Tag Archives: innovative teaching and learning

Leadership Framework Series: Setting Directions #ONTEdLeaders

 

Spending a lot of time in Ontario, I have been going through the Ontario Leadership Framework with a fine tooth comb (here is a cleaned up Google Document that I have been using to go over each leadership strand) and although there are some areas I would change (“building relationship and developing people” should have been the first leadership strand in my opinion, as everything starts with relationships and knowing your people), the overall document is really strong.  

Most “frameworks” have some pretty generic standards could be met as a principal 30 years ago when things were different in terms of what we knew about learning and the access that we had to one another.  This document though, has statements that really stick out to me because it has some points that ensure a high quality leader in our world today.  You can not simply do the same thing that was done in 1985 and expect to be effective as a leader today.  

To learn more about this framework, I wanted to really go through each “leadership strand”, pick out a few key points that really stuck out to me as “forward thinking”, and break it down deeper.  If we are going to be effective moving forward, we need to be reflective in our practice.

Over the next few blog posts, I will be going over each strand, and trying to take an in-depth look into some of the ideas that really stuck out to me.  I really encourage others that are either interested in going into leadership (no matter what area you are located), or are currently in leadership positions, try the same process.

The five strands that I will be looking at are the following:

  1. Setting Directions
  2. Building Relationships and Developing People
  3. Developing the Organization
  4. Leading the Instructional Program
  5. Securing Accountability

Today I will be focusing on “Setting Directions”.

Setting Directions

Here is the summary of the standard:

“The principal builds a shared vision, fosters the acceptance of group goals and sets and communicates high performance expectations.”

Building and communicating a vision is crucial to leadership and important in the success of a school.  Communication is not simply through words, but also through actions taken in your work.  For example, if you want to create a culture that “takes risks”, as a leader, you need to model taking risks.  It is also important that any vision that is developed together with a staff has high expectations (as stated in the document), but it is important that those goals are broken down into smaller goals that are achievable to build confidence and competence towards getting toward a larger vision.  People do not start by jumping from the bottom of the mountain to the top; they have to get to different summits along the way that they are able to see as reachable and attainable.  Once you get to one summit, you become more confident in your ability to get to the next.

What I think is really important that in leadership today, that a vision is truly created together.  There are many leaders that develop a vision with their staff, but really know what they want to happen the minute they walk into the building.  If you go through the process of taking valuable time for people to help build a “collaborative vision”, it is important that the process is actually collaborative.  If there are things that you would like to achieve in the school and they are “non-negotiables” in your mind, be transparent about this.  All people may not like “top-down” initiatives, but personally, I hate “top down” initiatives where we pretend my input actually mattered in creating the direction.  People see right through that process.  Yet if you have initiatives that you see as vital, it is still important that you are open to suggestions and modifying plans based on feedback of the people you serve.  This goes to the idea that the “smartest person in the room, is the room”, and if you aren’t open to feedback as a leader, you are not a leader, you are a boss.

Creativity and Innovation

It is great to see a document where “creativity and innovation” are considered an important part of what we do as leaders.  It is outlined in this statement:

“ensures creativity, innovation and the use of appropriate technologies to achieve excellence”

My concern with this statement is that it is easy to read that “creativity and innovation” are synonymous with the word “technology”.  It isn’t, although technology can be a huge and important part in the process.  For example, it is important to realize that the iPhone isn’t the innovation, but the thinking that created it in the first place.  This innovation and creation of ideas can come in many areas such as health literacy, assessment, and technology.  Again, it is the thinking behind it that is important.

How technology does support these areas, is the openness to ideas and learning from others, that is accelerated through the use of technology.  Being able to connect with others sparks ideas that may not have come to a person from scratch.  Networks are crucial to innovation, and they can either spark the invention of a new idea, or the iteration of another.  How are you using technology to foster these connections amongst your staff, and helping them building relationships both in and out of your school community?  That, in my opinion, is where technology really fosters the innovation process.

Where does your vision come from?

One of my favourite parts of the first strand is having an understanding of what is happening in the world, and building a “vision” based on that understanding.  This outlined in the following knowledge descriptor:

The principal has knowledge and understanding of local, national and global trends.”

There is a word that is left out of this statement, and I appreciate that it is.  Often in a sentence like this, the word “education” would appear somewhere, which I think is limiting.  Educators need to look not only within education to develop and create a high quality programming, but look outside as well.  For example, if you look outside of education, you can see many organizations moving away from a “factory model” or work, and now creating more flexible learning environments.  This is not all organizations, but many of them, and we need to pay attention.  Again, to get this access, we need to be connected.

Can we have leaders in our schools that have no idea what a “Ted Talk” is?  Or know the big “researchers” in education but know nothing about any educators outside their own school?  What do we lose as a school when we have leaders that have no idea what is going on outside of them?  It is important that we start to understand the shifts not only in schools, but in the world, and from that learning, we bridge connections that are relevant to our community.  Schools can not be in a perpetual state of ‘catch up”, but with a visionary leader, they should be ahead of the curve.

Leader as change agent

In the world, the only constant is change. That’s it.  With that being said, visionary leaders understand that part of their job is to help people embrace change as outlined in the leadership framework:

“…leading change, creativity and innovation.”

The thing that we have to alway realize that when we are leading change, is that sharing “data” is not enough.  People have to experience something and create an emotional connection if you are truly going to embrace sustainable change.  Saying, “you need to change because of these results” is not enough and often takes away the autonomy of teachers on the ground.  Numbers tell a part of the story, but only a small part.  To change the story, it is essential that people become part of the story.  It is not enough to minimize kids as numbers and think that the people focused endeavour of education can simply related to numerical data.  To embrace change we need to create something more.  Innovation and education is and always will be a human endeavour.

Concluding Thoughts

People do not follow a leader that has no vision of where they are going.  “Setting direction” is imperative to our journey but there is no singular line that will get you to a point.  We have to be understanding that different people take different pathways to get to that vision, and we have to be comfortable with that.  The other key takeaway from this framework is the focus on helping move people from their point “A” to their point “B”.  We need to differentiate learning for adults as we do for our students, and when we value the people that we serve, they will move a lot faster, than if they do not feel valued at all.  Any organizational vision can only happen when people can come together and make that vision a reality.  Otherwise, it is only a flashy “vision statement” that is only words with no actions.

Snapchat and Education

I think I did it…

I think I finally figured out a way that schools can use Snapchat to connect with their school communities. I will get to that in a bit.

If you have decided to stop using the Internet over the last few years and have never heard of Snapchat, it is the app that is hugely popular with kids and terrifies adults, mostly because it was known as the “sexting app” to many people.  Yet, when I go to schools and ask kids who uses Snapchat, it is almost all of them.  Although there is inappropriate use of the app (just like every app in existence), there is something that is appealing to a massive amount of people and why the company is considered to be valued in the 10 billion dollar range.

I personally have had an account for a long time but never used it, or really thought of using it until I saw this video:

Notice no mention of Twitter or Voxer in the piece? (I feel old)

What I found really interesting was the immediacy of Snapchat that draws people to it, and also what seems to create a more authentic user experience.  If you know a picture will disappear (and I know you can screen capture it) are you more willing to share a “true” moment as opposed to the “perfect” moment we often share on Instagram (which is put up on your wall until you take it down)?  The “story” element also brings a whole other dimension and pushes the app past the idea of just being another way to text friends.

I started using Snapchat this morning with Paige (I made her sign up to help me figure it out) and shared what I was doing during the day while she sent me pictures of her and the dogs.  I really had no idea how to use it in the first place so I looked it up on YouTube and figured it out. It was kind of a neat experience and I definitely see the appeal.  For years though, I have been saying to parents that I could not think of a way to use Snapchat in schools, but after seeing how you could share “Stories“, finally thought of something.  The “story” feature could allow you to show what a day in your school looks like, while also deleting the “permanency” of the pictures/videos online.  It could be a cool way to reach kids at an app that they are already on.

Or maybe it isn’t.

I asked if any schools were using Snapchat and got a great response that really pushed my thinking:

Great point.

Although I think it is important that we have an understanding of what most of our kids are using in schools today, I also don’t think we need to invade every space that kids are on or write “10 ways to use Snapchat with your students” blog posts.  Perhaps the biggest appeal to students using Snapchat is not the app but it is that it seems to them not many adults are using it?  Do you remember being a high school kid and wanting nothing more than to hang out with your parents? Me neither.

I really think we need to start paying more attention to things like Snapchat and Vine, and try to not just understand these apps but also try to understand why they are so appealing to so many.  This doesn’t mean we have to use them in schools but I think it is important that we can have a conversation with our students.

Not every technology needs to be “edufied” but in a world that there are so many new things that we are still learning about and figuring out, I think it is important that we have some credibility in the conversation.

4 Reasons Why “Innovation” in Education is Different Today

I have been extremely thankful of the feedback and comments that I have received on the ideas I have written about on innovation in education.  Sharing my thoughts openly, has helped me to shape my thoughts about the topic and why it is important in education.  I really think in education it is more than a “buzzword” now, but we are still struggling to understand what it means for most schools.  The wrong approach is assuming that “innovation” is simply a substitute for the word “technology”; education technology leads have become “innovation officers”.  The title has changed but has the approach?  In some cases it totally has, while others it is not the case.  To me, it is about learning new ideas and creating something new and better for kids.  Sometimes it is invention (a totally new idea) and sometimes it is iteration (remix of an old idea), but it is always better.  That is key to “innovation”.

One of the most important thoughts that has shaped my thinking was from Kelly Christopherson who really pushed the idea that there have been “innovative teachers” long before our present time in schools, and I would totally agree. I remember one of my teachers discussing world wars, and instead of just teaching us about the past, he actually immersed us in activity where every single decision we made either lead to peace or conflict.  That sparked my love for history but it immersed me into a much deeper appreciation for learning.  There was no use of technology, no Internet, but just a better way of teaching and learning that I had not experienced as a student.

So why is innovation in education moving to the forefront?  There are a few reasons that I can think of but I would love for your thoughts as well.

1. Access to one another. - The power of social media is not in the sharing of information but the connection to one another.  For innovation to happen in any field, it is important that there are places where people can connect easily one another, often referred to as “spikes”.  A “spike” is a congregation of people coming together that are in a similar field, like Silicon Valley for startups, Nashville for country singers, and so on.  Social media has provided that “spike” for different fields (specifically in this case education) where we can come together to share ideas and build upon the ideas that we bring to one another.  For innovation to happen culturally in education, a “spike” is essential.  People drive innovation. Always.

2. Unlimited access to ideas. – In university, every book I read was on the topic of education.  My guess is that many of the same books I read in my courses were similar to the ones that other students were reading in different programs.  Now though, we do not only have access to practicing teachers and educational thought leaders (who are not only researchers, but are present in every aspect of the field), but we also have access to a huge amount of people outside education at our fingertips.  Those ideas can be reshaped and applied to education in much easier way than a time when that access was limited. We need to take advantage.

3. Schools as a whole need to get better.  – One of my favourite quotes on change from William Pollard is, “Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change is inevitable.”  With the world outside changing, schools need to help our students become leader in a world that expect a lot of different things from when I was a kid.  It is not that there aren’t great things already happening in schools.  For example, relationships will be the most important thing in schools yesterday, today, and tomorrow, but that is only a foundation of our institutions.  If the world is asking for people to be innovative and think differently, schools can no longer shape students to all think the same.

4. Schools can see what other schools are doing. - This is not meant to put schools into competition with one another, but it is in a hope that we do simultaneously and push one another.  Other than the occasional face-to-face interactions educators had with each other, it was hard to really hear about what was happening in other schools.  Now with so many educators sharing what is happening, there is (and should be) a pressure to do create better learning opportunities for our students.  From what I have seen, the majority of schools are not trying to contain this and make it exclusive to their students, but to share and collaborate with others to help students, no matter where they attend.  We will always serve a diverse community of learners and the more we can help each student, the better we all are.

As Kelly reminded me, innovation is not isolated to what we do in our schools today.  We just now have more of an opportunity to move it from “pockets of innovation” to a “culture”.  The access and tools are there, we just need to embrace them.

Which team are we on?

 

Through a Twitter conversation, someone brought up an interesting analogy on how administrators should be the “offensive line for their staff”, blocking distractions and unnecessary “stuff” that takes away from great teaching and learning.  I loved the analogy, and really thought about how administrators need to be seen as those that do whatever they can to ensure teachers are successful so that their students can amazing learning opportunities.

Yet from many conversations and observations, it seems the opposite.  With technology, teachers seems to be jumping through hoops, having decisions made for them without their input on experience being utilized.  It seems that the “offensive line” concept is not protecting teachers, but sometimes blocking them from great opportunities.

For example, if you want teachers to use social media, how would a 50 page document sharing the guidelines actually help them?  With every page that is turned, you lose teachers who just see that it is not worth it to go through all of the roadblocks to even start.  Or the computer that takes “only two minutes” to log on because of network protocols. Yet two minutes, times 30 kids, can be an eternity, especially if one of those computers doesn’t work as expected.

With every page, every policy, every filter, many teachers just choose to do what they have always done and do not see it is worth the time to do something new.  We encourage “risk-taking” yet we have created such a risk averse culture in education.  We can say “take risks” all we want, but actions will always be louder than words.

So if administrators are the “offensive live”, we need to make sure that we are blocking for the right team.  Otherwise, we can only blame ourselves for not moving forward.

8 Characteristics of the Innovative Leader (Document)

I wanted to create a “rubrics” (for lack of a better term), that discusses some of the questions and ideas based on my post “The 8 Characteristics of the Innovative Leader“.  Since I believe innovation often starts with “questions” that guides practice, this document starts from there, but gives a few suggestions as well.  So instead of doing a traditional rubrics, I left a column open so people could write their own ideas on how they are meeting the characteristics.  If it was truly innovative, then the idea might be sparked from this, but should not be limited to what is shared here.  It is more of a starting point than an endpoint.

Please feel free to use as you see fit.  The writing is small so I uploaded it to Scribd so it could be downloaded or expanded for a better visual.

The Innovative Leader Rubrics

Tapping Into the Influencers

The common approach for many schools and organizations to move technology initiatives forward is to tap into the “edtech” people in the school, teach them the new technology, and hope they share it with others.  The problem with this is that many people see that as “someone else’s thing” as opposed to technology being powerful in all aspects of learning.  This approach rarely helps shift past “pockets” into your school, and doesn’t change culture.

Years ago, when we looked at moving technology forward, we started a “Learning Leader” project, we did not ask for the people that were good with technology.  In fact, quite the opposite.  Who we looked at connecting with in this project were people that were willing to learn and were seen as leaders within their own school.  Being strong with technology was not a prerequisite, but being able to lead and work with others and develop their own solutions based upon the community they served.  This is taken directly from the site:

The purpose of the Learning Leader Project is to develop a cohort of people who are not only building understanding in these areas, but who are also leading their own staff in some professional development.  As “Learning Leaders”, this cohort will learn about these emerging technologies and help to identify ways that they can share this learning in a more open way with their respective colleagues. This helps to move beyond the idea of a “one size fits all” as these leaders in conjunction with their schools, can develop ideas of how to best develop these initiatives within their own school.

The process of bringing people to not only learn, but to teach and lead in this program was paramount to the success of the process. Just bringing people together that were good with “tech” to teach more “tech” was (is) not necessarily the best approach, yet it is often the most adopted.  If someone was great with technology and was seen as a leader by others, that was awesome, but the latter was the more important piece.

I know that it is now become cliche to say “it is about the learning”, but to me this is only a part of the equation.  Looking at our leaders at all levels (students, parents, teachers, and so on) and tapping into them to move the use of technology ahead is where the cultural shift in our schools most likely to happen.

Blog Posts on Leadership Development

I have really focused on “innovative leadership development” in my work, and have written about it extensively in my work.  Because of this, I wanted to collect all of my posts that have really focused on leadership in a time where leadership really needs to change.  Please feel free to use the posts in any way to help you with your own development, or challenge any of the ideas that I have shared.

The posts are organized into two areas: Developing LeadershipandEmbodying Visionary Leadership“.  It is meant to help develop a vision and understanding, and then to talk about what it actually looks like. (For a static page of these posts, you can check out the “Leadership Deveolpment” page on my blog.)

Developing Leadership

Educational Leadership Philosophy – This is the post that leads to all of other things.  I think it is a great practice to be able to write your own leadership philosophy so people understand why you do what you do.  It is also something that I will revisit and tailor since a leadership philosophy should not stay the same for the rest of our lives.  It should change on based on who we serve, and what we learn.  It should constantly be pushing you to move forward. 

8 Characteristics of the Innovative Leader – As we continue to look at teachers, students, and learning becoming more “innovative”, it is important that leadership changes.  As administrators often set the tone for their district or their building, if they are saying the same, it is not likely that things are going to change in the classroom.  Leadership needs to not only “think” different, but they need to “act” different.  This post talks about some of those characteristics.

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal – To develop a powerful vision, it rarely starts with answers, but more often with questions. This post focuses on questions in five crucial areas: Fostering Effective Relationships, Instructional Leadership, Embodying Visionary Leadership, Developing Leadership Capacity, and Creating Sustainable Change.  How do you lead in these areas?

3 Questions To Guide Your Vision – One of the things that I feel is important in a leadership position is that you build capacity and create an environment that eventually will not need you. To create a vision, you have to think about your long term impact, and how you will develop people to create a culture that is not dependent upon a person, but on the community.

Want someone to see your viewpoint? Ask them their thoughts first. – When I believe in something,  I used to spend all of my time trying to “sell” that idea to others and trying to get them to embrace what I saw.  If people didn’t agree with me, or my viewpoint, I would often got extremely frustrated and get nowhere closer than where I was before.  I hear this same approach from so many other people who tell me about the countless hours they try to get people to “embrace change”, and what I have learned is to spend less time defending your position, and spend more time asking questions.

Embodying Innovative Leadership

4 Attributes of a Great Assistant Principal – Being an Assistant (or Vice) Principal, was one of my favourite jobs.  As a principal, my AP’s were amazing and they helped to make me a better leader. They were always open to learn and develop; not only from what I would share to them, but from the experiences that they had with staff, students, and parents.  I expect great Assistant Principals to focus on building relationships with the entire school community, are approachable, are change agents, and ALWAYS have the idea of “what is best for kids” driving their decision-making.

The Need for Courageous Leadership – This is a great example of a leader that models risks for their faculty, and leads through actions, not simply words.  Does your school have the courage to let a student tweet on the behalf of your school account? If not, why?

4 Types of Leaders You Shouldn’t Be – Working with many different organizations, I have heard either the frustration from educators within the organization that feel like they are running on the spot, while also working with administrators that are more focused on holding down the fort as opposed leading with vision.  These are some qualities that you or I could be doing, without even thinking about.  It is so important to take a strong look in the mirror and think about the things that we would hate as an educator in our building.

21st Century Schools or 21st Century Learning? – The mass purchase of devices for schools is happening way too much without the crucial conversations about what learning should look like in the classroom.  This is actually frustrating many teachers that I have spoken with; it just becomes another thing that has been dumped on educators, not something that is going to make learning better.  There is definitely some value in playing with a device and figuring out some of the amazing things it can do, but should we really be doing that by buying devices en masse? Shouldn’t we try to figure out what the learning look like and then discuss the device? 

3 Things We Should Stop Doing in Professional Development – There are a lot of things that we have just accepted as “norm” in our professional development, but we should always deeply look at how we spend our time with staff.  Time is the most valuable currency we have in schools so it is important that we get the most out of every interaction we have together.  In this post, I look at three things that we should not accept as simply the norm.

5 Characteristics of a Change Agent – As a leader, it is not just teaching “stuff”, but it is helping people to see the importance of embracing change in our work in schools today.  We often lament at how people are terrible at accepting change, but in reality, many leaders are just poor at delivering why change is important or crucial. All people want to do something better, but what are the characteristics of leaders that successfully move people along?

Hopefully there are some things that you can take away from these posts, or share with others.

Reminders from the #GAFESummit

I had the great honour of keynoting the largest #GAFESummit to date in Ottawa this past weekend.  It was a great experience, and I loved meeting so many amazing educators. Not only was it a massive conference, but it was also the first English and French Google Summit.  When I was first asked to speak, I was told that I would have to do some of the keynote in French.  Since I do not speak the language, I was extremely hesitant.  But as I thought about it, I said to myself, “If I am constantly asking people to push themselves out of their comfort zones, I need to model this myself”, and then I agreed.  Although I was all for it, I was extremely nervous to not only do this, but in front of so many people (over 1200).

With the amazing support of Lise Galuga, we created my presentation together.  I took all of the text on my slides and translated it to French.  Although I used Google Translate to help me at first, I soon realized that it was not accurate at all.  Lise went through every slide and did the proper translations.  We then created a google document that I had my main points of each slide, and she prepared a corresponding French tweet for all of it so that it could be “live tweeted” in both languages.

The final part (and the hardest for me) was to learn how to open the conference in French.

I wrote down what I wanted to say, and also added a joke that Lise suggested (which got huge applause!).  So Lise took what I wanted to say, and translated it properly for me.  Here is the translation:

“Bienvenue au premier Sommet bilingue de l’équipe EdTechTeam. Bien que je ne parle pas souvent le français, je tenais à accueillir les francophones – en français!

Un des objectifs que je souligne souvent est celui d’être un apprenant la vie durant, et je tiens à modéliser cet idéal moi-même. Entre vous et moi, si Stephen Harper est capable, alors j’ai pensé que je devrais l’essayer moi aussi.”

Since I had taken French up until grade 12 (I don’t want to tell you how many years ago that was), I recognized some of the words.  Yet listening to Google Translate did not help.  So Lise and I connected the night before over a Google Hangout, and she listened to me speak, and spelled things phonetically for me.  Here is the text spelled phonetically that helped me say it in front of the audience:

“Bienvenue o prumyay Sommeh bee-lang de l’équipe EdTechTeam. Bien que je ne parle pas souvent le français, je teneh a adressay la paroll o frawn-co-fun preyzawn aujourd’hui!

Uh day zobjectif que je suelinge souvent eh suhlwee (celui) d’être uh napprenant la vee durant, ay je teneh a modaylizay set e-day-al (ideal) moi-maym. Entre vou zay moi, si Stephen Harper eh cap-pab-bla (capable), alors j’ai pensay que je devreh less-say-ay (l’essayer) moi aussi.”

Not all of it is phonetic, only the parts I struggled with.  Lise tailored the learning to me so that I was successful, but she did it with me on Google Hangouts.

Then the day arrives, and I am extremely nervous. I am introduced, go onto the stage, and say the first sentence. HUGE APPLAUSE!  That I was willing to try and do something that was meaningful to the audience meant everything!

Second sentence. HUGE APPLAUSE!

Third sentence. HUGE APPLAUSE!

Fourth sentence. Huge laughter?

I told a joke and they loved it!  I successfully told a joke in a second language.  I was buzzing the rest of the talk and I was humbled by receiving a standing ovation from the audience.  What an amazing feeling.

So from this experience, I either learned or relearned some important lessons.

1. Educators are extremely receptive to others learning. For those that are so nervous to try something new and “put themselves out there”, what I have learned over and over again, is that educators will support someone is going outside of their comfort zone.  Maybe that it is because they do this every day with their students, or that they empathize that they have felt that way themselves, educators are extremely understanding of someone trying something new.  I know my French was not perfect, but wow, did that audience make me feel like it was.

2. What is now easy for us, might be tough for others. Twitter, blogging, google docs, and other technologies are second nature for me, just like speaking French is for others.  I can easily get frustrated by someone who doesn’t get it, but I was reminded that I was once at the point where I didn’t understand any of these things.  All people arrive at different places at different times, so always show patience and gratitude for the effort.

3. The biggest power of technology is not the technology, but it is the people. I used Google Translate for everything and I thought it was awesome, only because I didn’t know any better.  When I connected with Lise through Google Docs, Hangouts, email, etc., she helped me more than any technology I could use, but it was through technology that I could get that help in the first place.  She spent hours helping me and we only met the day of the summit.  As many times as these things happen, it is always mind blowing.

4. When you find someone that believes in you, you start to believe in yourself. The first night I had a Google Hangout with Lise, I tried my French, and it was terrible. I knew it, and I said, “maybe you should get someone else.”. She said, “No, you are going to be amazing. Trust me.” I did. That made me go on and keep working and after the talk yesterday, I was buzzing. I would not have got there if she wouldn’t have shown that she believed in me. We (educators) need this as much as our students.

I just want to thank everyone in Ottawa for being so warm to someone who was nowhere near perfect, but tried.  It was an amazing feeling.  I especially want to thank Lise Galuga for reminding me how teachers, no matter who the student is, can always make a huge impact on the lives of others.

8 Characteristics of the Innovative Leader

“Why are we okay that management hasn’t seen innovation in a 100 or 50 years, but we demand innovation in every other aspect of our lives?” Jamie Notter

As we continue to look at teachers, students, and learning becoming more “innovative”, it is important that leadership changes.  As administrators often set the tone for their district or their building, if they are saying the same, it is not likely that things are going to change in the classroom.  Leadership needs to not only “think” different, but they need to “act” different.

For leaders to be effective in changing a school or an organization, they need to change themselves first.  It is way too easy to go a leadership conference and get ideas of things that you are going to do with your staff.  What is important is changing your own practice first.  So along the lines of what is happening within “pockets” of classrooms around the world, leaders must embody the characteristics that they seek.  As my good friend Jimmy Casas says, “what we model is what we get.”

So with that being said, here are some of the characteristics that I have seen in some of the most innovative leaders that I have encountered.

  1. Visionary – When I listen to some superintendents, the vision they share is inspiring and you can tell they see a new vision of school.  Yet what is important about these visionary leaders is that they can take this “powerful vision” and break it down to what it looks like in the classroom.  To create a culture of “innovation”, it takes small steps forward towards a greater vision, not a gigantic leap to the top of the summit.  Innovative leaders help people continuously grow with small steps that build both confidence and competence, so they are more willing to become more innovative themselves.
  2. Empathetic – Along the lines of design thinking, new ideas start with understanding the people they are created for.  When I first became a principal, I did not try to mirror the ideas of the principals before me, but I thought, “If I was a teacher in this school, what would I expect of my principal?”  That trickled down to trying to empathize with being a student in the school, and a parent in the community.  For example, as a teacher, I hated meetings that seemed to go nowhere and went too long.  So to respect the time of others, meetings became shorter and we spent more time learning, than we did on things that could have been simply emailed.  Is having a shorter meeting innovative? No.  But trying to put yourself in the place of those that you serve is where innovation begins.
  3. Models Learning – One of the superintendents that I have the great respect for is Chris Kennedy of West Vancouver.  He has shared his ideas that leaders need to be “elbows deep in learning with their schools”, and I think that is imperative to creating new and better ideas.  It is simple to fall into the trap of doing things that have always been done, or simply going with what you know.  This limits everyone.  If we want to do better things for students, we have to become the “guinea pigs” ourselves and immerse ourselves into new learning opportunities.  We rarely create something different until we experience something different.
  4. Open Risk Taker – This building upon the previous point.  The term “risk-taker” has become quite cliche in our work, as leaders often promote it, but rarely model it.  People are less likely to take risks in doing something different unless they see those above them in the hierarchical structure do the same thing.  If leaders want people to try new things, they have to openly show, that they are willing to do the same.
  5. Networked – Networks are imperative to growth and innovation.  It is easy to think you are doing something amazing when you are not looking beyond the walls of your school.  Great leaders have always created networks, but now this is not limited to face-to-face interactions.  It is also not as limited for those who live in rural areas.  Anyone willing to connect is now able to connect. It is simply a choice.  We can no longer be limited to the ideas in our own school. We need to connect with others outside and choose what works for our organization and remix it to be applicable.
  6. Observant – Great ideas often spark other great ideas.  Things like “Genius Hour” and “Innovation Week”, that have become synonymous with school, were probably sparked by seeing things outside of schools and modifying them to meet the needs of kids.  The power of the Internet is that we have access to so much information, not only from schools, but from outside organizations.  Although a business solution might not necessarily work “as is” for a school, if we learn to connect ideas and reshape them, it could become something pretty amazing.  What I am hoping to see one day is that although we can take great ideas from outside companies like Google, our practices in schools will become so innovative that people will look at borrowing from education.
  7. Team Builder – The least innovative organizations often seem to surround themselves with like-minded people.  Innovation often comes from conflict and disagreement, not in an adversarial way, but in a way that promotes divergent thinking. The idea is not to go with the idea of one person over another, but to actually create a better idea that is often in the middle of the two ideas shared.  If a leader is going to be innovative, surrounding yourself with people that mirror your personality is not the way to get there.
  8. Always Focused on Relationships – Innovation has become such a huge focus of schools, they we often forget that it is ultimately a human endeavour.  I don’t see a smartphone as something that is innovative, but it’s the thinking behind creating a smartphone where the innovation happens.  It is easy to lock yourself in an office, connect with people on Twitter, and appear from your room with some great idea or new thing.  The problem is that if you are want to become an “innovative leader” it is not only about you creating new and better ideas, but your staff.  If you have lost focus on the people in the building, new ideas might appear, but they might not be embraced.  Spending time with people and building solid relationships with them often leads to them going miles beyond what is expected and move away from “what has always been done”.  When people know they are valued and safe in trying new things, they are more likely to do something better.  This is at the core of an innovative school.

Ultimately, an innovative leader should try to create new ideas, but it is more important that they create a culture of innovation.  We often talk about empowering people and then getting out of their way, but what is often missed in the process is removing some of those barriers that they will encounter along the way.  This why it is so important to spend time in the classrooms, see what teaching and learning looks like, and then help to create a better tomorrow for our students and educators.  Again though, at the heart of innovation is people, not stuff.  If we always keep that at the forefront of our work, we are more likely to create an innovative culture.

Isolation Is the Enemy of Innovation

 

In my last post, I wrote about the transformational power that we have in our hands through technology, and how we need to look past the “tool” and the opportunities that we can provide.  On the post, Kelly Christopherson, who is as thoughtful of an educator that you will ever connect with, shared a great comment:

From personal experience of having a child with speech and learning disabilities, the story is with the person not the tools. It’s a lived experience over many years of growing, trying, failing and trying again, going beyond what anyone expected because of the incredible human spirit within a little girl that wouldn’t allow failure or setbacks to deter her. So, I get the message in the videos but it’s only a small piece of an incredible human story. It’s about the people and the continued desire to go on, the “never-give-up”. Yes, we need to foster an innovative mindset but it’s about the human element, not the tool. Unfortunately, if we only believe that teachers can be transformational now that they have tools, we’re selling short the transformational power of great teachers of the past. Sometimes, when we say that technology allows us to be transformational, we miss the incredible opportunity to see people as a whole with unlimited possibilities with or without the technology and enter transformational moments at any time. Great teachers see transformational moments and enter into those moments as learners with their students, technology aided or not…Kids have been doing inspiring things for a long time and inspiring others as they do. In order to do some of that, they will use the tools of their generation, the tools available to them, as it has always been.

I couldn’t agree more with Kelly’s comments (read them in their entirety).  Great teachers have been “innovators” long before any of the current technologies existed in our world.  It was always about doing something better with what was available, to help kids.  Kelly’s wisdom shows the importance of teaching in the future, but remembering the power of the past.

What I think is different now, and where the technology really gives us an opportunity to be more innovative than ever, is the ability to use the technology to connect with one another.  As Kelly stated, it is about “people”, but now we have the opportunity to go beyond the “stuff” and tap into one another, more so than ever.

For example. I remember growing up in a small town, and then teaching in a small rural area for the first part of my teaching career, I had some great mentor teachers, but was limited to their knowledge.  I often wonder if I looked to them for guidance, who did they have the opportunity to look to for themselves?  Large centres have always been seen as the “hubs” of innovation, not because of their access to stuff, but because of their access to one another.  Many teachers did not have that, where as now, it is easy to connect with people across the world.  I do truly believe that isolation is now a choice that educators makeand isolation is often the enemy of innovation.

So have teachers always been innovative? Absolutely.  In large groups though?  I am not sure of that.  Now, we have the chance to move away from “pockets” and move to a “culture” of innovation, but as Kelly reminded me, innovation is a human endeavour. Now though, we just have more of an opportunity to accelerate the opportunities for our kids.