The Innovation Struggle

Innovation was the focus of the latest Educon 2.3 conference. Since I tend to look at everything through the lens of leadership, I was wondering where leadership and innovation overlap. One of the (what seemed to be) most re-tweeted tweets came from Bill Ferriter: “Note to principals: If you want me to innovate, you’ve got to create conditions that encourage me to experiment.”

My initial reaction was, “Well, it’s a two way street.” How many principals create the conditions for innovation but have a teaching staff who ignore or refuse to step up to the plate and do things differently. But I do understand his frustration from the teacher perspective. I’ve been in schools where the leadership all but crushed an innovative mindset – something we so desperately need in education. Those cultures are toxic to the innovative mind.

But what the tweet really got me thinking about was my own circumstances as a leader. I am part of the central leadership team in my school district. I take very seriously my role as an innovator and am always trying to think ahead to the next innovation. As my vision for education develops, I share my ideas for change and innovation with my colleagues – both administrative leaders and teacher leaders. Often they will run with ideas. One particular idea that comes to mind is our Digital Aces program – a learning opportunity for students in grades 3-12 to develop technology skills and share them with fellow students and teachers. (More on Digital Aces in a future post.) The library media teachers and instructional coaches have really embraced and owned this innovation to develop the capacity of our organization through engaging students.

What I have come to realize, though, is that I’m too often the one pushing the innovative thinking. I’m the one who is engaging others and asking them to become a part of implementing my ideas. I rarely get asked to become involved in supporting the innovative thinking of others. It seems like at this moment in time, its a one-way street. “Is it?” I keep asking myself.

In education, who should own the responsibility for innovating? Everyone or the few with some sort of title? How responsible is leadership for innovating and influencing others to participate in a culture of innovation? Maybe I’m not doing a good job of being open to the invitations of others or being involved in supporting their innovations. Maybe they do not think I can offer anything. What can I do differently to change our culture of innovation and destroy the perception that things are “top down”? These are some things I’m struggling with at the moment.

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