7 Ways to Cultivate Innovation in Schools

Last Wednesday I took part in a panel discussion called Empowering Educational Leadership to Innovate, one of a series of webcasts put on by Cisco’s GETideas, a global online community for educational leadership (watch the webcast here) I was glad to see us move quickly off any talk of technology which too often dominates discussions of innovation; we seemed to recognize that technology is catalytic but not central to innovation. What came out of our chat was a list of seven qualities that mark a culture of innovation. Great school leaders will cultivate these:

  • Trust – We thought it fair to say schools generally run with a top-down control/dependency management model. They need to shift to a trust/capacity model. The pace and pressure of change is now too great to be centrally managed. A high degree of faculty autonomy and capacity means more power in the system overall.
  • Transparency – Transparency yields accountability and accountability creates trust. This applies to all stakeholders–students, families, faculty and administration. Opaque systems, characterized by elaborate (read costly in administrative time and money) policies and controls working in place of trust, are stiff.
  • Time for Collaboration – This is where faculty and administration develop capacity for themselves as individuals and collectively as a school. This needs to be a significant amount of time–a few hours a week at least.
  • A User-Driven Experience – In some sense we’ve treated students as the objects of teaching: We say “We teach students,” for example, and that leads to a passive engagement from students. And we’ve asked students (and teachers) to adapt to a set of entirely artificial constraints–the school calendar and bell schedule, for example. Innovative schools will flip that around and adapt themselves to their users needs. The consumer-driven BYOD movement is just the beginning of this change.
  • Maker Culture – “Our whole theory of education,” Henry Miller famously lamented, “is based on the absurd notion that we must learn to swim on land before tackling the water.” Innovative schools will embrace the Maker movement, explicitly or implicitly, which taps our human need to make and do meaningful work.
  • Hyperlocal Decision-making – One size does not fit all in education and what works in one school may not work in another. There is a huge difference between an inner city public school on a lunch program and an Ivy League prep school. There is good research showing the best schools are the ones most responsive to their immediate communities, not to some central authority.
  • Optimism – Change is messy and unsettling. A sense of adventure and an assurance that all will be well makes all the above doable.

Leave a Reply