Guest post by Jamie Richardson
School leaders talk often about innovation in education, but as much as we want it, we have to admit it’s hard to get past talking about it and actually change. Change is scary and uncomfortable. Even with well thought out plans, the outcome is unknown and the stakes are high. A far greater risk, though, is maintaining the status quo. But I have seen the power of change at LaCreole Middle School. Our stellar staff faces their fears, takes risks, and embraces new ideas so that we all work toward a true common goal.
Create a foundation. In order for change to happen, you must have a purpose that is meaningful. Our foundation came from viewing the documentary “Most Likely to Succeed.” This film exposes the inadequacies of conventional education programs and highlights innovative, inspiring approaches. Staff discussions that followed revealed that we knew what we needed to do and, more important, wanted to do to become one of these schools. We talked about how our own fears of high-stakes testing and accountability kept us on a more traditional path. Identifying these goals and fears helped us gain a solid foundation to implement worthwhile change.
Build teacher ownership. The next step in our move from good to great was giving teachers ownership over their own growth as professionals. We realized that in order to move forward, each staff member had to take a different risk unique to that teacher’s content area and experience level. One of our teachers wanted to establish a makerspace, another wanted to create a new Business Through Design course, and a group of teachers wanted to work together to implement a collaborative fairy-tale project.
So how can school leaders support teachers to foster each person’s individual professional growth and create a collective mindset of innovation? To overcome this challenge, we developed a people-driven process model that utilizes our PLCs to foster teacher ownership and hold them accountable for their own professional growth. Shifting our PLC focus to meet the unique needs of our teachers has made a positive impact in creating a mindset of innovation.
Share your success. An ongoing communication plan can help promote a culture of innovation. Our social media presence has played a vital role in creating a positive image for our patrons as well as our own staff. Whether it is a PBL project, STEAM challenge, or physical activities, we write our own story. Social media has taken us from the “realm of mediocre” to a school that parents and the community often brag about and celebrate.
Stay patient. It takes time to establish a culture of innovation. Like students, staff members develop differently and it is important to keep their growth in perspective. Know your people in a way that allows you to understand their fears and insecurities. Be empathetic, yet keep enough pressure to create discomfort for positive growth. It is important to note that the progress your staff makes will not reveal itself immediately. It takes time and commitment to change a culture, so stay the course!
It is important as leaders to engage fully in the work of our schools and to know firsthand the challenges our teachers experience. Change is uncomfortable, and building a culture of innovation takes work. Modeling and learning through our own risk-taking helps create a culture where teachers take risks to innovate and create more meaningful learning opportunities for our students.
How can schools support teachers to take risks and create a culture of innovation?
Jamie Richardson is principal of LaCreole Middle School in Dallas, OR. He is a 2017 Digital Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @JamieR42.