Tag Archives: Clay Shirky

The Need for Innovative Leadership

I asked the following question today on Twitter:

If the mandate is for innovation, how much should “best practice” drive that?

This question has been stuck in my head from while I have been reading the book, “Humanize“, which has really challenged and pushed my own thinking on “innovation” and how the culture of social media should be a culture that is embedded into our organizations.  Here is one of the quotes from the book that started to create that connection:

“Almost overnight, it seems, the world has become social, and the work world, too. Markets are conversations. Social media has enabled us to connect with individual people inside organizations and brands. We’re leaping over corporate hurdles imposed by PR and marketing departments and the chain of command; customers are being heard in ways that ignore traditional channels. Content is being created that blurs the line between the “professionals” and the “amateurs.” Rules are defied. People are demanding truth, honesty, transparency, and openness from the brands and organizations they deal with every day. The companies that are winning are those that are listening—and social media makes it easy to listen (though maybe not so easy to manage the work of listening and responding), so the rest have no excuse anymore. And why is all this so disruptive? Because we like it. A lot.”

So if we “like it” so much, why are many organizations struggling to import so many of these ideas into their everyday operations?  Many talk of the notion of transparency, yet is the process transparent or simply the products that we share?  As Clay Shirky discusses, we live in a “publish, then filter” world, yet are we comfortable sharing our ideas as they progress?  There is so much that are able to learn from tapping into the wisdom of the community but as Notter and Grant share, many of our old mindsets are obviously stopping us from moving forward:

Organizations and businesses have mechanisms in place to stop progress, to stop themselves from evolving. Mainly because of an inherent fear of change and fear of losing control, they have an interest in maintaining the status quo. We feel strongly that such an approach is becoming increasingly less viable. Mark our words: If you think your organization is behind now, just spend a year or two treading water, and you’ll see how much ground there is to make up. There’s no time to waste. It’s up to you, if you care about your organization, to help it not only survive this transition but to also flourish.

As a result of an open world, more people are starting to question the “principal” position not only how it is done, but even if the position is need at all.  My guess and gut feeling comes that some very innovative and forward thinking teachers that are coming into contact with principals and organizations that are not ready to truly move forward, although the terms “21st Century Learning” and “risk taking” often come into the narrative that administrators are sharing about their school.

While I have worked with many organizations that are keen to push “innovation” (or that is the word that is being used), through my travels, I have noticed again and again, that it starts and stops with leadership.  As I have heard this quote attributed to Todd Whitaker, “If the principal sneezes, the school gets a cold.”, it is shown continuously that the principal or leader of an organization always has a huge impact on the culture, whether it is positive or negative.

So what now?  First of all, if we are truly open to a world of innovation we have to be able to take risks not only in our learning but in our practice.  Focusing on “best practice” is a way to look backwards, but is it an effective way to move forward? We can always learn from what we have done in the past, as there are many things that we have learned from our journey that we know we must maintain (the focus on the “whole child”, building relationships with the community). We can also learn from other schools such as SCIL and watch how they are embedding teacher research and innovation into practice. Still we know that something with many schools and education is just not working.  Watching a student speak last night on a Ted Talk, discussing how school is not working for her, she said something that really stuck out to me:

“There is a direct correlation between our old fashioned system, and our scarcity for a love of learning.”


So as we move forward we have to truly be open in our practice, share the process, and be comfortable with the mistakes that we will make along the journey.  We have to not only give permission for things to not work perfectly, we have to push and encourage our teachers to go out of their comfort zones to improve student learning based on the needs of today’s learner.

Currently in Parkland School Division, we have started an project called the “Mobile Learning Initiative“, where we give educators the opportunity to have an iPad for each student in their class, in hopes of transforming the classroom and seeing what can be created that you could not before without the device.  Is the iPad the best device in this instance?  To be honest, I don’t know.  Through the process, we are more focused on project based learning yet we are seeing what the device can do through the eyes of the educators that will use them.  Within our schools, we will be sharing this “cart” amongst our schools to give different opportunities to different teachers, while they actively share their learning, both the negatives and positives, with the rest of the school division and the world.

As I worked on this initiative with Jesse McLean and our Learning Services team, we explicitly told the first group to not worry if things “didn’t work” they wanted it to, but to see what the kids would be able to do with the device in their hand.  Similar to SCIL, we want that active research while pushing the boundaries of innovation.  I was extremely excited to read the initial installment of their research, I was thrilled to see what educators Jenna Wilkins and Brad Arndt wrote about the beginning of this project:

Understanding that this pilot project is about exploring opportunities the iPads offer to help further our learning, both inside and beyond the walls of our school, we are going to have to take some risks. We are not going to have all of the answers or a foundation of knowledge and experience to guide us, which is somewhat daunting when we think about handing the students their iPads first thing Tuesday morning. What we do know is that we are open and committed to the learning that we, alongside our students, are going to experience during this process. And it is just that, a process.

First and foremost we hope to inspire our students to reach beyond the boundaries of our school to access, use, create and share their learning in ways that they may not otherwise be able to accomplish without the constant accessibility of an iPad. Second, we as learners hope to gain knowledge and skills that will help us incorporate mobile learning resources for the benefit of our students through consistent reflection and sharing of the successes, challenges and further learning opportunities of the project.

The notion of continuous learning, growth, and taking risks is not only going to be experienced by our students in this project, but our teachers as well.  As we continue to strive and grow in all levels of our organization, we are seeing that enthusiasm to take risks in learning happening with educators, which in turn will trickle down to our students.

As I read their statement regarding their commitment to learning and this “process”, I could not help to think that even if things don’t work out and the project “fails”, is there truly a lack of success when students, teachers, and organizations take risks to further their own learning?  To have this happen though, it has to be modeled continuously and consistently by leaders to create an “innovative culture”.

“It is high time we start applying the principles of innovation to the way we run our organizations. Innovation is not just about creating new products (or new social networks, for that matter). It is about change, creation, and new pathways, so it is just as applicable to management and the way we run our organizations as it is to products or social media. Management, after all, is really just a tool—a technology we use to help run our organizations.” Notter and Grant

Process and Product

About seven years ago, I successfully ran a full marathon in under 3 hours and 19 minutes.  For someone who was not athletic and had lost a lot of weight, this was quite an accomplishment.  One of the things that I distinctly remember about that event was when people were amazed at the accomplishment and would often say things such as, “Wow…that must have been such a hard race.”  I remember telling them that it was not actually the race that was hard, but it was the training.  The race only happened on one day but I had trained for over four months, running (literally) thousands of kilometers in the process.  I would wake up often at 5 am and go for some short (20 k) runs and I would often spend Saturdays running training distances over 30 kilometers.  I am literally exhausted thinking about it right now and do not know how I ever did that.

From the training, I remember one day when I decided to try my hand and running 36 kilometers with no water.  This was an extremely stupid idea.  I ran 18 kilometers one way, and then about 10 the other.  Leaving me about 8 kilometers in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road.  My legs could just not run anymore.  I had to go to a farm house and ask to use their phone when they asked me, “Did you car break down?”, and I had to sheepishly tell them that, no, I just could not run anymore.  I called a friend who came and picked me up from the side of the road and took me to the hospital to treat me from heat exhaustion.  I learned to run with water after that day. :)

It is nice to look back and laugh at that moment now because I came out okay, and eventually ran a great race.  But how many people knew about the major failure that I had that day?  How many had just assumed that I was extremely athletic and running had come second nature to me?  My physical education teacher knew that I could barely do the “12 minute run” in our Canadian Fitness Testing program (the worst week in gym class ever).

Tie that to our classrooms.  How many of our students think that we just “know” things because we are adults and it just comes to us?  I have repeatedly stated that we need to make our learning transparent to our students, but I think it is essential that we know it is the process of learning that we need to share, not only the product that comes out of it.   Blogging has taught me a huge amount of humility as I often receive messages about grammatical errors or spelling mistakes, but it has also taught me that an idea sitting in my head will only lie there dormant.  For it to grow, and to take advantage of the vast knowledge of people that I am connected to (online and offline), I need to share the process of what I am learning.  In this “publish then filter world” that Clay Shirky talks about, I have realized that the world is very forgiving of the mistakes when they see the effort.

As educators, we have to really try and push through the idea that things have to be perfect before we can “release” them to the world.  When we truly trust others, we know that they will help us along the process and be comfortable with us falling/failing on the way to whatever we are pursuing.  We need to realize that when we are waiting to release the “perfect” product, others will still think it is not perfect, and they could have probably been just helping you a long time ago.

We need to remember that the process of learning is much more important for our kids to see than the product of our learning.