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Prepared Remarks for "Unleashing Creativity and Innovation in a Changing, Interconnected World"

May 25, 2016

Good evening. I’m Teresa Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia. This evening we’ve gathered a panel of experts in education and teacher-training to discuss the topic, “Unleashing Creativity and Innovation in a Changing, Interconnected World.”

Creating innovation in education has become an increasingly important global priority, because nations all over the world now recognize that education is essential to economic growth, workforce development, and a strong society.

Singapore is a global leader in improving educational outcomes through teacher training and education research, curriculum reform, and sound management practices in schools. Because of its success in this work, the National Institute of Education has been recognized as a world-class “Institute of Distinction.”

Likewise, the Academy of Singapore Teachers provides professional development programs that enable teachers to improve their practices throughout their careers. This builds a culture of continuous learning and continuous improvement in Singapore’s schools.

These efforts in Singapore have become an inspiration for similar efforts in the U.S. For many years, nations have recognized that innovation and entrepreneurship are essential to success in business. Education leaders now recognize that innovation is also essential to success in education.

At the University of Virginia, the Curry School of Education is producing some of the best evidence-based innovation in the U.S. Some of the school’s programs focus on improving teachers; others focus on student learning and behavior; others focus on policy reform. Some focus on teaching in kindergarten through high school; while others focus on the college level.

The school’s teacher-education program emphasizes the teaching of design and innovation in classrooms in kindergarten through high school. One way we do that is by preparing teachers to use three-dimensional — or 3-D — printers to solve engineering problems with younger students, as a way of teaching those students math, science, computer, and problem-solving skills. We are teaching education students — our future teachers — to use cutting-edge technology to teach their own students in innovative ways.

We have seen remarkable results when our students graduate and go into classrooms. Their students are motivated, creative, and engaged in their learning; they work in teams using the 3-D printers; and they perform as well, or better, on assessments of math and science.

Our educational-leadership program, which prepares school principals and superintendents, emphasizes design thinking. Through this focus, they acquire skills in innovation, creativity, data analytics, and teamwork that they can use to solve organizational challenges in schools and school systems. The focus on design thinking shifts leaders’ mindsets to use of rapid-prototyping models of problem solving in which improvements are identified, tested, and refined on a continual basis.

Our teacher-preparation and leader-preparation programs have developed rigorous assessments of the skills required for teachers and leaders to use innovation in classrooms, schools, and systems, so we can ensure accountability and results.

These are examples from our School of Education at UVA. Innovation-producing research is happening in other schools and research institutes across the U.S., and it has led to marked improvements in our education systems.

At UVA, we focus on teaching innovation and entrepreneurship to all of our students, because these skills are useful in every field of work. We now offer a Minor in Entrepreneurship to all of our undergraduate students, regardless of their disciplinary major. We also offer a Leadership Minor to all undergraduates, regardless of their major, because innovation and leadership go hand in hand in all fields.

Thomas Jefferson, who founded the University of Virginia two centuries ago, believed that education was the surest means of improving the human condition. In a letter to a friend, he wrote, “I look to the diffusion of … education as the resource most to be relied on for ameliorating the conditions, promoting the virtue, and advancing the happiness of man.”

By improving teaching and learning through creative innovation, we can make education an even greater force for good in the lives of students.