Reflecting on times where I have been involved in innovation, this quote rings true.
“The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper and reimagines the world.”
- Malcolm Gladwell
That clean sheet of paper has only the names of the people we love. And their problems become our problems. Which leads us to seek real solutions. Which takes us away from what we’ve always done and into a new place where every idea is welcome.
Just a few examples:
We were innovative because we had the common belief in all of our students and knew we needed to start with a “clean sheet” and be open to all possibilities.
But here is my hard truth. I'm innovative in ideas I believe in. As I'm reflecting, I know I have been guilty of shutting ideas down. As a dear friend told me, to be truly innovative, all ideas must be on the table, even the ones that are near and dear to our hearts.
We can all share examples where we were open to innovation and it made a lasting impact. Are we open to ideas from every source or do we limit our acceptance of innovation to certain people and specific topics? Are we vulnerable enough to share the ideas we've squashed?
Terresa Katt, principal at Forest Ridge, posed the question, "Is there a way to meet the needs of the dyslexia students so they don't need to miss out on an elective?" Me: "No. It won't work in our schedule."
I simply said "no”. I advocated for high school students to be taught at an elementary campus and still shot this idea down with a simple, "It won't work in our schedule". She stirred something in me. I started to wonder why we were so tied to a master schedule. I knew I needed to be better but wasn’t sure how to accomplish this. So, three years later, a team of innovative people created the schedule. Three years later, students can receive a necessary intervention and attend an elective. Innovation is a process that begins with a seed, often in the form of a question that shows up in an everyday conversation.
I am so thankful Terresa Katt, an innovative educator, posed that question and challenged my thinking.
When I first became a principal at Kemp Elementary, I wanted to invest my time creating a positive culture for our community. I soon got sucked into the standardized testing world. The focus became test scores and it worried me. I reached out to a former professor, Dr. Thomas Sergiovanni, and shared my concerns. He quickly responded, sending me articles and books that all stressed the importance of a strong culture in a school community. He reminded me of what was really important, moral leadership and leading from the heart, and it has left a lasting impact.
Fifteen or so years later as I now prepare to open a new school, I wish I could reach out to my friend and mentor once again. I know he would be excited about the endless possibilities and eager to challenge my thinking.
So, I have pulled those same articles out of the file and started reading them again.
In his article, “Perspectives on School Leadership: Taking Another Look” he poses this challenge:
“Could you stand up in front of your faculty and say ‘Well folks, one of the things I’m going to ask is that you don’t follow me’? I think it’s about the healthiest statement you can make, so I suggest you try it, if you really mean it. Of course you’ll need to put the next sentence in as well: ‘Don’t follow me, but instead meet your obligations to our shared sense of purpose and to your responsibilities.’”
And there it is. People don’t follow a leader. People follow a shared sense of purpose: core values, a moral imperative. That is what impacts a school culture.
Dr. Sergiovanni continued his proposition by challenging leaders to have posters all over the building to publicly share what we are about, what we truly believe. Posters that state: “Five promises we make to our students” “Five promises students make to us” “Five promises we make to each other” “Five examples of excellent student work”. And the list continues...
When our shared promises and commitments are displayed for everyone to see, we announce our values and purpose, and we are all held accountable to those commitments.
What will the posters look like at Pecan Trail? I don’t know, but I am excited to find out.