This Is What School Innovation Looks Like

This Is What School Innovation Looks Like

Do you want to know the sounds and sights of real 21C innovation?  How does a school with a long tradition of success begin to shift focus in recognition that the world we have prepared our students for in the past is rapidly fading away? Here are some snippets, thanks to a conversation I had yesterday with one of our colleagues at a large East Coast independent school.  (I won’t mention names today, but you can be sure I will add details after I visit with this school and their forward-looking leadership team during my upcoming Journey of Learning).

The head of school gave the de-facto Chief Innovation Officer a simple direction: go through the school looking for nuclei of innovation, support them in whatever way you can, and report directly back to me.  With one easy, but courageous move, this head has pounced on several key leadership moves that are hallmarks of successfully innovative organizations:

  • Make a clear and transparent commitment to innovation.  By creating a visible role that reports directly to the chief executive, the leader sends a clear message to the organization that innovation is intentional.  Nothing will do more to help teachers overcome their fear of change than knowing that top leaders are truly committed to a goal.
  • Choose a champion who understands how to get things done. Innovation requires a combination of academic expertise and political savvy.  Without the later a lot of good ideas will blossom, but fade just as quickly.
  • Bust silos; create authority to cut across traditional hierarchies of departments and divisions. Successful innovation rarely, if ever, is the result of one person coming up with a good idea and implementing it in isolation.  Successful innovation is fostered when people with diverse viewpoints generate, test, and refine ideas that create value for the organization.  When I visit this school in November I will be able to meet with, and report on, several examples of true silo-busting that have resulted in successful new innovation strategies.
  • Support multiple pilots in test-fail-retry mode. This school is not making a single bet; they are supporting simultaneous seed projects in authentic assessment, collaborative program development, sustainability, and design thinking labs for both adults and students. Not everyone has to come along at the same pace; find and support innovation leaders and the rest will come along.

And the major fear of our colleague: “We are just beginning to figure out where we want to go and I am afraid we won’t have much to offer!”

Well, they do, as do all of the 50+ schools I will visit starting in exactly two weeks.  What can you do?  Leverage my experiences and time over the next three months when I will be meeting and learning with literally hundreds of educators.  Ask your colleagues to follow this blog and when I provide links to the schools and people just like you who are plowing the ground ahead, connect with them directly. Use the blog and ideas you find here as discussion points in your PLC’s, faculty meetings, or informal PLN’s via social media.  Share, learn, borrow, steal.  We are educators; that is what we do and it is good!

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