Our system and school leaders gathered last week to reflect on past achievements and to focus on the work ahead. Over the next two years our system’s strategic focus will be to ‘renew and adapt’. It is not about changing course or increasing the workload but reflecting on our practice; renewing our skills and passion; and adapting our pedagogies to improve the learning outcomes of each student.
Each year we select a professional learning text. This year’s was chosen because innovation requires teachers who are willing to continually renew and adapt their practice in ways that positively impact on students’ lives and learning. As Lyn Sharratt says this is the essence of educational innovation.
Lyn Sharatt and Gale Harild’s book Good to Great to Innovate builds on Jim Collins’ good to great analogy by illustrating that purposeful innovation is dependent on a solid foundation of literacy and numeracy. Schools must become good at the basics before they get great at innovation. As Andy Hargreaves writes in the book’s epilogue: “when the innovations we introduce involve children’s lives, they must be even more disciplined in their implementation.”
The “innovation” discussion is as relevant to schooling as it is to business. An article in the December issue of Harvard Business Review outlines the approach to innovation in business. The authors, Nathan Furr and Jeffrey H. Dyer state that the process of innovation requires “discipline, perseverance and dedicated, effective leadership.”
Furr and Dyer maintain go on:
Innovation is at heart a process of discovery, and so the role of the person leading it is to set other people down a path, not to short-circuit it by jumping to a conclusion at the start.
The process of innovation requires new mindsets in which we continually push boundaries and search for more meaningful and relevant ways of meeting the needs of today’s learners.
In both Good to Great to Innovate and the HBR article, the authors contend that innovation isn’t controlled by the leader. The role of a leader is to encourage these mindsets, to encourage risk taking, to ask questions and to ensure there is equitable access to resources and partnerships. The leader’s role is to advocate for ‘the new and different’, to listen and then test assumptions.
I think one of the biggest challenges we face is creating opportunities for innovation to grow. Companies like Google and Atlassian have succeeded at this because leaders and managers see their roles differently – as advocates and “bluyonderers”. It’s the shift from control to collaboration, from being risk-aversive to risk-taking.
There are pockets of innovation happening each day in schools and across systems but as I wrote in a recent blog post – how does it become the norm? One suggestion is giving large groups of people uninterrupted innovation time. Think of what happens in project based learning when students have time to sit with a problem, discuss, observe and experiment.
We need to start applying the same principles to teacher innovation. It’s about renewing and adapting.