Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fostering an Environment of Innovation and Experimentation in 21st Century Schools

If I want an innovative staff, I can't just talk the talk; I have to be willing to innovate too. Sometimes that's hard. After being in public education so long, the temptation is to just go along with the protection inertia provides. Yet, true innovation will ask both teachers and administrators to take risks. Here’s some principles of innovation I consider to be important:

1. Sometimes you have to get out of the way. The teacher side of me gets excited when I hear teachers talk about something new. The administrator side of me wants caution and care in order to avoid upsetting policy and the higher-ups. I have to sometimes shove the administrator away just a bit. If we are going to be innovative as a school, then we're not always going to do the "safe thing." I have to remind myself of that at least a thousand times a week. Sometimes, if our teachers are being truly innovative, my job is going to be a bit more difficult. Let’s just say I might have a whole of explaining to do at times.

2. Sometimes you have to move out front. Leading means sometimes being in the front when it comes to technology and innovation. It means that as leader, I am out there experimenting too. If the expectation is innovation, then school leaders must be willing to practice what they preach. For example, I am sitting here this evening trying to complete my first blog post using software and my iPad alone. I am using technology and software I have not used before to carry out a task. As leaders we can't expect our teachers to move out of our comfort zones if we ourselves are not willing to do so. True innovation means we live at the edge of that comfort zone.

3. Sometimes you have to suspend belief. Logic and the normal way we do things sometimes gets in the way of trying out the new and novel. If we want our teachers to try out new ways of doing things, then we need to move out and suspend what we normally see as the way to do things. While we don’t want to suspend common sense and solid research, we have to let go of long held beliefs to adopt the new and innovative.
In The Innovator’s Way: Essential Practices for Successful Innovation by Peter Denning and Robert Dunham innovation is defined as “the adoption of a new practice in a community.” It is vital that as teachers attempt to innovate successfully, I exercise leadership that boldly supports them and not hinder them.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. Institutionalize Innovation

    You have hit on the biggest issue with accomplishing changes in a school. Schools are successful (in spite of recent statements by detractors). They do what worked for years and years. In part that has been the lure of "Back to Basics".

    Innovation is the work of experimenters and outliers. Getting their successes into the institution is what becomes the big challenge. What "worked" in one classroom may even be difficult to accomplish in another class taught by the same teacher. Classrooms develop personalities, built from the interactions of the students and the teacher present. The personality of the group can determine whether one approach works while another "proven" technique will not.

    That is the main issue that many detractors fail to grasp. They suggest very broad solutions to the "problems of eduction". What is true for the successful classroom is true for schools. The environment of one school isn't a simple duplicate of another, no matter how effective the district superintendent may be.

    Encouraging innovation is like herding cats. We cannot count on efficiency coming from innovation. At best, we can highlight the successful practice of one classroom and hope that other teachers will attach their effort to emulating the process, while not just parroting the tasks done in the exemplary class.

  2. To foster an environment of innovation, it also vitally important for faculty and staff to know that there will be no punishment, ridicule, or repercussions if the innovation goes awry. Otherwise, why stick your neck out?