Friday, September 13, 2013

Creating a Culture of Innovation #SAVMP 6

Creating a Culture of Innovation #SAVMP 6

I like this weeks Blog challenge.  It meshes with one thing I am trying to do throughout #SAVMP: I am trying to not read anyone else’s blog post until I post mine.  This way I am pushing my creativity and expression to come from within and not from elsewhere.  Today I present some Muppets, a couple of “having said that…”s and a Steve Jobs tie in with a twist.

If a teacher came to an interview and said that they had the school year charted with a daybook and it was all mapped out, consistently delivered from year to year - just like the teacher across the hall…would you want them to teach your students? 

When I was a kid I watched a lot of TV.  In the early days my favorite program was probably Sesame Street.  I have a lot of memories of the Muppets, Mr. Hooper and Bob.  I recall the way they lived and interacted with anyone who was their neighbour…regardless of race, gender, species or occupation. During a Sesame Street Fable segment called The King and the Fireman, Bob told the story of a king impressed with the work of the fireman and declares that everyone in the kingdom should become firefighters.  Through the fable I learned the woes that happen to the kingdom if everyone becomes a firefighter: No one cooks; No one helps; No one delivers the mail.  This cautionary fable has woven itself into my memory and has actually resurfaced a few times in adult life during discussion of creativity and innovation.  When we see the success of others and try to become what they are or do what they are doing, we run the risk of becoming clones and not generating new practices. 

Having said that, don’t let me mislead you into thinking it is not good practice to checkout and adopt other’s good practice.  When we see success we need to reflect and review our practice in the light of the success.  Where can we adopt things, trim things and grow?  Bob’s fable cautions that we shouldn’t lose all of our identity becoming something else – there is the idea of everyone in the kingdom learning how to be a firefighter for emergencies.

Have you worked with school administrators who are really good at completing the checklist, getting agendas out, ensuring the school year is completed with a solid performance?  In my experience with these types of principals very little originality is seen; in the continuity of the years, staff starts to take on a pack mule attitude, not having to even look where they are going because they know the steps in the cycle already.  Innovation is usually at an all time low.

Here is the cycle as I’ve seen it:
Set school goals.  (Maybe with dot stickers).
Set personal goals.  (Maybe in groups)
Work Work Work.  (Maybe we are all firefighters)
Write goal summaries. 
Write personal goal summaries. 
Write provincial document using data to verify progress. 
Start again.

It sounds kind of dull.  It feels kind of dull.

Not much creativity and energy – but paper is all done.  Check!

Having said that, it is really important to be good at getting your paperwork done.  We need to have the machine running to enable innovation to happen.  We also take results in student learning very seriously and data collection is imperative for tracking gains in learning. 

In an earlier post I mentioned a PATH planning tool we use to establish our vision and our goals.  Goal setting is where innovation begins.  The team and many stakeholders in the school community gather to review the strategic plan, the school values, mission statement and history.  Together they create a perfect world vision for the school and set goals together.  In collective creativity the goals are always POSITIVE and POSSIBLE.  Sometimes they are even innovative.   Team members attach their names to their goal(s) that they are passionate and/or interested in.  The goals are checked on periodically and reported to the entire staff team. 

Having said that, our current team is due for a revisioning PATH session. (That’s for the Bison’s who might be reading)!

As I work with school teams I like to start each year by celebrating our successes from the previous years and reviewing our goals for the upcoming year.  The current team I work with knows that I always end this session with a last goal…a Jobsian ‘one more thing’.  Unlike Jobs, the totalitarian leader, the last thing I add is a line I learned from my pastor:  our last goal is always “Something we don’t know yet.”   This one line is my favorite motivator of the year.  It allows our team to follow our path and yet have the opportunity to break out of the cycle and engage something that might be “spontaneous” or “innovative”!  There is a safety net for those who need one; all our goals need to be vetted against our vision. 

We have had some very successful innovative projects in our time together including but not limited to:  complete fundraising and building of two playstructures in one school year; recreating and renovating our library into a Learning Commons, raising five thousand dollars for renewing the library collection, recording song mosaics, school songs and making videos.  You can see some of these on our YouTube channel:
Or you can check out the school blog at

Our team has taken many innovative ideas and woven them into our common practice.  School teams starting on a journey of innovation and change may find themselves overwhelmed at the complexity of high performing teams – remember, one strategy/practice at a time.   

As a school leader you can create a culture that allows innovation and brings energy to your school community.  Start at the beginning by including an avenue for innovation in your goal setting practice.  


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