Conditions Promoting Innovation - Steve Barkley

Conditions Promoting Innovation

A colleague sent me an article concerning innovation that triggered my thinking about students implementing/experiencing innovation in classrooms and teachers innovating in building ever better learning for students. Daniel Dworkin and Markus Spiegel posted Leadership May Not Be the Problem with Your Innovation Team  for the Harvard Business Review.

1500 companies had completed an assessment designed by Dworkin and Spiegel and 80% of them reported underscoring in the area of innovation effectiveness connected to the innovation conditions of constant energy, creative friction, flexible structure, and purposeful discovery. This statement caught my attention and made me think about our education systems: “Unsurprisingly, those working for older, larger businesses scored lowest in all four innovation conditions”.

They identified that members of teams could look at each of the conditions and consider improvements that team members could make. Here is what they shared and my thoughts about students’ learning and teachers in PLC teams:

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Dworkin’s and Spiegel’s suggestions mention the value of having stretch goals, remembering the purpose behind your work, generating excitement and energy, going public with an audience to drive up energy, and asking “what’s holding you back?”.

Classrooms: Wow! Adding Pizzazz to Teaching and Learning is a book I wrote several years ago sharing things I saw teachers doing to generate energy for learning. Dworkin’s and Spiegel’s list presents ideas for teachers to consider with their students. As this year starts, examine with students the purposes/value behind the learning opportunities you are presenting. Can you bring authentic tasks to your students? Better yet, can students identify questions they want to answer and problems they want to solve? How can students take their learning public?

PLCs: Do teachers leave a PLC session with more energy than they entered? They will if they are spending the time dealing with the urgency of the learning results they are focused on and the powerful pictures of students’ futures they are working to create. I made a statement in a workshop a few weeks ago that received substantial “Tweeting:” Remember it’s a PLC, not a PWC (Professional Working Community). In other words, we meet to learn rather than meet to work. That learning should produce energy! Have your PLC’s ask, “What is holding us back?” and have your leadership team support their work to remove obstacles.

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Dworkin’s and Spiegel’s suggestions mention advocating passionately while listening, observing, and interpreting what others are thinking and experiencing. Team members should practice empathy in responding to others’ ideas, building on them to seek seeds of inspiration. They encourage getting out of silos and building trust by seeing the world through others’ eyes.

Classrooms: Students need to practice critical listening skills as part of critical thinking skills. What opportunities are you providing for students to hear or read an author’s words through different filters/perspectives? How would your class assess the value of the Rio Olympics to the people of Brazil? Why were there protesters? What might students learn if you recorded a collaborative problem-solving conversation among their team and played it back for their review and assessment of their responses to each other? Can you create learning tasks that blur the lines, if not remove the lines, between content curriculums?

PLCs: I strongly advocate for peer coaching with PLC members and among other PLCs. It creates the start for seeing the school through the eyes of others. I have met classroom teachers who have never observed their students in a physical education class over their 25 years of teaching and PE teachers who haven’t seen a teacher work with a reading group. What might teachers learn if you recorded a collaborative problem-solving conversation among their team and played it back for their review and assessment of their responses to each other?

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Dworkin’s and Spiegel’s suggestions mention the need to recognize that “command and control” leadership is ill suited to the complex, ambiguous challenges of innovation. They recommend falling in love with the problem, not your solution. Pivots are a part of innovation: What are we learning? How should we adapt our plan?

Classrooms: Historically, students have developed a belief that “quick” answers were what teachers sought and rewarded. In many cases a quick “ok” answer received recognition while a stronger response, that took a while to develop, never got heard. How can you create learning tasks that value the critical thinking and creative thinking processes required for complex issues? How can you recognize that changing your plan because of what you learned is sometimes more important than getting done quickly?

PLCs: In too many schools “command and control” is still driving PLC agendas and conversations. Teachers, like their students, are too often looking for the quickest way to comply. I recently reviewed a school’s improvement plan for the coming year. It spelled out a list of 20 things they would do to achieve a particular goal. I am afraid they will go into the year more focused on doing all 20 things rather than figuring out “what are they learning?” and “how they should pivot?”

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Dworkin’s and Spiegel’s suggestions mention starting with assumptions and clarifying what the team believes to be true. Then experiment: “When in doubt, try it out”. What simple trials can you run to gather learning about how to proceed?

Classrooms: I continue to see the increasing need for students to be tackling complex, authentic problems in order for them to internalize the skill sets of innovation.

PLCs: Is learning in PLCs leading to experimentation? Are new designs for creating learning emerging from your PLCs? Do your teachers know that it should? Too often I find teachers doing what they did last year, knowing it will get OK results, but not the desired results.  What would happen if you asked PLCs in November to share experiments they are running?

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