In his most recent post “Want To Be Innovative?”, one of my #Eduheros and friends, Dr. Tony Sinanis, provides leaders with much-needed advice as to how they can bring about innovation in their schools. Imploring us to “keep it simple,” he suggests that we, first and foremost, focus on building relationships. As innovation only happens within cultures that encourage risk-taking and celebrate new learning that results from failure, he reminds us of the importance of trust when he writes:
“Relationships are the key to innovation because if educators are invested in the people within their school communities then they will always be looking for ways to get better and disrupt the norm to help create an innovative space for themselves, the students and their families.”
Sinanis also notes the importance of “solidifying the basics” and allowing these to be the foundation on and through which teachers and students can begin experimenting with tools like technology that help students share their learning in new and powerful ways. Finally, he asserts that innovation requires people to be informed, and to be informed requires individuals and organizations to focus on learning.
With Tony’s words “Innovation is a process about people and ideas, not things and devices,” fresh in my mind, I happened upon this article about entrepreneurship and bringing ideas to fruition written by Adam Molinsky where he cautions, “Without the capacity to execute an idea — to take an idea and turn it into a living, breathing, viable organization” – we are doomed to fail.
So, where does the ability to execute come from?
Sounding a lot like Simon Sink in his powerful Ted Talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Molinsky suggests that if we are to innovate, if we are to break out of our comfort zones, we must, “Embrace our purpose and mission, because that is going to give us the motivation and courage to actually take the necessary leap.” If I could contribute to Tony’s three things leaders should focus on, I would add that we need to intimately know and be able to communicate our “WHY” so we can inspire conviction in others!
To borrow words from Molinsky, who borrowed them from Maran Nelson for another great article, with regard to innovation, teachers need to know that what they are doing is good and that it must exist in the world of experiences we provide our students. To help foster this, we have carefully crafted our “Why” by first sharing this quote with our teachers:
To further emphasize our need “to do new and or better,” we have talked at length about how 21st Century Skills are “now” skills as the internet and near ubiquitous connectivity have allowed access to information to everyone. With that being the case, the words of Thomas Friedman truly resonate:
If we accept that it is not the knowledge itself, but how we share or what we create with the knowledge we have that sets us apart, the work of George Couros and his book/blog titled “The Innovators’ Mindset” becomes that much more important. As Tony shared, the mindset that Couros espouses is rooted in the belief that “Learning is about creation, not consumption. Knowledge is not something the learner absorbs but something a learner creates.” For us, this has been a powerful “call to arms” with regard to our students’ digital literacy and what we are doing with the technology we are so fortunate to have in our classrooms. Couros inspires us to reflect citing Dr. Mitch Resnick’s powerful question, “We wouldn’t consider someone literate if they could read but couldn’t write. Are we literate if we consume content online but don’t produce?”
Indeed, the world that our students are currently living in and the future they are going to inherit are exciting and very different from the world we grew up in. As educators, we must also understand – so are the students themselves. Couros is incredibly effective at explaining this. In his writing and presentations, he cites technology writer Nick Bilton and makes a very compelling argument when he quotes, “This generation thinks in pictures, words and still and moving images and is comfortable mixing them all in the same space.” For this reason, we must present students with opportunities to create in ways that align – for lack of a better term – with the way they are wired. In our school, Google Apps for Education, Padlet, Popplet, iMovie, Kidblog and Movenote have been used by teachers to tap into and merge these different pathways. Further, they have allowed students to share their learning with a much broader audience which has fostered greater motivation and attention to detail. The words of educator Rushton Hurley below capture this phenomenon beautifully!
In closing, the ideas above represent our “Why.” As we prepare to welcome back our teachers and students, we will follow all of Tony’s advice by committing to learning and continuing to develop relationships. As we do so, we will keep these ideas at the forefront of our thinking and intentionally work them into conversations with teachers, parents and students. As leaders, if we believe Sinek when he states, “People don’t buy what you do – they buy why you do it!” it is critical that we know and can communicate our “Why” so we can inspire conviction in those we are fortunate enough to serve. Without conviction, ideas will remain ideas and we will not be able to innovate at rate commensurate with the changes in the world around us.