Shortest Path to Building Innovation Capacity at Your School

Nothing will overcome the inertia opposing organizational change faster than shifting the gene pool of the organization. How might we do this with virtually no discomfort?  How can we raise the level of “innovator DNA” amongst our teachers and administrators?  Tired of reading stacks of resumes and interviewing dozens of job applicants who cannot raise the innovation DNA of your school, searching for the one who absolutely will? Read on!

IMG_1243Last year I reported that Design 39 Campus, a public school in a union district, used a powerful, simple, time-saving hiring practice.  Applicants to the school first sent in a short video to introduce themselves.  These were screened by a small hiring committee looking for evidence of creativity and unique “superpowers” that would blend well with key elements of the school’s vision. Those who passed the video introduction were invited for a group design challenge, observed by members of the hiring committee who were looking for things like the ability to work well in a team, both as leader and follower.  Only at the final step were the culled applicants put through a relatively objective interview with standard questions.  And, since the school is based on the idea of constant growth and evolution, applicants were asked to sign a contract that specifically did NOT describe what subjects or grade level they would teach.

Needless to say, D39C is packed with creative, innovative, team-focused, growth-minded, and very talented teachers.

Last week in Anaheim at the CISC Symposium of more than 1000 California public school teachers and administrators I met principal Sammie Cervantes and two of her teachers from Shell Beach Elementary School along the Central California coast. She described a very similar process, a district-wide hiring day that included several group-work stations and a principal-applicant “speed dating” session at the end of the day. Applicants were ranked and the hiring principals held sort of a draft. As Sammie put it, “If I hire someone who is willing to grow and change, who can work well on a team, we can teach them anything else they need to know about great teaching”.  I reported a similar shift in hiring focus in #EdJourney at the private Porter Gaud K-12 school in Charleston, S.C., where they told me that hiring first for creativity and teamwork rather than traditional subject and teacher strengths has been a key to shifting their organizational comfort with change.

IMG_0948The speed and efficiency alone of this hiring process should make site leaders salivate.  More importantly, though, is what this will do to the innovation capacity of these schools.  Assume a school has a 5%-per-year turnover in personnel (which is probably below average) due to retirements and other natural attrition and maybe even the occasional nudge of “this school is not right for you”.  In five years this school might replace 25% of its personnel.  Assume you already have some pretty innovative folks on staff, maybe another 25%.  By looking first at creativity, teamwork, and innovation and then at knowledge of subject, pedigree, and classroom skills (no these are NOT overlooked in this hiring practice), in a very short time you have developed a powerful majority of innovation-minded adults in the school who are eager and willing to embrace change. You are “across the bridge”!

After hearing the Shell Beach story I ran into an HR director for a large district in Northern California. I summarized the story for him.  He looked at me with a mid-distance stare, mentally calculating both the incredible time savings of NOT holding all those individual interviews and also the shift in “change DNA” that would result, and just said “we could so do that”.  

If I did not have a lot of other irons in the school innovation fire I would start a K-12 education head-hunting practice that did nothing but design and operate “innovation hiring fairs”.  Lacking that, just connect with one of the schools I have mentioned here, or set up your own innovation-focused hiring pathway. You will learn a lot the first time, tweak the process, and get better at it. That is the innovator’s way; model it!

 

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