Leading Innovation for Systemic Change


Last spring, I foundthis short videofrom Scott McLeod throughTwitter.

In the video@mcleodposits the next “big thing” in educational technology will be learner agency – a technology-rich landscape marked by a shift in learner autonomy and empowerment. As leaders, many of us are seeingpockets of this kind of learning in our institutions. But it’s just that – pockets; not systemic. I agree that the next “big thing” is learner agency,andI also believe the next “big thing” in educationalleadership will beto leadsystemic changeto support learner agency- beyond simply pockets of innovation. Pockets are a necessary start, but we can’t stop there. System-wide implementation is the end we should have in mind.

I find the ideas of learner autonomy and empowerment very exciting, I suppose because it is these elements that make learning so much fun for me and many others. If we are to lead a systemic transformation, where do we begin? Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to frame some answers to this questionin terms of three texts:

The Pocket PerspectivePure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Levelby Don Wettrick (@DonWettrick) – In his book@DonWettrickdescribes personal experiences developing an innovation course, essentially inquiry in a networked world. Wettrick proposes a basic blueprint for such a model:

  • Students research a personal topic of interest.
  • Students work individually or in small groups.
  • Students connect with at least one outside expert to develop their knowledge and understanding of the topic.
  • Students submit a project proposal including academic standards and timeline along with assessment.
  • Students reflect regularly and share progress and learning on a weekly basis usingsocial media, typically a blog.
  • Students present their project to key stakeholders, reflect on the learning process and negotiate a grade based on the process of implementingthe project plan.

This excellent book includes a variety of impressive examples from the classroom perspective – examples of what is occurring in a pocket of innovation.

The SystemPerspectiveCreating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schoolsby Ron Ritchhart (@RonRitchhart) –@RonRitchhartposits that while schools and classrooms that value thinking – cultures of thinking – are not the norm, there is a framework for transformation to, what I would suggest, is the kind of culture of thinking and innovation that Wettrick describes in his book. How do we get there and what is the framework? There are8 forces that create, sustain and enhance the learning culture:

  • Expectations – Recognizing how our beliefs shape our behavior
  • Language – Appreciating the subtle yet profound power
  • Time – Learning to be its master rather than its victim
  • Modeling – Seeing ourselves through out students’ eyes
  • Opportunities – Crafting the vehicles for learning
  • Routines – Supporting and scaffolding learning and thinking
  • Interactions – Forging relationships that empower learners
  • Environment – Using space to support learning and thinking

After readingPure Geniusand the many quality embedded examples, it is clear to see the learning culture reflecting the forces proposed by Ritchhart. If we want to move toward systemic change, building a culture of thinking and innovation, the 8 forces willplay a criticalrole and cannotbe overlooked.

The LeadershipPerspectiveCreativity, Incby Ed Catmull (@EdCatmull) – Catmull shares the story of Pixar as a creative and innovative organization from his perspective as leader. Few would argue that Pixar isn’t one of the most innovative and creative companies around, so it’s worth school leaders interested in innovationtaking pause to think about the leadership lessons embedded throughout the book. In the final chapter, Catmull summarizes many of his key points – 31 in all – for leading a culture of creativity and innovation. Here are just a few:

  • Always try to hire people who are smarter than you. Always take a chance on better, even if it seems like a potential threat.
  • If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.
  • It is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.

This is a mere sampling, but if you are serious about leadership and innovation,check out the full list.

These three texts, along with other resources on innovation in schools such asGeorge Couros’ blogandDon Wettrick’s blog, provide an abundance of ideas for leaders to thinkabout creating a culture of system-wide innovation – from the pocket, systemic and leadership perspectives.

Back to the question:If we are to lead a systemic transformation, where do we begin?I’m still working on developing an answer to this question, but here are four points I’d like to share for how leaders can begin to bring about a transformation to an innovative culture that reflects a shift in learner autonomy and empowerment.

  • Start with the end in mind.Arrive at consensus on what innovation is and looks like in your particular context. Discusswhyit’s important. How does innovation move us towardwhat we want to see in our classrooms?
  • Leaders model the way.Principals, district leaders and department leaders adopt innovative practices. We have started doing this with our leadership team through this year’s goal setting,using Couros’s 8 characteristics of the innovative leader.
  • Identify the pockets of innovation.Find the innovative teachers and provide support through professional development. We are doing this through ourInnovate Salisbury team. Learn more at TL2020.org.
  • Share the successes and failures.Keep an open mind through the venture. Not all the work will be a success; there will be failures. How do we gather formative and summative data along the wayto improve the implementation and move toward systemic change? How do we share successes and failures inside and outside the organization?

For us, these steps seem like the next logical pathin our transformation. We have made much progress in our teaching and learning initiative over the past 5 years. We have pockets of innovation and uses of technology that areconsidered transformative and innovative. It’s now time to move the organization even further, and the resources shared here have helped develop the beginnings of a plan to lead innovation for systemic change.

How do you lead innovation?

Connect with Randy onTwitterand on theTLTalkRadio podcast!

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