When I talk about “innovation in education”, creativity in schools, or meaningful use of technology, I always begin by saying that nothing I say matters if you do not build relationships in schools. There is no “culture of innovation” if there is no positive culture. It is the foundation of which we build things upon.
Yet many wonder why their teachers aren’t being more “innovative” or “taking more risks” in their learning. The short answer; the culture does not support it. Sometimes it is because people are terrified of making mistakes in a culture they perceive is not open to it, and sometimes it is because there is no “push”. Opposite ends of the spectrum, but both are issues.
To help build this culture, here are four questions that you need to consider:
1. Are questions encouraged?
Too often, when things do not seem right in an organization, it is not heard through an abundance of noise, but a lack thereof. Are people scared to challenge ideas in fear of retribution? Are people more likely to complain after a professional learning meeting, than in one? Does there seem to be a clear direction, yet no one is taking the path?
In workshops, one of the things that I often say is that I am totally open to people disagreeing with me, but not after the day when I am gone. It is needed to be done in the room as it is a way for all of us to grow in pursuit of serving kids. It is crucial to make this explicit, and repetitive.
Without the ability to freely question, there is no growth individually or as an organization.
2. How do we ask questions?
This one is obviously tied to the first. Asking questions can often be disguised as a complaint and a result of moving forward. Think of some of the questions that you hear amongst staff. Are they specifically obstructionist in the way that they try to find problems more than solutions?
I have always said that in a world that continuously moves forward, if we are standing still, we are falling behind. Asking questions to move forward is paramount to growth in the right direction.
3. What do we model?
Do you ask things of your teachers that you do not do? Do you even know what you are asking for?
I have watched schools go “1 to 1”, while still inundating staff with handouts and giant post it notes in staff meetings. If your students have access to a device, staff should have it as well. What does the time look like in staff meetings or professional learning time? Is it mirroring what you are looking for in classrooms?
Have you changed observations of staff in any significant way that has more focus on the learner than the evaluator? Are you using portfolios for yourself or your staff, while trying to implement them with students, or do you see them as a separate entity all together?
The art of leadership needs to be just as innovative and creative as teaching and learning. If educators do not see it from their leaders, then you are asking them to implement based on what they hear, as opposed to what they hear or experience. This line of thinking will not help things move forward.
4. Where is the line of accountability?
If you are the principal of the school, do you believe that teachers are accountable to you? Are you accountable to the superintendent? This line of thinking places the line of accountability directly upon one person, as opposed to the organization.
WestJet, an airline company in Canada, actually has all their employees as shareholders as well. With this line of thinking, if you do your job poorly, the company loses, which means the value of the stocks you own goes down. The accountability is to everyone, not to only one.
Educators need to understand accountability flows in different ways; up, down, and sideways. To our students, colleagues, community, and direct reports. If we hold each other accountable and not leave it to the responsibility of a sole person, the entire school will do better, quicker.
Some of the most backward school districts I have witnessed think they have it all going right, while some of the most forward thinking and advanced school districts are never satisfied. One group believes they have arrived, while others believe that they will never get to where they need to go, but it is important to continuously move forward.
Where are you in this spectrum? If you believe you are where you need to be, maybe you are already falling behind.
Use these questions and revisit often. If you want to become a “culture of innovation”, make sure the foundation is ready to support that growth.