I wanted to try my hand at writing a series of blog posts on “Leading Innovative Change.” As I am looking at writing a book on the same topic, I thought I would put some ideas out there and hopefully learn from others on these topics. I also want to give these ideas away for free. These posts are for anyone in education, but are mostly focused on school administrators. In all of these, the idea that administrators openly model their learning will only accelerate a culture of innovation and risk-taking. This is the final post in this series, but you can read the first four posts in the series:
1. Learning First, Technology Second
2. A New Staff Experience
3. Excellence Lies Within
4. Narrow Your Focus
cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Alec Couros
Within the previous posts in this series, Embracing an open culture is vital to the success of them all. Think of this process–one we often do in different areas of school: we have a coordinator or leader in some specific area that works one-on-one with individual teachers and they see things that others don’t.
If your job is to create a culture that embraces any type of learning, how much impact does it have when we only see one person at a time and share it with no one? Sitting down and taking the time to write a blog, tweet some ideas, or use any other online community is not only beneficial in the reflection process, but also brings ideas to a larger community.
Sharing is also vital in creating connections. If you see something amazing with one teacher, and see potential for growth in another teacher, instead of being the sole bearer of knowledge and skill, why not look at ways of connecting the two?
Creating a “Spike”
If you wanted to work in the film industry, where would you most likely go? If you wanted to be a country singer, what places are the most likely to give you opportunity? If your answers were “Hollywood” and “Nashville,” respectively, you just identified what Richard Florida calls “spikes.”
A “spike” is a place where there is a large amount of people with one main area of interest that come together to create some of the best work in their field. It is not the only place, but these specific areas are usually known for excellence. So if I asked you where the “spike” is for educators, where would that be? Well, because most places on Earth have a school, if we think of a “spike” being in a physical place, it would be hard to identify where that one place would be. This is where social media comes in. Passionate educators are using things like Twitter and hashtags, such as #edchat to come together, ask questions, share ideas and create innovative ideas.
“It isn’t how much you know that matters. What matters is how much access you have to what other people know. It isn’t just how intelligent your team members are; it is how much of that intelligence you can draw out and put to use.” Wiseman, McKeown from Multipliers
Many schools are creating “mini-spikes” of innovation where geography is not a factor, and sharing and learning can happen 24/7. Parkland School Division, a school district that is spread over a large geographic area spanning over 100 miles, uses the hashtag #psd70 to connect educators, students, parents, community, as well as to invite in educators from around the world to share their learning. This is a huge opportunity for a school district that has a school with less than 50 students, as well as places that are far from a major city.
Surrey School District in British Columbia has also done something similar by using the hashtag #sd36learn. As one of the largest districts in the province, it is dispelling the myth that large usually equals a lack of innovation. By creating a place, as Stephen Johnson says, where “hunches” can come together, they are more likely to bring new and better ideas to the forefront.
“When the world is flat, you can innovate without having to emigrate.” Thomas Friedman
A Flat Organization
When these spikes are created, leaders have to be comfortable that great ideas can come from anyone, anywhere and at any time. The focus for leadership should not be on their ideas, but the best ideas. This process also often creates strong influencers, that may not have any formal leadership position, yet have tremendous pull with others through their sharing of ideas. Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant identify these people and their impact in the business world:
“Social media has created influencers among people traditionally outside an organization’s database of members or donors or customers. These are people whose activities and opinions can have tangible, measurable financial effects (good or bad); people on the periphery but who have social capital (i.e., trust) among their own networks.” Notter and Grant
In education, the focus has to move from distinct roles, to the idea that everyone can be both a teacher and a learner. Organizations, as a whole, should model what they expect from students on a micro level; that they are willing to learn and grow. With a focus on sharing on a mass scale, ideas often come to the forefront, and not necessarily people (although people that either have or share the best ideas will stick out). As we tell our students the day they walk into kindergarten, “You need to share,” this should also be the focus for organizations that are looking to move forward and create innovation.
Sharing should then not be the exception, but the default.
The Outsider View
Many large organizations have the belief that leadership should always be developed within–which it should be to an extent–but there has to be a balance of bringing in an outside view. When you have people that have been trained within a system, by the system, you are more likely to repeat the same patterns that have always existed. As Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant share, “Innovation has an inherent distaste for best practices because it is about new solutions, not copying existing solutions.”
By opening what you do to outsiders, what people within an organization know as “best practic,” often can show opportunities for growth in the way we do our work. This is often why so many leaders are afraid of this very thing. In that case, the ego of leadership seems to be more important than doing what is best for kids. If your practices are amazing, sharing them with other educators gives them the opportunity to help more kids. If practices are weak, it often brings in new ideas to help your kids. There is no loss in this situation for students, yet ego sometimes (often) gets in the way.
Opportunities like the “School Admin Virtual Mentor Program” which brings mentorship to current and future administrators, gives the much needed outsider view to what we do in our organization (for free). If we want thinking outside of the box, we have to look outside of it by tapping into what social media can deliver. We often bring out the innovators within our organization, while also bringing innovators into our work. To create innovative practice within schools, we must go past an inward-only focus.
Many great ideas are out there. We just need to find them, and more importantly, get people connected to them.
“We can think more creatively if we open our minds to the many connected environments that make creativity possible.” Stephen Johnson
These solutions may be fairly new to education, but other organizations have tapped into this opportunity. The entertainment industry, for example, which was staunchly against the notion of open and free sharing, sees the opportunity of tapping into passionate people to create something better.
Instead of paying a ton of money to one person to create a new theme for Hockey Night in Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corportation (CBC) decided they would “crowdsource” the opportunity, and give people that are passionate about music the ability to participate in creating something powerful. The focus is on creating the “best,” and with the myriad of options that this process (crowdsourcing) would create, you are more likely to find that.
Social media, and the open culture it has created, has made our culture and mindset “participatory.”
“One of the reasons social media has grown so fast is that it taps into what we, as human beings, naturally love and need and want to do—create, share, connect, relate.” Notter and Grant
If our culture is shifting to this, wouldn’t this become the expected norm that many new educators (and current students) would expect to live within our schools? While we live in a world where people are used to creating, sharing and connecting, schools can no longer ignore this cultural shift. They must embrace the idea that we are lucky to live in a time of such technological advance and openness that will make the opportunity to be innovative that much easier.