, Nawa’s innovative educational design is making a huge difference to its students, the students’ families, and their communities. After only six weeks at Nawa, a fully accredited institution, our son got the first really good report card in his life – all A’s and B+’s. You can imagine what that does for his self-esteem and his drive to work hard for more. That’s meaningful innovation.

This Thanksgiving I know what I am thankful for.

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