What I learned about innovation at Edcamp Hershey – #sweetpd

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 7.05.54 PMA few weeks ago I shared some thoughts on innovation in a post titled Curious about innovation in K12. Attending Edcamp Hershey today, my colleagues and I took advantage of the opportunity to engage in a conversation with educators about this topic by offering a session, How do we lead innovation? — supporting curriculum, instruction and assessment. Thanks to my leadership colleagues Ross Cooper (@rosscoops31), Ken Parliman (@kenparliman) and Rob Sawicki (@sms8thgradess) for sharing in the conversation as well.

The session went well and I was particularly pleased with the way we structured it. We started with a modification of the Question Formulation Technique (QFT), asking the participants to brainstorm questions around the topic of innovation. After generating as many questions as possible in the allotted time, we asked them to add the 3 most important questions to the session document. Be sure to click through to see what we came up with. The questions then provided the fuel for an extended conversation that lasted around 40 minutes.

Reflecting on the hour, here are my three takeaways and a question:

  • Innovation is context dependent. What is innovative in one classroom or school may not necessarily be innovative in another context, for example, an online learning environment. This can also make it challenging to define innovation and messy to implement it.
  • Engage students in conversations. This was also a theme from the last Edcamp I attended. It’s easy to forget about the students, but as we move forward, more clearly defining innovative practices for our leaders, students and teachers, we cannot forget this voice.
  • Innovation must be grounded in a WHY. Innovation for innovations sake is not OK. How is the work tied to what students should know and be able to do? If the innovation is not, then it’s probably not worth doing or needs to be modified so it can be mapped to standards.
  • Where are the leaders? Yes…anyone can be a leader, and clearly the participants are teacher-leaders in their school contexts. I mean the school leaders. If we are ever to achieve change that is system-wide we need to have school leaders understanding the value of having these conversations and following them up with action plans. Engaging the leaders (and parents and students) is the only way we will move beyond pockets of innovative teachers. I am grateful we have leaders on the team willing to engage in this important conversation.

Be sure to check out the document for more questions as well as resources shared by several of the participants.

Are you engaging stakeholders in the important conversation about innovation? Why is this important?



Work of significance – What’s your superpower?

superpowersEarlier this summer, I crafted a post titled What’s your leadership focus?  In the post, I challenged us as leaders to not be driven solely by the urgent and the important, but to make room for the significant – work that will have a long-lasting impact, beyond that which is just urgent or important.

This past week, I sat down with two of my colleagues (@lfuinihetten and @rosscoops31) to do some significant work – identify our primary and secondary superpowers – those aspects of leadership we do best and consequently bring to the team. The activity was significant from my perspective because it allowed me to (1) develop a theory about the complementary relationship between the superpowers of Lynn and me; and (2) better understand what Ross will bring to our smaller and larger team. Having this new-found knowledge will help me understand what each needs as a leader and how I can best support their work. I now have a better understanding of the strengths from which they lead.

First the process. You may be wondering where this idea of “superpowers” is coming from. It might conjure up images of cartoons, but it is based on a process (and a set of cards called “What’s your superpower?”) developed by @SYPartners. After following the process outlined in each deck of cards, individuals ends up with a primary superpower and a secondary superpower. (We set up our process to identify two secondary superpowers instead of just one.)

After we identified our individual superpowers we had a very engaging conversation. Here is what I learned:

  • The most effective collaborations are driven by complementary superpowers. My primary superpower is Vision followed by my two secondary superpowers, Provocation and Problem Solving. This makes sense. I like to imagine and create the future, defining the end-in-mind and working with others to create a path (basically a series of problems that need solving) to realizing that future. Along the way, I like to provoke thought (good and bad) with different and unusual ideas. Lynn arrived at Systems Thinking as her primary superpower and Empathy and Problem Solving as secondary superpowers. Through the conversation, I came to wonder if our highly effective relationship is due to our complementary superpowers. Her Systems Thinking and Empathy balance my Vision and Provocation. The glue that holds these complementary strengths together is our one similarity – Problem Solving – to create a synergy that allows us to get done just about anything.
  • Work that may seem insignificant will pay off in the future. Some leaders might look down on something like the superpower activity. It’s just a “game” that detracts from the “real urgent and important work.” But getting to know people and build relationships is one of the most significant things a leaders can do. Even if you’ve been working with the same people for years, there are still things you may not know about them. What’s really behind their individual successes? What superpowers do they have that you can leverage and learn from? If you’ve got new people on your team, something like the superpower activity provides time to get to know everyone, discover what makes them tick and how you can best support their work into the future. Ross brings Creative Thinking to the mix and also shares two superpowers in common with Lynn and me – Systems Thinking and Provocation. Learning more about these two leaders was time well spent!

Our full compliment of leaders throughout the district has changed over the past 6 months. Of 11 administrators on the instructional team, we have 6 in new roles, 3 new faces to the district. I am curious to learn the superpowers of all the leaders on our team and how they complement and augment those of Lynn, Ross and me. I believe the outcome will show that we have a team with a diverse set of primary and secondary superpowers, ready to tackle any challenge!

What are your superpowers and how do they complement and augment those of other leaders on your team? What work of significance will you do to build relationships on your leadership team?


Are we developing leaders for the 21st century?

leadershipQsDo we have an educational leadership crisis? Are we developing educational leaders – in our schools and in our universities – for a world that was? Or for a world that is to be? In her TED talk, Roselinde Torres shares her research around the questions – What makes a great leader in the 21st century? What are successful leaders doing? She discovered that 21st century leadership is defined by 3 questions (here focus was on leadership in general, not necessarily educational leadership):

  • Where are you looking to anticipate change? Great leaders see around corners. They anticipate change. They shape the future by connecting with people and experiences that help reveal the organization’s gaps and develop plans for action.
  • What is the diversity measure of your network? Great leaders move beyond their comfort zone and develop the  capacity to build relationships with people who are very different – politically, culturally, biologically, physically, socio-economically? Great leaders understand that having a diverse network is a source of solutions and pattern identification.
  • Are you courageous enough to abandon the past? Great leaders dare to be different. They take risks, and they have the emotional stamina to withstand being told their ideas are naive, reckless and even stupid.

If answering these three questions sheds light on the effectiveness of leadership in the 21st century, how are we doing in the field of educational leadership? How are educational leaders anticipating change? Or are we waiting for it to be sent to us from Harrisburg or Washington? How are we connecting and what are we learning from those connections? How is our diverse network helping us to anticipate change in the field of education? Are we prepared to abandon the past as many nodes in our diverse networks paint a radically different picture for the future of K12 education? Are our schools and universities developing school leaders for the 21st century?

Growing Success to Positively Impact Culture

The Iceberg Illusion

Via @sylviaduckworth http://bit.ly/1HHiad9

Who doesn’t love Sylvia Duckworth‘s sketchnotes (check them all out on Fickr)? Her latest is The Iceberg Illusion, with “success” being the iceberg. While our stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, community and fellow administrators) may be able to identify “success,” they don’t necessarily understand all the factors “behind the scenes” — dedication, hard work and good habits; disappointment, sacrifice, failure and persistence.

Seeing Sylvia’s sketchnote prompted me to think about success from a leadership perspective and how we grow it in ourselves and in our organization to positively impact culture. This is especially relevant as we here in PA use the Framework for Leadership to evaluate school leadership. One of the components in the framework happens to be,“celebrating accomplishments and using failures to positively impact culture.”  Here are three steps you can follow as a leader to meet this component:

  1. Be self-aware. As a leader start with yourself. What do you define as your professional (or personal) successes? Practice reflecting on the “unseen” factors – dedication, hard work, good habits, disappointment, sacrifice, persistence and failure. Write about these in a journal or blog about it, if appropriate. Make self-reflection a habit of mind, one that you become so comfortable with that you can effectively move to step 2…
  2. Understand the “unseen” in the successes of individuals in your organization. This is done through conversations. Having become self-aware following the process of identifying and reflecting on success, find the individual successes in your school and strike up a conversation with those responsible for doing good things for learners. This is an opportunity to practice providing effective feedback, communicating appreciation and modeling inquiry, uncovering those “unseen” factors. Find opportunities to share what you learn through whatever means you currently use, including social media. You might also want to find avenues for sharing that model the process for students. Doing so could be a teachable moment – an opportunity for students to learn the value of the “unseen” factors of success first hand.
  3. Understand the “unseen” in your successes as an organization. Having started with yourself and moved to individuals in your organization, gather several minds together and collaboratively understand the successes of your organization where the success is distributed among many stakeholders, including students. Maybe this is a building or student leadership team doing innovative work – redesigning learning spaces, re-imaginng professional development or redesigning curriculum. As with #2, find opportunities to share the learning through various means, including social media. Use your successes and the “unseen” work as a beacon for those of us outside your organization doing similar work and as an opportunity to tell your own story.

In what ways do you use individual and organizational success to positively grow culture?

Curious about innovation in K12

innovation2For a few weeks, much of my curiosity has centered on this idea of innovation (whatever that is!) in schools and the leadership required to bring it about. An earlier post, Leading Innovation for Systemic Change, represents the early stages of my curiosity. Over the past few days I’ve generated some inquiry questions on innovation in K12. Here are the questions I plan to explore as I think about how to transfer what I learn to my practice. Questions:

  • What is innovation? How is it defined? Is there a common understanding or do multiple definitions/interpretations exist?
  • Why innovation? Why is this a shift we should care about as educational leaders?
  • What does it look like in schools?
  • What are we already doing that’s innovative?
  • How can we lead for innovation? What conditions are necessary to support innovation from teachers and leaders?
  • What kinds of learning environments and instructional practices best support innovation in learners?
  • What can parents do to support the development of innovation skills outside of school?
  • Does a person need any particular skills to innovate? If so, can they be learned?
  • If I wanted to connect with the main thought leaders in K12 innovation, who would they be? What other resources, including books, blogs and minds, would I want to access?



Have suggestions for additional inquiry questions, books or bloggers to add to the list? Add them in the comments or visit this Google Doc. Thanks for your help!