Through a lot of conversations on social networks, face-to-face opportunities, and reflection, I have been thinking about some of the things that I have seen to create new and better (innovative) opportunities for learning. This is not only in the context of student learning, but as well as opportunities for staff and their own professional development. Below, I would like to share some of my thoughts as well as some corresponding quotes from people both in and out of education. (I have written about this topic before, but I really wanted to focus on people specifically.)
1. Have a clear vision.
Although the term “innovation” talks about continuously developing new ideas, I really believe that it is imperative that the notion of risk-taking and continuously developing better learning opportunities for students. The other idea is that leaders should have some clear notion on what learning could look like in today’s classroom, not simply having a vision that is not clear. Once those ideas become clear to others, trust that those you serve will take off and make amazing things happen. Give them the autonomy to make the vision come to life.
“If you do a good job of teaching your values and mission to the people at the bottom of your organization, then once you give them control, they will do the right things with it.” Charlene Li
2. Model what you want to see.
It is really easy to go say, “do this”, but it is more important to say, “let’s do this together”. If you think about the way many run staff meetings, they often talk about “21st Century Learning” but do not model it when educators are present. People rarely change because they hear something, but are more likely to grow if they experience something. How are you making those learning opportunities something people experience?
“Meaningful change ain’t gonna happen for our kids if we’re not willing to invest in it for ourselves first. At the heart, it’s not about schools…it’s about us.” Will Richardson
3. Break it down into smaller steps.
When we have a giant vision of what “better” looks like, it often becomes overwhelming to people who are nowhere near an “endpoint”. To help people move forward, skill and confidence have to be built along the way. Every step closer to a vision, is great progress.
For example, if you want people to become more connected, show them ways that they can benefit immediately as opposed to focusing on all of the amazing ways they can bring experts into the classroom, help them find one single resource. Once they see the value of that, they are more likely to make the next step which could eventually lead to the giant leap.
“The path to success is paved with small wins. Even the grandest and most glorious victories rest on a string of modest but constructive steps forward.” Robert I. Sutton
4. Help people move from their “Point A” to their “Point B”.
Everyone is at different points in their learning journey. This is not just students, but educators as well. Too often we offer workshops and expect people to be all at the same point by the end, but is this really honouring where people are at? I really believe that once a teacher quits learning, they will become ineffective. It may not happen tomorrow, but it will happen. That being said, I can easily work with anyone that is wanting to learn and get better; they don’t have to be at the pinnacle. Start where people are at, as opposed to focusing on where you want them to be.
“Multipliers invoke each person’s unique intelligence and create an atmosphere of genius—innovation, productive effort, and collective intelligence.” Liz Wiseman
5. Work with people 1-on-1.
One of the best things that I have done this year (in my opinion), was offer “office hours” that gave teachers the opportunity to ask me about whatever they wanted to learn. Large group sessions give ample amounts of information, but can also be ineffective for many. Much of the time, teachers would come to me with questions of things that they were interested in learning about, and I led them to initiatives in our division that would help them. The big “light bulb moment” for me was this; it was not about what I wanted to teach them, but about what they wanted to learn. It is much easier to work from that point when helping others move forward.
“To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources—not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end.” Daniel Pink
6. Promote champions.
In education, no matter the level, it is never about “us”, but it is always about others. It would be really easy to maintain a space where you are always seen as the “expert”, but it is more important to build systems and capacity if we want long term growth. Sometimes, even when you know the answer, it is better to be a “connector” and show that you value the people who are already doing great stuff. A system should never be dependent upon one but should tap into many.
“…the world changes by dint of small groups of dedicated people.” Margaret J. Wheatley
7. Share, share, share!
“And then one day, you look up and realize that all those individual trajectories have turned into a wave.” Stephen Johnson
One of the neatest things about many of the initiatives that we have within our district is that we really focused on a few things to get to that transformative level in our work. When sharing became the default with many educators, we were learning from so many others and really pushing the limits of our work.
A simple analogy. Most people know that we do not use something simple like Microsoft Word past ten percent of it’s capacity (not the innovative type of software I am promoting, but the example is used for familiarity). What happens when everyone’s ten percent is different, but we all share? Our learning grows so much when we all share what we know with one another.
“The smartest person in the room is the room.” David Weinberger
8. Model and promote risk taking.
We often talk about “promoting risk taking”, but do leaders model it? People will not feel comfortable unless we openly share the things that we are trying to do to get better. Every time I write a blog post, I am taking the risk of looking stupid or saying something that someone would take offensive, yet I focus on clarifying my thoughts openly since I want our community to do the same. How can I ask it if I do not model it?
Once people see that you are doing this, they are more likely to try their own ideas and push what is happening in their own situations. Giving people license to take risks, will more likely lead to some amazing things.
“if you want innovation, it’s critical that people are able to work on ideas that are unapproved and generally thought to be stupid. The real value of “20%” is not the time, but rather the “license” it gives to work on things that “aren’t important.” Jonathan Fields
9. Find the balance of “pressure and support”.
I have talked about this to a great extent in my blog, but I think it is important to create a sense of urgency in our work while also ensuring that people are supported. If it is important, you will find money, and make time for people. This sense of urgency and support will help people to move when combined, much more than if there is an abundance of one and lack with the other.
“I believe that managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly, you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.” Tommy Lasorda
10. Always remember that we are in the “people” business”.
No matter how urgent things are, it never helps when we make people feel incompetent. We can have great ideas, but it is important to understand that we often do not know situations that people are dealing with in their personal lives, and what is happening outside of their work. Ensure that you show you value what they already do, before you start pushing where they should be. Once a person knows they are valued, they will go to much greater heights than if they never felt cared for in the first place.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
As we continue to work on growth and change management, working where people are and caring about them, makes them not only more open to change, but eventually want to embrace it. It is a process that needs patience, but with each small victory, many get closer to the big goal.
“Rather than viewing change as a threat and something to be feared, we will find ourselves embracing change, recognizing its potential to drive us to even higher levels of performance…”John Seely Brown