In my last post, I tried to define the term “innovative leadership” and what it means. Here is what I came up with:
Innovative leadership is the ability to both think and influence others to create “new and better” ideas to move towards positive results.
One of the comments in the post from a good friend and inspiration, Bill Ferriter, really stuck with me:
One of the things that I think needs to be added to your list is some kind of statement that recognizes that creating new and better while trapped within traditional systems sometimes requires creating space or providing freedom/protection from the demands of the system — which aren’t always supportive of innovation.
Here’s an example: One of the best leaders that I ever worked for would explicitly tell us which district initiatives that we had to give our best efforts to and which we could gloss over and finish without real thought.
His goal was to create time for us to innovate. While he couldn’t give us permission to completely ignore district initiatives, he could help us figure out which were priorities and which were not.
So I guess that innovative leaders need to serve as filters for their teachers, helping to identify places where time and energy can be saved by focusing on the right things instead of everything.
Not sure how to word this, but innovation is often stifled simply because we are buried in work that other people want us to pull off.
There are two things that this comment made me think of.
First of all, although “innovation” is crucial to education, there is also the context of school that we work in. For example, although we talk about “innovation”, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t also focused on the “basics” of reading and writing; these are not only assumed but crucial. We need to push our thinking forward, but also understand the context in which we work. This is assumed in the work. This is the balance of “leadership and management”. We do not need people who are either “leaders” or “managers”; we need both. “Management” without “leadership” is uninspiring and focused on the maintaining the “status quo”. “Leadership” without “management” is where vision does not lead to action. I love this quote that may help clarify what I am thinking:
This leads me to the second idea. Since we work within certain constraints, I really believe in the idea of “innovating inside of the box”, which I discussed in “The Innovator’s Mindset“. How do we take our current realities (testing, budget constraints, physical space constraints, government initiatives that make no sense, and on and on and on) and still move forward?
Here is a great example of this that I read today from Chris Kennedy:
We have been offering academy programs for just over a decade. It started with hockey and soccer. For many years, students interested in a particular academy program would have to transfer to one of our high schools to participate. We have changed this over time.
About four years ago, we began to talk about the idea of “one district, three campuses”. This is based on the principle that students should be able to attend their local secondary school with their friends, but have access to programs for part of their schedule at another site. It has not been a simple move. There have been logistics to overcome – calendars had to be aligned so high schools all had the same professional development days. Timetables also had to be coordinated. In our case, we now have timetables at each of our high schools where the blocks in the morning rotate and the afternoon blocks are fixed. So students have the same last period class each day. This allows us to bring together students from multiple sites each day in the afternoon. (Emphasis mine)
Our school schedules are built so students can complete core areas in the morning, and if interested, pursue specialty programming in the afternoon.
This coming year we now have 10 different academy-style programs open to students from all schools. We continue to be strong with sports – offering academy programming in soccer, hockey, basketball, baseball, rugby, field hockey, and tennis. We have also now added mechatronics robotics and dance for next year. The majority of these programs occur in the afternoon, with some classes before school and on weekends. In addition to these programs we have several courses that are open to students from all schools – YELL (an entrepreneurship program that runs after school and partners students with business leaders in the community, FAST (First Aid Swim Training, where students earn credentialing towards becoming a lifeguard) and a District Honour Choir (that practices in the evening and performs locally and beyond). In Art West 45students can attend their own high school one day and every other day participate in a program that allows those passionate about arts to get extended time in this area. It is the same principle for ACE-IT Carpentry where students attend the program every other day working towards their Level 1 carpentry credential.
In all we are now at about 15 and growing in the number of options we have available that allow students to pursue their passions as part of their school program – coming together with students from across the district who share these interests.
There is wonderful value in students attending their local school but we also need to find creative ways for students to pursue their passions. Five years ago none of the programs existed that would allow students from a variety of schools to attend. Now they are part of our culture. A culture where talented teachers share their passions with students who are thirsty to pursue these areas.
What I love about what Chris has shared here is the ability to find a way in pursuit of “what is best for learners”. What is important to note about this (and I making an educated assumption here), is that this isn’t the first, nor will it be the last iteration of this idea. Far too often we have meetings in education that go round and round on ideas that never come to fruition, yet here there is action taken with an emphasis on creating better opportunities for students. There is no waiting for “perfect” because “perfect” is never going to arrive. I am sure the students in those schools appreciate these opportunities today, as opposed to hearing about them happening years after they left school. We are often too focused on what we can provide for our students in the future, that we forget about the kids we are serving right now and need these opportunities as well. I also believe that taking well thought out risks like this sends a clear message throughout the district; we can always innovate within the context of our realities.
Whether it is a large initiative like this, or innovating within the context of your classroom, or for even one student, it is apparent that our willingness to think different, leading to “new and better” opportunities for our students, is crucial. This is why this type of leadership needs to spread, as opposed to be reserved for a select few.