Sustainability and Innovation: two words I have been hearing quite frequently during my "day" job. I heard them in my "mom" job the other night, while attending a JDRF Board meeting. I remember thinking how strange that these two words keep popping up. I looked them up (former ELA teacher, it's what I do)! Sustainability: continuous, supportable, worthwhile. Innovation: modernization, newness, shift, variation. I like them; they are strong words. I understand the power in them. It was the next day when my two worlds collided. I am reading a book called, "Bringing Innovation to School: Empowering students to Thrive in a Changing World" by Suzie Boss. In it, she refers to an inventor named Dean Kamen. Mr. Kamen is the inventor of the Segway scooter and...the first portable insulin pump! Now, keep in mind, I am the nerdy mom reading this book while her kid warms up for his baseball game. I can only imagine what people observing me might have thought when the big "Ah-ha" of personal connection hit! Sustainability and Innovation: where would my kids be without them?
Historically thinking, the two words do seem better suited for a business meeting than a workshop for teachers. But, in a rapidly changing world, the importance of teaching our students 21st Century skills and competencies is essential! Let's just stay focused on health and Type 1 Diabetes in particular. In the U.S., between 2001 and 2009, there was a 21% increase in T1D diagnosis in people under age 20. 1.25 million Americans are living with T1D: about 200,000 youth and over 1 million adults. Most alarming to me is that only about 1/3 of people living with T1D in the U.S. are achieving target blood glucose control levels. If this doesn't shout the need for innovation and sustainability, I don't know what does!
When Tylie was diagnosed at age 4, we gave her a cocktail of insulin delivered in up to 5 shots a day. In addition, we checked her blood sugar between 5-10 times a day. It was draining, time consuming and stressful! By the time she was 8, there was a new, longer acting insulin available and insurance would cover an insulin pen- the poor man's pump. This made life somewhat easier but still required frequent shots, pokes, and endless math calculations. Finally, when she was 12, she got an insulin pump. While we still had finger pokes, she only had to change her set every three days and the pump did the math for us. Big improvement on 5 shots a day! Innovation- someone's forward thinking idea to make another person's life better- gave her a certain amount of freedom she wouldn't otherwise have had. However, when she turned 18, she chose to go back to using her insulin pen and giving herself shots. The endless days of being hooked up to a machine, no matter how small, was not what she wanted to do. In her mind, the portability of the pen was more sustainable. In addition, new technologies (more innovation!) allowed her to calculate her insulin more accurately and to keep more accurate track of her shots. People ask her why she is no longer using a pump when it now has the capability to also monitor her blood sugar. Truly, the continuous glucose meter is a blessing to many. For us, it has been a struggle. TJ has uses it, but rarely. It falls out frequently, malfunctions more than we like, and while it does give us a more continuous picture, we still need to do the same amount of finger pokes to calibrate and check accuracy. The effort it takes is not sustainable with his busy lifestyle. Even Taya, who initially saw the pump as the best gift of her life (diabetically speaking) has been considering taking a break from it. So, each of the kids tries to balance new technologies with old in an attempt to maintain target blood sugar levels- sustainability.
As a teacher, my goal was to create a culture of inquiry in my classroom. Now, more than ever it is essential for students to be able to look at everyday things from different angles and make connections to seemingly irrelevant objects or pieces of information. This remains my goal as an instructional coach- how can we move teachers forward in their thinking so that students in their classrooms feel empowered to take risks? How can we build capacity in our system to allow, encourage, and above all, expect our students to seek answers to questions that haven't even been asked yet? Anyone can Google a fact, but it's what you do with the information that can make the difference. Somewhere, right now, someone is working on ways to continue to improve on Mr. Kamen's insulin pump. In another place, someone else is working on a cure so that an insulin pump, once the innovation, will be obsolete. For any innovation to be successful, it must be sustainable- it's an endless cycle. We live in a fast paced, ever changing world. Sometimes it scares me as we focus so much on the bad things that hit the news. But, if I'm being honest, I'm excited for the future of my kids, both educationally and personally. We are making steps to get where we need to be, we just aren't there...yet.
For more information on T1D facts visit JDRF.org. You can also learn more about and/or how to help support the innovation that is happening in our diabetes community due to the Special Diabetes Program. Finally, is also a little parent guide on 21st Century Learning.