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4 Questions to Lay the Foundation for a “Culture of Innovation”

In this month’s post revisit, I am revisiting a post I wrote in 2017 titled, 4 Questions to Lay the Foundation for a “Culture of Innovation.”

I enjoy going through these posts and “cleaning them up” by not only using Grammarly but by also asking, “Does what I say then make sense now?”  As I re-read this and cleaned it up, a lot of it needed to be clarified.  I knew what I meant, but I didn’t communicate my ideas in the original post. 

Why tell you this? Because one of the questions listed below is “What do we model?”  Right now, I am modeling that not only has my thinking grown, but I am specifically telling you where it has evolved.  It is easy to say, “we are continuously growing,” but I think this portfolio allows me to provide that evidence over time.  If you “say it,” can you “show it?”  One thing I have suggested to educators is that after a professional learning day, share with your students what you struggled with and what you are committed to learning moving forward. I think that creates not only some self-accountability, but it models what we are expecting from our students; a willingness to grow. 

Just some thoughts! I hope you enjoy today’s revisit post!

When I talk about “innovation in education,” creativity in schools, or meaningful use of technology, I always begin by saying that nothing I say matters if you do not build relationships in schools. There is no “culture of innovation” if there is no positive culture.

It is the foundation upon which we build things.

Yet many wonder why their teachers aren’t more “innovative” or “taking more risks” in their learning. The short answer; the culture does not support it. Sometimes it is because people are terrified of making mistakes in a culture they perceive is not open to it, and sometimes there is no “push.” Opposite ends of the spectrum, but both are issues.

To help build this culture, here are four questions for your consideration:

1. Are questions encouraged?

Too often, when things do not seem right in an organization, it is not heard through an abundance of noise but actually the absence of conversation.

Are people scared to challenge ideas in fear of retribution? Are people more likely to complain after a professional learning meeting than during one? 

In workshops, I often say that I am open to people disagreeing with me,  but during the session not at the end of day when I am gone. It is needed to be done in the room as it is a way for us to grow in pursuit of serving kids. It is crucial to make this explicit and repetitive.

Without the ability to freely question (respectfully), there is no growth individually or as an organization.

2. How do we ask questions?

This second question is connected to the first. Do we ask questions sometimes that are meant to be road-block statements? For example, we have all heard the question, “When am I going to have time for this?”  It is a valid question if it is one looking for a solution rather than being a block to moving forward.

Asking questions can often be disguised as a complaint and a result of moving forward. Think of some of the questions that you hear amongst staff. Are they specifically obstructionist in the way that they try to find problems more than solutions?

I have always said that in a world that continuously moves forward if we are standing still, we are falling behind. Asking questions to move forward is paramount to growth in the right direction.

3. What do we model?

Do you ask things of your teachers that you do not do? Do you even know what you are asking for?

I have watched schools go “1 to 1” while still inundating staff with handouts and giant post-it notes in staff meetings. If your students have access to a device, staff should have it as well. What does the time look like in staff meetings or professional learning time? Is it mirroring what you are looking for in classrooms?

Have you changed staff observations in any significant way that has more focus on the learner than the evaluator? Are you using portfolios for yourself or your staff while implementing them with students, or do you see them as a separate entity altogether?

The art of leadership needs to be just as innovative and creative as teaching and learning. If educators do not see it from their leaders, you ask them to implement it based on what they hear instead of what they experience. This line of thinking will not help things move forward.

4. Where is the line of accountability?

If you are the school principal, do you believe that teachers are accountable to you? Are you responsible to the superintendent? This line of thinking places the line of accountability directly upon one person instead of the organization.

WestJet, an airline company in Canada, has all its employees as shareholders. With this line of thinking, if you do your job poorly, the company loses, which means the value of your stocks goes down. The accountability is to everyone, not to only one.

In education, we need to understand accountability flows in different ways; up, down, and sideways. To our students, colleagues, community, and direct reports. If we hold each other accountable and not leave it to the responsibility of a sole person, the entire school will do better, quicker.

Some of the most backward school districts I have witnessed think they have it all going right, while some of the most forward-thinking and advanced school districts are never satisfied. One group believes they have arrived, while others think they will never get to where they need to go, but it is vital to move forward continuously.

Where are you in this spectrum? If you believe you are where you need to be, you may already fall behind.

Use these questions and revisit them often. If you want to become a “culture of innovation,” make sure the foundation is ready to support that growth.

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