Being Innovative or Being Perceived as Innovative?

If you look at schools and districts around the world, the term “innovation” is everywhere, with organizations and individuals clamoring to be deemed as such.  If you have read my book or this blog for any length of time, you would know that I believe innovation, as not only a process but a way of thinking, is crucial to the work that we do in schools.

I define it in the image below:

Many past practices that are deemed “traditional” work for our students, but there are many things that do not work for our learners as well.  It is not about doing what we know but finding what works.  It is crucial that we have this innovative mindset in our schools not only to learn but to grow and apply solutions for learners at all levels.

But there is a difference between being innovative and being perceived as innovative, with many organizations ensuring that they are the latter while obstructing the former.

For example, within some school districts, the most innovative part of their organization is their communications department.  They paint a picture for public perception and consumption by highlighting specific teachers or classes, or sometimes even technologies. They may do everything to win awards from organizations that say they are “leading the way” by filling out endless amounts of paperwork and using the time of people in their organization to get the recognition but not necessarily do the work, all in the pursuit of gaining the title of being “innovative.”

This is not to say that there aren’t innovative things going on within those districts, but it is more likely that if you can only share a few examples from your schools, it is more likely happening in pockets and not the school or district culture.

Sharing those few stories is not always a bad thing.  By sharing those few stories, we not only paint a picture of where we have gone but more importantly, we create the narrative of where we need to go and that the work is already happening within our walls, and showing that innovation in education is possible.

In the end though, if we are more focused on building the perception of being innovative than actually creating that culture, we can disengage many of our staff.  Educators hear the rhetoric that is shared but sees the practices within the school not matching what is said.

For example, I have seen districts that want to be seen as innovative ask teachers to get approval before sharing examples of things happening in their classrooms on social media from their communications department.  Or, to try something new in your practice, there are multiple steps and layers for a teacher to go through, leading many to say, “What’s the point???!?!?”, And default to what they have always known. This is not the fault of the teacher, but the administration that is creating the barrier in front of the majority of the people that they serve.  No teacher wants to be bad at their job, so the role of school and district administration should be to remove barriers, not create them.

To be innovative, the following things are crucial:

Empower educators in their practice.

Build a need to collaborate and push each other (competitive-collaboration) so that we not only support one another, but we bring out the best in each other.

Remove barriers for people to make things happen.

Tap into the strengths of people and ensure they feel valued.

When many read what I just said, they perceive it as a “free-for-all,” and that chaos reigns supreme.  That is not what I am insinuating at all.  There are definitely constraints that are placed on educators from governing bodies outside of our schools, and we still have to work within those boundaries.  But if you have to tell someone things to do to make them innovative, that process is more about following directions and not being creative.  If you have to make a rubrics on “how to be innovative,”  my guess is, you are more into micromanaging than you are supporting creative thinking.

If you believe your school has an innovative culture (which it definitely might), what are the things that you do to get people there? What goes beyond looking “innovative” and actually “being innovative”?

To get to that point, realize that the work is arduous and has no endpoint. As soon as you believe you are there, you are already falling behind.  The term “learning organization” should be best exemplified by schools.  If you feel you have work to do, you are on the right path.  If you feel like you have arrived, you might be in trouble.

Source: George Couros