Chapter 4 – Seeding Innovation
A central message throughout Suzie Boss’ book, Bringing innovation to schools, is to encourage school leaders to figure out how to provide students with the training ground they need to build essential 21st century skills, practice problem solving, research, collaboration and other essential fluencies. Rather than wait for good ideas and innovations to happen, as if by magic, what can leaders do to “seed” innovation?:
- What policies and practices would multiply innovative efforts to happen at the grassroots level (i.e. within the school or, better, in the classroom)?
- What new innovations could blossom from these efforts?
- What if research and development into new innovations were cultivated from within the school house?
- How can we invite teachers and students to participate in this process?
- How can schools help sponsor innovative projects proposed by teachers and students through the allocation of seed money for the initiatives?
One recommendation is for school leaders to encourage action research throughout the school building, especially in the classroom. This research would help address the need to develop the “training ground” mentioned above. The key lies in appropriately framing the probing questions that will drive the action research agenda. For example, Boss suggests we can start by posing questions such as:
- How can we teach children to problem solve using principle of engineering?
- How can we leverage high-interest activities, such as gaming, to connect with students who are at risk of being disengaged from school?
- How can we use class sets of digital devices to expand learning opportunities for all students?
- How can we reimagine the school library as a media center and collaborative work space?
- How can we design school spaces and furnishings to foster student collaboration, research, and other activities necessary for project-based learning?
She reminds us that in order to promote ownership of any innovation agenda, teachers have to be involved in the process. They need to know that they are active participants, and valued for their effort, time and insight.
I appreciated the call to reimagine the role of school administrator as part of the innovation process:
If the teacher is the entrepreneur, then the school leaders should take the role of venture capitalist to provide support and resources. The teacher needs to do the homework, to be able to say why an idea is worth investing in. Then it is up to [the administrator] to find resources. – C. Ratliff, Albemarle County Public Schools
This is different from the administrator telling the teacher what to do, and then maybe offering some funds to help. It doesn’t negate the need for the administrator to review the proposal for measurability and impact to see if an idea will make a difference, just as a venture capitalist would review a proposal for consideration. It does, however, prioritize the teacher’s role and impact in the pro-innovation process. It sends a message that we want their ideas and want to see them succeed.
To seed (fund) such innovations, we should plan for:
- Support – Is there a plan to support the action research needed to foster innovation and improvement in classroom teaching?
- Allies – Who else can assist in the innovation process? Are there other people resources to draw upon? What about retired folk in your community? What skills can they share?
- Selection – Given limited resources, is the selection process for financial resources clear? Are the judging criteria shared in advance? Is the process streamlined and time efficient so that teachers can focus their efforts in the classroom rather than on the application process?
- Impact – How will impact be measured? Be sure to consider quantitative as well as qualitative measures of impact.
- Results – What process will be in place to ensure you learn from failures and from successes? How will good ideas be shared and replicated?
Boss includes the advice to start small and manage the risk. “Learning what not to do again is as important as taking good ideas to scale.”
Clearly, if school leaders want to, they can challenge the comfort level of their teaching colleagues in order to transform a school culture to one of innovation as part of learning.
Source: Boss, S. (2012) Bringing innovation to schools: Empowering students to thrive in a changing world. Solution Tree.