New Model For Supporting Innovation/Design at Schools

How might we integrate innovation practices across our school culture, breaking down myopic silos of “that’s not my job”?  This is one of the true challenges of innovation in any organization, and particularly in schools where teachers, administrators, students, and parents frequently and strongly identify with their respective “tribe” more than with an organizational imperative.

IMG_1946At the Tilton School, a day-boarding school in New Hampshire, we are in the initial year of a long-term commitment to ongoing innovation. Inclusive, diverse groups of community stakeholders, including students, developed a list of key areas of innovation focus, and we have now launched diverse teams on a set of design challenges in each of those focus areas.

Here is the part that I think is uniquely powerful. Two of the focus areas have to do with long-term financial sustainability and communications (which should be areas of focus for all schools).  We realized at Tilton that we don’t need to design something new in these areas; we need to provide support in the areas of finance and communications to the other design teams.  At most schools we would just say this is the responsibility of an administrative department or district office.  At Tilton we created “integration teams” that broaden responsibility and authority in these key areas of innovation capacity. Here is what it looks like:

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Like any great engineering design company that is building new products the finance and communication integration teams have embedded a member of their team into each of the design teams. Their role is to keep a finger on the pulse of the design teams; gather knowledge on financial and communications implications; provide templates and ideas; ask operational questions. They will evolve their support for the design teams in real time, in parallel with, not in response to, the ideas and prototypes that evolve from the design teams. In essence the integration teams are constantly asking “how can we help the design teams do their work even better?”  What is new and powerful is that the members of the integration teams are also diverse: teachers, administrators, and parent/trustees.

IMG_1948We are building long-term organizational capacity for innovation and change. This structure embraces key characteristics of successfully innovating organizations: distributed leadership, fluidity, adaptability, interdisciplinary connectivity.  It busts the traditional silos of schools where they need it: on strategic pathways. Teachers are still teachers; students are still students; administrators still have their jobs. But when it comes to innovation and design, we all “own” big organizational responsibilities like long-term financial sustainability and effective communication of our value proposition. 

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