Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The 9 Innovation Killers in Your School



We are trying to develop a culture of innovation in our school. Here's why I think that's so important. In the past, we would always try to get better at areas we felt needed to improve. We would implement this strategy or that strategy in the hopes that it would result in a better learning experience for students. Most of the ideas were not "home grown." They were handed down from the state department or driven by standardized testing. Teachers, at times, didn't feel all that invested and sometimes even felt the programs were being pushed upon them. Instead of nurturing an innovation culture, we had an implementation culture—implementing someone else's ideas.

In an innovation culture, teachers are empowered to develop ideas that will create better learning opportunities for students. They are free to try new things, to make mistakes, to take risks, and to think out of the box. Since the ideas are developed by teachers in the classroom, they are invested in the process, and they understand the unique opportunities and challenges of their students and their content. They don't have to ask permission to do what they believe is best for students. In fact, they are encouraged to look at school and learning with new eyes. So much of what we do is based on tradition and habit, even though it might not work best for students or learning.

Schools have been trying to get better at mostly the same old stuff for 50+ years. Maybe it's time to try some new stuff. Instead of trying to repair the old things, I would suggest we consider building something new. It's important to recognize that innovation is not just thinking of new ideas. It is about trying them out in a reflective way. It's thinking of ideas and carrying them out.

As we have pursued a change culture in our school, we've thought about ways we can increase innovative thinking. But it's also important to think about the things that keep us from innovating. Here are nine things that absolutely kill innovative thinking. 

1. "Prove it."

More precisely, prove it with data. Schools are under intense pressure to prove results with data. But some promising innovations might not deliver results right away. The initial success does not always indicate what the long-term success might be. And moreover, some of the measures that schools are using may not be the best indicators of success in the first place. If we are relying exclusively on test scores to show success, are we really measuring the right thing?

Instead of being data-driven, we should be student-driven, and learning-driven. Look at a wide variety of indicators of success. When an idea isn't successful right away, don't feel that you must abandon it. If you feel it has the potential to make a positive impact, stick with it.

When an idea really takes off, we don't need to prove it. I've seen things that are so wildly successful, that no one would question that it was incredibly beneficial for students. If our ideas are big enough, we will know if they are successful or not. 

2. "We've never done it that way."

It's so easy to get stuck in our patterns of thinking. Often we do the things that are familiar without another thought as to how effective they might be or if there might be a better way. It's been said this is the most dangerous phrase in the language. That may be a slight exaggeration, but undoubtedly it is an innovation killer.

Instead of clinging to the way it's always been, we should always question, "Why have we done it this way for so long?" Is this really what's best, especially given how quickly the world is changing around us? If schools aren't changing to meet the challenges of today and even tomorrow, what will that mean for our students?

Without a doubt, I think we are struggling to keep up with the changes in our world. The question is how far behind are we going to be before we make some bigger shifts in how we do business.

3. "We can't afford it."

There are many innovative ideas that don't cost a thing. They just require a shift in thinking and courage to do things in a different way. I think too many schools think they can't be innovative because of limited resources. But sometimes innovation does need budgetary support. While there are only so many dollars available for a school to spend, how funds are allocated is to some extent a choice. Instead of thinking "we can't afford it," maybe schools should consider "how can we find a way to afford it?" Ultimately, we shouldn't allow the budget to kill innovation. Let's think of possibilities to support innovation with our budgets.

4. "Our scores are great!"

Great standardized test scores can be an innovation killer. Why? Because teachers feel the pressure to keep the scores high and trying something new might result in lower scores. In many schools, a drop in scores would be considered complete failure. When the scores are high, we are tempted to pat ourselves on the back and feel that we are doing exactly what we should be doing. But is our goal to develop students who are great test takers? Or, are we trying to help students be adaptable learners and creative problem solvers? Some of the most important skills students need to be life-ready aren't reflected in a standardized, content-driven test. 

5. "Our scores are terrible!"

Low standardized test scores can also be an innovation killer. Schools with low scores usually feel tremendous pressure to raise scores. Unfortunately, this often means a focus on remediation, with an increase in prescribed lessons, test-prep, and drill-and-practice. These methods may result in higher scores, but they can hardly be considered authentic or innovative. Moreover, these narrow-minded methods don't prepare students to be adaptable or lifelong learners. It's extremely difficult to think big and be bold when the focus is on fixing low test scores.

6. "That's not how I do it."

As George Couros has been quoted, "Isolation is the enemy of innovation." Teachers who want to do it their way, without considering other possibilities, are detrimental to an innovative culture. This type of thinking resists collaboration and sharing work. Instead of looking for ways to work together, this attitude builds walls to protect my turf. 

7. How would we ever do that?"

One of the quickest ways to kill a creative brainstorming session is to start trying to figure out "how" the idea would work. Many great ideas were shot down because they didn't seem possible at first. Until later, someone had the courage to give it a shot, to think in a different way, and then it became successful. Instead of focusing on "how" right from the start, think about "why" the idea might be important. Then, if the idea is important enough, you can figure out the "how" later. When something is important enough, you find a way to make it happen.

8. "We only use research-based practices."

We can learn much from education research. But to think that we are only going to adopt ideas that have been proven successful in the research literature seems very limiting to me. If we only do the things that have been proven to work, what is the opportunity cost? Are there ideas that might be incredibly beneficial in our school that aren't established in research? Most schools that focus exclusively on research-based practices are the ones that are trying to grow and get better at the same old stuff. They are not the ones trying to transform education so that schools are fundamentally different in ways that benefit today's students. Research-based practices is a focus on the past. Forward-thinking practices are ones that look to prepare students for a future that will require different skills than ever before.

9. "Just one more thing."

When educators have too many things on their plate, it becomes difficult to be innovative. There's not enough margin in our time to think, dream, create, and experiment. This results in any new idea feeling like it's just one more thing. And that is an innovation killer. Schools need to carve out time for teachers to collaborate, think, and develop ideas. I think it's great for teachers to have their own Genius Hour, a time to work on projects they are passionate about. It's one more way to encourage an innovation culture in your school.

Question: What are some other innovation killers? How can we overcome these challenges to create schools of the future? I want to hear from you. Respond by leaving a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

Monday, May 23, 2016

5 Life-Changing Lessons from Being Stuck on an Elevator...in New York City...on Senior Trip

Elevator selfie while waiting for rescue!


Sunday we held our Commencement ceremony for 205 Bolivar Liberator graduates. It was a great day, and I'm so thankful for all the teamwork that makes an event like this a success. I am truly surrounded by rock stars!

It was an extra special graduation day for me. My son Cooper received his diploma. I had the great honor of presenting it to him. He plans to attend Southwest Baptist University next year to study computer science. I'm a proud dad!

You might notice in the picture I am wearing an abundance of beads and Hawaiian leis. The graduating class usually gets me a little gift that each person hands me as they make their way to receive the diploma. This year I was all decked out.

During this year's Senior Trip to NYC and Washington, DC, there was some unexpected excitement. A group of us were stuck in an elevator for 45 minutes. It was the inspiration for my message to this year's class:

It’s customary for graduation speakers to bestow some parting wisdom on the graduating class. I would like to do that today so I created a short list: 5 Life-Changing Lessons from Being Stuck on an Elevator...in New York City...on Senior Trip.

1. Keep Good Company

Surround yourself with people who lift you up and inspire you. You don’t want to be stuck on a hot, crowded elevator with negative people. You want people who believe rescue is possible and who can smile and face adversity with a good attitude, people who suggest things like ordering out a pizza or taking a selfie.

2. Be Problem Solvers

Work the problem. You start pushing various buttons on the panel, you bang on the door, you use the intercom to call for help. 

"We’re stuck in the elevator?" 

"Okay, we can help."

"How many are in there?" 

"14" 

"Seriously, how many?"

Sheepishly, "Really, there's 14 people in here." 

But you don’t give up. You collaborate with your team to suggest ideas, “Maybe we could crawl out the ceiling, like in Die Hard?” 

For the record, I vetoed that idea. Or if you can’t solve the problem, you bring along expert help, like the New York City Fire Department.

3. Be Careful of Shortcuts

When you’re on the tenth floor and you’re tired and hungry you might be tempted to try to squeeze into a crowded, creaky elevator. But sometimes the easy way is not the best way. Give that extra effort. Take the stairs. Show a little more patience. Wait for the next elevator. When 12 high school students tell you there’s plenty of room, don’t listen!!!

4. Have Courage

Don’t let fear take over. Your mind starts racing, “What if no one hears our call for help? What if the cable breaks? What if we suffocate? What if we miss dinner? What if I need to go to the bathroom?” 

I was recently reading that Jesus’s most repeated command was to not be afraid. It’s mentioned over and over in the New Testament. There is a way to live a life of hope and faith where fear is not in control.

5. Make Plans but Be Willing to Adjust 

We like to try to plan life and have it work out just the way we want. We want things to go as expected. But then you get stuck in an elevator. That can be scary. But you have to adjust and keep believing in your dreams. Many of you have big plans for after high school. Some of you aren’t sure what you want yet. 

But I hope as a result of your time at BHS, you know yourself a little better, you’re a better problem-solver, and you can adapt to the challenges life throws at you. You may get stuck in an elevator now and then, but you can handle just about anything because you won’t give up.

And one bonus piece of advice - very important - use a high quality deodorant. If you’re ever stuck in an elevator, everyone will thank you.

Good luck and blessings to the Class of 2016!!! #ProudPrincipal

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

If We Fail to Adapt, Our Students Lose



I've been reading The Passage of Power: the Years of Lyndon B Johnson by Robert A. Caro. It's the fourth book in a series of autobiographies by Caro tracing the life and political career of LBJ. It's a fascinating read, named one of the 10 best books of 2012 by the New York Times.

In the 1960 Democratic Primary Elections, John F Kennedy utilized television to his incredible advantage. Johnson was hesitant to enter the race, even though he badly wanted the nomination, largely because he feared the possibility of defeat. He wanted it almost too badly, and would not publicly announce as a candidate. His fear of losing and fear of being humiliated in defeat paralyzed him until at the last moment, he declared. But it was too late.

While Johnson had been reluctant to take a risk, Kennedy was developing a highly effective campaign machine. He traveled the nation building support, but even more importantly, he leveraged the power of television to his great advantage. Every chance he got, he was in front of the American public, in their living rooms, connecting with them through their television sets.

Johnson thought television was a waste of time. He thought Kennedy was too flashy and that he lacked substance. Johnson was proud of his accomplishments as leader in the Senate. He blasted Kennedy for his weak record as a senator, noting that JFK had accomplished very little as a lawmaker. Kennedy rarely even showed up for work. He was too busy running a campaign for President. 

Regardless of his Senate record, JFK won the nomination. In a strange twist, he invited LBJ onto his ticket as his vice president. Begrudgingly, Johnson accepted the offer to be Kennedy's running mate. Kennedy went on to win the election in 1960, beating Republican Richard Nixon.

In the same way Johnson failed to recognize the power of television, too many educators today are not adapting to the digital transformation of the modern age, a revolution even more powerful than television. They are struggling to adapt to these new literacies. They think of social media and other digital tools as optional at best, and at worst they completely reject that these tools have any merit for learners.

Some pay lip service to the idea that technology is important, but they do very little to model the use of digital tools, in their own lives or in their classrooms. They rarely use technology for learning, and when they do it is such a special event that it is more of a gimmick than a way of doing business. They cling to their content as if it must be the most important thing for their students to know, without ever questioning how irrelevant it might be for some.

Do reading, writing, and math skills still matter? Absolutely. Every person should have skills in these traditional literacies, but we can't stop there. Those skills are just the beginning. Students need to also know how to apply these basic skills in ways that generate value in today's world. They need to practice these skills in modern applications. Learning digital literacies is not about learning gadgets or gimmicks. It's about learning how to collaborate, communicate, create, and think in a connected, information-rich world.

So instead of writing that research paper, ask students to create blogs. Incorporate social media into studies of literature and history. Reach out to experts in various fields to demonstrate the power of connections. Examine how modern films, music, and art impact the world of science and social science. Develop a classroom culture that goes beyond memorizing and testing. We need students to develop the skills of makers, designers, and innovators.

If we are slow to respond to how our world is changing, we are doing our students a disservice. We can't afford to make our own comfort and preferences the priority, now when seismic shifts are happening all around us that demand we change. If we want our students to win at life in a digital world, we have to act as if it's that important. Our students are counting on us. We have to lead.

If educators fail to adapt to the rapidly changing world, our students will suffer. Someone else will get the job. Someone else will solve the problem. Or even worse, the problem won't get solved. We will limit the possibilities of our most important resource, our children. simply because we didn't take a risk, try something new, or continue to be a learner. Like LBJ, if we are slow to adapt, it will result in failure. We all stand to lose.

Question: How are you adapting as an educator and as a learner? What have you done to step out of your comfort zone? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

7 Strategies to Think Like An Innovator



Like many educators, I'm excited about the discussion of innovation in schools. It's great to think about how education is changing to meet the needs of today's learners. I am convinced that we can solve any problem that comes our way if we are committed to better thinking. Innovation starts with understanding a current reality, and then developing and implementing ideas that have the potential to create positive change. 

Here are 7 strategies educators can use to think like an innovator.

1. Practice Creative Thinking

Creative thinking is closely tied to innovation. When I think of invention or innovation, I think of creativity. Some seem to think creativity is an elusive, inborn trait. They throw up their hands, "Well I'm just not very creative." But I believe creativity is really more about being willing to take a risk, to try something new, to make mistakes, and to try again. Thomas Edison is perhaps the greatest inventor in history, holding 1,093 patents. His inventions changed the world. But Edison recognized that his ability to create was a result of his perseverance. He just never gave up on ideas. He would come at it another way until he found something that worked.

Image Retrieved: http://thinkjarcollective.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/edison-on-failure.jpg


2. Embrace Reflective Thinking

Reflective thinking is so important to learning and growing. Through careful observation you can better understand the current reality and build on it through reflection. Reflection is revisiting the past to gain clarity and understanding. Innovation is not just following the latest fads in education. It is considering the current way, how it might improve, and reflecting on how new ideas might benefit your school. You can gain perspective and learn from the mistakes of the past by reflecting.

Image Retrieved: http://www.azquotes.com/picture-quotes/quote-we-do-not-learn-from-experience-we-learn-from-reflecting-on-experience-john-dewey-49-76-08.jpg


3. Develop Strategic Thinking

Innovation may seem lofty and idealistic but it still involves strategy and planning. Strategy helps to give you direction for today and for the future. It helps you think about where you're headed, what you will need to get there, and how long it will take. Innovation without strategic thinking won't go anywhere. You might have innovative ideas, but you will need planning and action to move them forward. As Henry Ford said, "Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into smaller parts."

4. Engage in Collaborative Thinking

If you want to develop the best ideas, you should test your thoughts with the best thinkers you know. Isolation rarely results in better ideas. Most often, a good idea becomes a great one when you receive feedback from others, even from those who may have completely different thoughts from your own. A high-performing, collaborative team can achieve compounding results from testing ideas and building on one another's collective genius. Collaboration can be a powerful accelerator of innovation.


Image Retrieved: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/fa/aa/c4/faaac4599981da5f8d0cd1a58661146b.jpg

5. Activate Big Picture Thinking

Big picture thinking has no limitations. All of the assumptions about the problem are set aside. Big picture thinking is daring to dream. It's getting cozy with ambiguity. It often involves thinking about ideas that might seem unrelated and applying what is known to new contexts. For instance, in a previous post, I considered the question, What if schools were more like Google and Starbucks? In a sense, I was thinking big, beyond the normal ways we think about education. Is it possible to apply some of the principles of today's leading companies to our work in schools? Big picture thinking goes far beyond what is commonplace.


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6. Believe in Possibility Thinking

Possibility thinkers believe that even the most difficult problems can be solved. The focus is not on why something can't be done; instead, possibility thinking asks why not? One of surest ways to stifle a great idea is to start thinking too quickly about how it can be done. We should start with why it should be done, and then enlist possibility thinkers to figure out how to make it happen. 

A great example of possibility thinking was conveyed in the recent movie The Martian. Matt Damon plays an astronaut mistakenly presumed dead and left behind on Mars. Survival on Mars is not an easy thing and chances of rescue are slim. It will be four years before the next mission arrives. Damon's character does not give up however. He begins to look for possibilities to gain hope for survival. He says you have to solve one problem, and then the next problem, and then the next. And "if you solve enough problems, you get to go home." Ultimately, possibility thinking on his part, and on the part of others, results in his unlikely rescue.

7. Don't Neglect Purposeful Thinking

Some innovations almost happen by accident. By implementing innovative thinking, new ideas may result in unexpected findings. For example, Post-It Notes were invented at 3M when a new adhesive wasn't all that sticky and was initially considered useless. But when someone had the idea to apply the new formula to a different kind of notepad, a new office staple was born, almost by accident. 

But many innovations are not this random. More purposeful thinking can be very helpful in schools. What outcomes do you want for students? Begin with the end in mind. Do you want to engage learners, improve student ownership, develop critical thinking, or increase understanding? Do you want better readers and writers? Then be purposeful to try new ideas that have the potential to improve these outcomes. Purposeful innovation turns ideas into results. Our activities and goals are consistent with the results we want to achieve.

Question: How are you thinking like an innovator? What are ways you challenge the thinking of others? I would like to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.
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