Tag Archives: innovation

Choosing Not to Know

I had two administrators approach me yesterday and start a conversation.

One told me about how their IT department had closed all social media in their school and about how their fear that if they were to open it.  The fear shared was that their would be so many more issues of cyberbullying, inappropriate content shared, amongst other things.

The other told me about how their school district has all social media sites open to their students and have very few issues.  In fact, he had shared that since the network was opened, the issues lessened because of their focus on teaching digital citizenship.


The question that came to my mind was, are these districts talking to one another?  My other thought was, do the districts that have things opened even try to talk to the ones that are open?  Seriously, people have open networks and have very few issues yet so many others with closed networks talk about the fear of what could be if schools decided to open their network.

Does looking only within our own organizations and focusing on the “fear factor” really help our students?  I am guessing you can figure out what I think.

If you are interested, here is a simple rubrics to start a conversation on this topic: Is Your School’s DIgital Citizenship Practice a Pass or Fail?

What do we value?

I recently read the Forbes “30 Under 30″ for Education, and felt myself feeling very uneasy that there was not one practicing educator in the group. I wasn’t the only one:

Hey, Forbes. Saying that you know as much about education as a brick is an insult to bricks. Out of your 30 “Brightest Stars in Education under 30″ I counted 0 practicing teachers. The fact that you believe that a bunch of CEOs of education companies, founders of political action groups, and COOs of edtech companies are the rising stars in education just goes to show how misplaced our education priorities are in this country.

The more you (and we) make education about making money and not about learning, they more we give our kids the shaft.

I’ll wager you this, Forbes. Ask any successful kid, parent, adult, CEO, whatever who the biggest star in their education was. Every time they answer with a CEO, COO, or Founder of a political organization, I’ll give you a buck. Every time they answer with a teacher’s name I get a buck.

Who do you think’ll be making out in that deal? – Michael Soskil from his Facebook page

Now I know that Forbes is an organization that focuses on business and is known for highlighting billionaires more than anything, but I think the title was misleading.  I read articles from Forbes all of the time because I think that if you want to be better in education, you should be looking at all places, not simply in education.

If it was focused on “Education Startups” it would have been a different story, and honestly I have no problem with people making money.  We are promoting  innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in schools so I have no issue with people that embody those things, no matter the field.  I also believe that many, if not all of the people, on that list are doing something that they deem as important.

But I also believe that some of those “startups” are taking what they knew from their time in school, and creating technologies that support practices that many are trying to move away from, yet they are seen as leading education because they are making, or have the potential to make, lots of money?

What do you think?

4 (Digital) Habits That Will Make You More Creative

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Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on the notion that “schools kill creativity”, is the most viewed Ted Talk ever. The views and clicks do not only come from educators, but from people all over the world as we all have a vested interest in our students. More organizations are looking for students that have “creative” skills, and although schools will always churn out students that have great grades through the mastery of the system, it does not necessarily mean that students are learning the skills to become any more creative. Although there is a lot of food for thought in the Robinson talk, from my memory, yet there are few ideas on how to actually become more creative.

Reading many quotes on creativity and innovation, the one that has always stuck out with me is from Rosabeth Moss Kanter:

“Mindless habitual behavior is the enemy of innovation.”

Doing the same thing that we have always done is not going to make any us any more creative or innovative, but according to the “Creativity Research Journal” (as referenced in Red Thread Thinking), there are some things that we could do daily that will actually make us more creative. The four “habits” listed are the following:

1. Capturing New Ideas
2. Engaging in Challenging Tasks
3. Broadening Knowledge
4. Interacting with Stimulating People

I am proud to say that those “habits” are something that I actually do almost daily and I have seen a shift in the way that I think and do things in my own work. Digital technologies make it easy for these habits to take place with ourselves and our students. Here are some of the things that I do to makes these habits a daily reality.

  1. Capturing New Ideas – With a computer in my pocket at all times, capturing ideas has become much simpler. Some of my best thinking happens while running, and when an idea used to pop into my head, I would have nowhere to put it. Now it is simple. But with all of the ideas that may pop into your head, it can sometimes be hard to organize.One of the tools that I use that helps me find my own information is Evernote. It is simple and I can access anything that I share on my phone, on any device that is connected to the Internet.

    Using hashtags on Twitter are also a way to capture my own ideas. I have used Twitter to write some of my ideas down so that I can look at my own tweets later to build on ideas. Sometimes my own tweet is meant to help spark an idea later. Interestingly enough, when it is shared openly, others jump in and share their thoughts and help me to build upon those ideas. Sharing these new ideas and getting different perspectives helps me to learn a lot more as opposed to simply sharing it a closed journal.

  2. Engaging in Challenging TasksBlogging has become one of the most challenging endeavours that I have done in the last few years, and I feel that it has led to a lot of growth personally and professionally. Tweeting at first was a bit of challenge because I was always worried about what I should say, or what to share. Once I became more comfortable in that practice, blogging seemed like a logical step. Although I do not blog every day, I do think about ideas to share in my blog daily as I want to think deeper about the things that I am learning. Even in this blog post, taking four strategies to become more creative, has helped me to openly reflect on my learning and try to go deeper into ideas.I actually heard one educator say, “I don’t have the time to reflect.” Although this was a joke, many actually do not make the time to do this. If it improves our learning to engage in something, even (especially) if it is challenging, how will we ever grow?
  3. Broadening Knowledge – Although I have mentioned Twitter before, and it is one of the best ways to learn from others, there are other things that I do daily to ensure that I am learning in the areas that I am passionate about. With the death of Google Reader, I had to find an RSS reader replacement. InoReader became my main place to house blogs that I have read, and ensure that information could easily find me, instead of constantly looking to see if people have updated information. I try to balance between the RSS reader that InoReader provides and the blogs that I have read for years, to finding new information. Zite is a great app that I have on my phone that brings some of the most popular and viewed learning right to my phone. On any day, you will find articles that push your thinking and bring new ideas. Between these two programs, I learn a ton from different people, whether I know them or not, every single day.
  4. Interacting With Stimulating People – For me, this is an easy one. Although I am blessed to work with some of the smartest people I know, there is brilliance in every single school in the world. I want to connect with that. Through social media, I have been able to connect with other administrators on sites like Connected Principals and the School Admin Virtual Mentor Program (full disclosure…these are both sites that I created), and to be able to go to a place where people can come together to share ideas has been invaluable to my practice.My suggestion to anyone wanting to learn from smart people in their field is to start with a hashtag instead of following specific people. I learn a lot more from following the #cpchat hashtag then I simply would trying to filter through the tweets of administrators that may be either personal or professional. If you are a kindergarten teacher, check out #kinderchat. If you are a math teacher, check out #mathchat. Where is your tribe? Although those tweets are centred around a topic, they are delivered by people that are usually passionate about what they are sharing. When you surround yourself with passionate people, you become more passionate yourself. That is much easier to do.

These are just some of the ways that I have tried to become more creative in my everyday thinking and I have seen a huge impact on not only what I know, but how I learn. I would love for you to share some of your suggestions on the things that you do to make creativity a daily practice.

Want to be successful? Be a sponge.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by George Couros

I have worked with some brilliant leaders and educators and I have noticed the same things about all of them.

They listen.

No matter their position, they are successful because they see every opportunity as an opportunity to learn.  Even when they are in a higher position than myself, they see an interaction with myself and others as an opportunity for them to always stay on top of their game.  The other things that I notice is that although they know they do not have all of the answer, they sure have a lot of questions.  

Leaders continue to ask questions.

When I think of thought leaders in my school district, I think of people like Jesse McLean and Travis McNaughton, and the amazing ability they have as well as their insights regarding education.  They are leaders that make a huge difference in their communities and the one word that I think of when I think of either one of them is “sponge”.  They soak in everything they can, but eventually they release they learn and share it with others.  They also do not learn only from people that are “above” them in the organizational hierarchy, but they learn from every person they interact with.  They focus not only on the knowledge of that person, but they soak in the characteristics of that person and learn about them as people, which is imperative in the change process.

“Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process…human interaction is the key force in overcoming resistance and speeding change.” Atul Gawande

Even when they disagree, they don’t jump in and start defending their beliefs, they continue to listen. They think. They absorb. They think of what they are learning, how they can adapt it, and how they can share.

This does not mean that they agree with everything that they hear.  Not at all.  In fact, many people simply regurgitate what they hear from someone else and agree openly although deep down, they don’t agree with what is being said.  Leadership takes a back-bone to stand up for what you believe in, but it also is imperative to focus on what you can do better.  Leaders know that it is not about being right but about doing right.

The next time that you have an interaction with someone, ask them questions, see what you can learn, see what you can take, and see what you can share with others.  That is what a “sponge” does and it is a characteristic that is crucial to effective leadership.

Ideas Everywhere

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Thomas van de Weerd

I watch YouTube…at work…a lot.

In fact, when my boss walks into my office, I don’t try to hide anything. I continue on doing what I am doing.  It is (to me) a part of my job.  As Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning, I consider it my role to find, develop, and create ideas to help create new ways for students to learn and create within the classroom.

For example, take a look at this “Kid Snippets” video that I shared at opening day:

Although the video is entertaining and on the surface has nothing to do with education, I shared with educators on how this would be a great activity for younger students to write and narrate a story, and have older students act it out and create the media.  There are so many skills that could be developed from that type of project, while also building community, and giving students’ an authentic audience.  There are so many little ideas out there that we can remix and recreate for engaging learning activities for our students and staff.

Does every video spark an idea like this?  Absolutely not.  The process is important though and I have often hear educators say something similar to, “kids and parents have access to all of the same information that we do in education.”  This is also true for educators when looking at other organizations.

For example, as someone who looks at “innovation in school”, I am constantly looking at the notion of “innovation” in other organizations.  I am guessing that the “Research and Development” budget for Google is a little higher then any school district (or all of them put together), so it would only make sense to look at the work that they do to try and create an innovative environment.  In an older article from Google on “The Eight Pillars of Innovation“, one of the ideas was “look for ideas everywhere”, which is something that we need to constantly do.

Even on Twitter today, stuck for ideas to write, I simply asked, “Blog topic please?”  Minutes later I had several ideas thrown my way from others, which inspired this post.  In the Chris Andersen Ted Talk on “How YouTube Drives Innovation”, he discusses this very idea and I love this quote:

Crowd Accelerated Innovation – a self-fueling cycle of learning that could be as significant as the invention of print. But to tap into its power, organization will need to embrace radical openness.

The idea that I have always embraced from this thought is that as an organization, we have to be open, but it is also the ability to embrace the openness of others and take advantage of all the free information out there both inside and outside of education to continuously create better learning experiences for all learners in our organization.

As always, thanks to everybody for the continued inspiration.

10 Ideas To Move Innovation Forward

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by -= Bruce Berrien =-

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

Concluding Thoughts

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

3 Important Trends That We Should Focus On in Schools

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In our world, parents and students now have access to the same information that educators do, and the hope is that this would improve the learning that happens in school.  The reality of this is though, that educators have access to information outside of schools and we should be looking towards different organizations and industries, and what they are focusing on and improving their practice.  Many educators are doing this now, and you will see things like Google’s “2o% Time” implemented at both the classroom and organizational level with great success.  As educators, I really believe we need to look both inside and outside of schools to create the best opportunities for our students.

Here are a few focus areas outside of education, that we should be looking at in schools and make more explicit in our practice.

1.  Research and Development

Having a conversation at a recent meeting, the presenter continuously talked about “R & D”, while many sat in the room curious to what the initials stood for.  Why is that?  Why do we put such little emphasis on “Research and Development” in schools, while others organizations put a much larger emphasis in this area:

Anthony S. Bryk, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, has estimated that other fields spend 5 percent to 15 percent of their budgets on research and development, while in education, it is around 0.25 percent. Education-school researchers publish for fellow academics; teachers develop practical knowledge but do not evaluate or share it; commercial curriculum designers make what districts and states will buy, with little regard for quality. We most likely will need the creation of new institutions — an educational equivalent of the National Institutes of Health, the main funder of biomedical research in America — if we are to make serious headway.”  (From “Teachers: Will We Ever Learn“)

Obviously, research is a component of what we do in our classrooms, but are we creating from that process or are we simply reporting?  Teachers should be continuous learners and active research should be a component of this (obviously administrators should be finding time to ensure that this happens), and we are more likely to create this experience for students if we experience this ourselves.  Actively researching best, new and innovative practices, would only improve our schools.

We spend a lot of time having our students look back at the past, but how much time do we give them to create the future?

2.  Entrepreneurial Spirt

The term “entrepreneurial spirit” is something that has been a focus for Alberta Education:

“Entrepreneurial Spirit: who creates opportunities and achieves  goals through hard work, perseverance and discipline; who  strives for excellence and earns success; who explores ideas and challenges the status quo; who is competitive, adaptable and resilient; and who has the confidence to take risks and make bold decisions in the face of adversity.”

Or their simple definition for students:

“I create new opportunities.”

I have seen many amazing things that have been created in schools only because I happened to be in the school.  If students are able to develop an “app”, should they not also have some understanding of how to market it as well?  This just not go for the “business minds” in school, but in any and every aspect.  A student can be the most amazing artist, but if no one ever sees their work, could they ever end up doing this for a living?  I am a firm believer that we should try to give opportunities for students to follow their passions and hopefully make a living from what they love.

Dan Pink shares his belief that all people are in some capacity need the ability to be able to “sell”:

“Physicians sell patients on a remedy. Lawyers sell juries on a verdict. Teachers sell students on the value of paying attention in class. Entrepreneurs woo funders, writers sweet-talk producers, coaches cajole players.”

If you think back to your own post-secondary experience in becoming an educator, were you ever actually taught on how to get a job?  This is more important than ever with “digital footprints” becoming a large factor in how people in all areas are getting jobs.

We want our students to be able to create amazing things; how do we help them share those creations?

(Check out SCH Academy’s “Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership” to see a very innovative program that is really trying to push the envelope in this areas.)

3.  Leadership Development

This is probably a no-brainer for many, but still something that schools need to focus on for their entire community.  When I talk about “leadership”, I am not thinking of “being the boss”, but the ability to empower others and be a part in creating a positive culture.  I also believe that leadership has to do with ownership, and things that we do in isolation also help us in this pursuit (Sir Ken Robinson is considered a “leader” in education but how many of you know of any affiliations that he has with any single organization?).

Developing leaders should be something that we continue to focus on, or the first two areas that I have discussed will end up being moot.

Although there are “electives” in schools in the above areas, should there not be elements of each in the work that we do everyday?  As stated before, this is not just about students, but for it to be successful, these are initiatives that should be available to educators as well.  Experience is the best way to create new learning, and if our staff does not understand this, how will our students?  We should also look at what we do already in these areas and make some of these initiatives more explicit to our public.  Changing the terminology from “staff days” to “Research and Development Day” (or whatever the time length), better communicates the work that we are trying to do, and perhaps creates a better focus for ourselves on what we are trying to do with our professional learning time.

Although a lot of these terms are related to “business”, I see them as valuable opportunities for learning and to create opportunities for our students, not only in their future, but also their present.

I look forward to your thoughts.

Innovation in Isolation

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One of the magical “C’s” that is emphasized over and over again is collaboration.  I am a big believer in the power of teams coming together to build something greater than what is possible creating alone, but I sometimes wonder if this (as other things) is sometimes overemphasized. Collaboration is important, but what about isolation?  Do we teach the ability to work on our own?

With the massive amounts of information that surround us at all times, we need time alone to be able to collect our thoughts.  As I continue to do workshops and connect with people, I have come to appreciate the opportunity to sit in an airport and be anonymous at some points. This gives me a break from all of the things that we do in our world, catch up on my own thoughts, reflect, and clarify.  Is the ability to be alone something all people possess or are comfortable with?

Lately, leading workshops, I have really focused on the implementation of time for people to simply have time to reflect and give them a space to share their thoughts, whether they choose to or not.  Sometimes working within the group is implemented in full force that we do not have an opportunity to be with our own thoughts, and people start to check out anyway.  From what I have seen, people are at first thrown off by the time I give for them to think about some big questions, but are later thankful for the chance to be within their own head.  Admittedly, a full day of group talk can be overwhelming for myself.

In the article, “The Power of Lonely“, being alone, the author believes, is extremely beneficial for our spirit and mind:

But an emerging body of research is suggesting that spending time alone, if done right, can be good for us — that certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around, and that even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of focus and creative thinking. There is even research to suggest that blocking off enough alone time is an important component of a well-functioning social life — that if we want to get the most out of the time we spend with people, we should make sure we’re spending enough of it away from them. Just as regular exercise and healthy eating make our minds and bodies work better, solitude experts say, so can being alone.

If we are truly to become “creative and innovative”, we have to be able to individually bring something to the table.  The ability to connect with one another is no more important than the ability to connect with ourselves.  Many of my ideas come from sitting in Starbucks by myself, or going for a run on my own.  Is being in isolation not a skill we should be modelling and teaching our students?

Gladwell and Innovative Leadership

One of the school boards that I spoke to this year (Sir Wilfrid Laurier), has an interesting focus on the objective of “Leadership and Innovation”.  The description is below:


1. To promote, support, and increase the implementation of innovative approaches in teaching, learning, and problem solving through leadership

2. To recognize and celebrate innovative approaches

The first point to me is imperative, as in my travels I have come to believe that innovative schools or districts are a reflection of leadership.  If the “leader” is not innovative or does not believe in challenging the way things “have always been done”, the ceiling for innovation is much lower.  If leaders are not comfortable with the inherent risk that comes with “innovation”, that will be reflected in organizational practices.

As to what “innovation” is, I love the definition provided by Notter and Grant in their book “Humanize” (one of my favourite books I have read this year):

Definitions of innovation vary by guru, but they revolve around two words: change and new. Innovation implies change and doing things differently, but it has to achieve some new level of performance, or create some kind of new value. It is not enough just to be different; it has to be better. It is about creation, not copying.

As I talked about this notion with Jesse McLean as his school undertook “Innovation Week“, I thought back to Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point“, and thought about some of the key people that he describes that push forward “social epidemics”, I wondered how they fit into our notion of innovative leadership in schools.  The three people listed by Gladwell’s “Law of the Few”, as described in this Wikipedia article, are described below:

Connectors, are the people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions. A connector is essentially the social equivalent of a computer network hub. They usually know people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and make a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles. They are people who “link us up with the world … people with a special gift for bringing the world together.”

Mavens are “information specialists”, or “people we rely upon to connect us with new information.”[4] They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others. Gladwell cites Mark Alpert as a prototypical Maven who is “almost pathologically helpful”, further adding, “he can’t help himself”.

Salesmen are “persuaders”, charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them.

As we are seemingly are at the “tipping point” in school reform, I wonder if leadership has to not only possess one of these characteristics, but essentially all three?  If we are actually moving to a place where people don’t just accept change but embrace it (as change is always the constant), I see all three of those elements being crucial in school leadership.  To effectively “promote, support, and increase the implementation of innovative approaches in teaching, learning, and problem solving through leadership”, those characteristics would be essential.

Thoughts?  Obviously there are other essential characteristics that make a good leader (value on relationships and building trust being the most important), but where do Gladwell’s “Law of the Few” now fit in where a world is more social than ever?

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