Education, Leadership, Teaching, Technology

Can Innovation Happen Without Shared Conviction?

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!

The Importance of Conviction and Innovation

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:

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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!

Share with the world...

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.







Education, Growth Mindset, Leadership, Teachers

What All Teachers Need to Hear

In light of Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address, an awesome post by Tony Sinanis and Lisa Meade, and the reading of an amazing article from The American Scholar titled School Reform Fails the Test by Mike Rose (MUST READ), I felt compelled to post a letter that the six principals in my district shared with our amazing teachers. Following a meeting we had with the members of our Board of Education, we reflected on the work being done in classrooms across the district and how our teachers continue to raise bar for themselves and the students. The letter reads:

January 14, 2015

To the members of our awesome staffs,

Unfortunately, there are no Golden Globes for teachers.

There are no red carpets. No paparazzi. No star-studded events, no tuxes or gowns, no trophies and perhaps saddest of all, no after parties.

There should be.

If there were, and writers needed material to help them craft speeches to honor you and the work that you have done thus far during this school year, they need look no further than last night’s meetings that central administration, the principals, and the directors had with the Board of Education. In our conversations, each of the #words discussed at September’s Superintendent’s Conference Day came to light. The #RISKS you have taken with new instructional practices, the #EXPECTATIONS you have set for yourselves and your students, and the ways that you have worked to #ENGAGE AND #EMPOWER every child would be things cited in opening paragraphs. Your continued willingness to #REFLECT on each of your lessons and the evolving needs of your students would be celebrated, as would the way you have been collaborating with one another in your PLCs and other venues. Prior to inviting you to the stage, the presenters would pose the question, “Are you the teacher you would want your child to have?” It would be answered with an overwhelming, “Yes.”

When considering what you might say after hearing these accolades and accepting your awards, we could not help but think of Kevin Spacey’s words when he won for best actor in a television series. He shared a conversation he had with Stanley Kramer where he told the ailing director what he thought about his work. He said, “The films you’ve made, the subjects you’ve tackled, the performances you’ve gotten out of some of the greatest actors that have walked the earth, the Oscars you’ve won – your films will stand the test of time and will influence film makers for all time.” To Spacey’s surprise, as he stood up to leave, Kramer grabbed his hand and said, “Thank you so much. That means so much to me. I just wish my films could have been better.” It was in that spirit that Spacey accepted his award saying, “I just want it to be better. I just want to be better… but this is very encouraging. Thank you so much.”

On behalf of all of us, we are very fortunate to be surrounded by colleagues who work so hard and strive continuously to “be better.” Please know that your hard work, your dedication to our students and the manner in which you model the Growth Mindset in the way you approach your craft were shared with members of the Board of Education. Thank you for all that you have done and what you will continue to do for our students.

With respect and admiration,

Glen, Luis, Joe, Trish, Michael and Patrick

As school leaders, when we think about our teachers, we must keep Mike Rose’s words in the forefront of our minds. He writes,

Teachers live in a bipolar world, praised as central to students’ achievement and yet routinely condemned as the cause of low performance.


With our words…

And our actions…

We need to change that.