Leaders and Teachers - Failing the Way to Innovation - Steve Barkley
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Leaders and Teachers – Failing the Way to Innovation

Last week’s blog addressed the role of making mistakes as an important component of student learning. Students need to be comfortable knowing that failing is a step on the path to learning and succeeding.

Michael Chirichello, from Leadership Matters LLC, commented on the blog about the role of school leaders…

“Your discussion on risk taking and creativity is important as school leaders design curriculum platforms with their staff. But school leaders cannot just talk the talk. What we need are creative school leaders. In a recent survey by IBM, creativity was the number one characteristic for leaders to be successful in our rapidly changing global world. School leaders cannot speak the language of risk taking and creativity unless these traits are part of their belief system. How we develop and sustain these characteristics in school leaders becomes the real challenge for our schools.”

In the April 2011 JSD from Learning forward.(Vol.32 No.2) To Tackle New Problems, We’re Going to Need New Solutions, Robert Davidovich writes that as we look to identify 21st century learning for students, it needs to occur for teachers….necessary because we need school professionals to innovate as well as improve.

Davidovich suggests we need more than the implementation of existing “best practices”.

We need to tackle adoptive challenges where people learn and create a new strategy for solving a problem….where people create knowledge to solve problems while working on the problem (page 430).

Professional Learning Communities become much more effective when teachers see that the creative process is crucial to innovation for increased student achievement. Note that this approach would mean that failure would often be an initial PLC outcome on the way to reaching a teaching/learning breakthrough.

Success and Failure are on the same road:

One of my favorite leadership coaching questions for the start of the year is to ask each teacher, ”What are you doing this year that you have never done before?”. Having an answer to that question should be an expected component of a teacher’s professional development plan. Teachers with an answer are ready to approach instructional coaches for assistance and support.

Outstanding teachers should be asked this question, ”What will you be doing this year that you don’t think any other teacher has done?”. That question should point us to cutting edge research that can produce an innovation that drives change within a system.

Administrators and coaches who ask these questions to encourage teacher risk taking have to build the teacher’s trust to expect that “failures will not be fatal”. One idea I have explored is to issue amnesty vouchers.The teacher can cash in the voucher to the principal when the attempt is deemed a failure. The administrator’s response to the failure should be, “What did you learn?” and “What’s the next idea?”.

Teachers’ fear of the unknown often stops their willingness to tackle adoptive challenges.

School leaders need to deliver to teachers the same message President Obama delivered to students in his 2009 Back to School Speech.

“…. you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time.”

As administrators and teachers, you may want to start the year with a story about a failure of yours and how you learned from it.

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One Response to “ Leaders and Teachers – Failing the Way to Innovation ”

  1. Michael Chirichello Says:

    To promote risk- taking in our role as a leader, we must become a risk-taker ourselves, not only in our professional lives, but also in our personal lives. I always try to take on a challenge each year and do something I have not done before. This will enable me to tell the story to others. Howard Gardner in his book Leading Minds reinforces the belief that great leaders tell great stories to influence the thinking of others.

    In my quest to live what I believe, two summers ago I biked in Tuscany to conquer the hills as I peddled toward each new village. I was successful and was the most senior member of the bike tour! Another year I endeavored to learn new languages, although I was not as successful as in my cycling. When we take risks, we must be willing to experience failure.

    If you want others to take risks, what story will you share with them?

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