Barriers to Innovation

Superintendents across the country share top thoughts about innovation

The National Center for Education Research & Technology (NCERT) partnered with Thoughtexchange to host an exchange in advance of the NCERT Spring 2017 Executive Leadership Conference. Superintendents were asked to share their thoughts about both the barriers to and promoters of innovation as a run-up to keynote speaker Grant Lichtman, author of #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education.

#EdJourney takes a fresh look at the nation’s schools, eschewing the negativity so often found in the world of education today and maps out how administrators and teachers can embrace the innovation process that schools and learners need right now.

Thank you to everyone who joined the exchange!

Barriers to Innovation

The NCERT exchange opened with a set of demographic questions that help characterize the community and the questions. We analyzed thoughts about the future of innovation to find the top 4 questions regardless of demographic.

Top Question

Classroom of the future. We have discussed and shared many models over the years. How and when will we get past the brick and mortar, 30 x 30 box classroom, time driven, age determined education model? How will we create a hybrid system of learning that meets the needs of ALL students? How will legislators understand?

Top Question

Can we tolerate outcomes that can’t be measured? There are educational outcomes that are difficult or impossible to measure (e.g. empathy, compassion, perseverance, humility, teamwork) that are desirable and necessary. Can we be supported in teaching those things when they cannot be tested on a norm or criterion-referenced assessment?

Top Question

How do we prepare parents and the community to accept innovative practices? Schools may be more inclined to actually implement new instructional practices if the community is supportive and understanding of the need to do new and different things. Conveying the full message of change is difficult, at best, but groundwork must be laid to garner support allowing bold change.

Top Question

How do we hire teachers with “innovative tendencies”? I have found that it is nearly impossible to find a truly innovative mindset teachers, how do we screen for innovation and entrepreneurial spirit?

We were also curious whether certain questions or thoughts resonated in certain states. Do the following questions fit your understanding of education in that state?

Top Question

Can districts innovate their way to higher student achievement? Educational research is brimming with proven strategies to advance student achievement. Are we relying on innovation to hold student interests? Do we not already know enough about student learning to improve academic results? What role does reliance on innovation play in advancing student success?

Top Question

I really wonder how to match instruction with the world we are preparing students for entering? I wonder how to help students find their passions and find a way to become financially independent, caring citizens?

Top Question

Can superintendents be innovative in a political climate? How can superintendents be innovative when their job makes them a potential casualty at every turn?

Uncover Tactics

School leaders across the US have dedicated their careers to nurturing future leaders. In this exchange, these leaders not only generated questions about innovation, but shared solutions to these challenges. Uncover how these leaders moved past the barriers mentioned above.

Challenge

How will we create a hybrid system of learning that meets the needs of ALL students?

Solution

I encourage staff to seek blended learning opportunities where students have control over location and task.

Challenge

How do we prepare parents and the community to accept innovative practices? Schools may be more inclined to actually implement new instructional practices if the community is supportive and understanding of the need to do new and different things. Conveying the full message of change is difficult, at best, but groundwork must be laid to garner support allowing bold change.

Solution

Tend to social trust and relationships. Risk-taking that occurs in the context of a relationship (common vision and commitments) tend to more effectively sustain change over time. A strong relationship, supported by effective and consistent communication, also develop the motivation and capacity for change.

Challenge

How do we hire teachers with “innovative tendencies”? I have found that it is nearly impossible to find a truly innovative mindset teachers, how do we screen for innovation and entrepreneurial spirit?

Solution

We make a commitment to grow our people. It is important to build capacity within the team. People who have made a commitment to our organization need to be supported in growing their skills and abilities (e.g. high school students become parapros, parapros become teachers, teachers become National Board certified or administrators, etc.).

An Innovative Future

For this exchange, we categorized possible solutions or actions by impact. Some solutions are ‘easy to implement’ tactics having immediate impact, others are long-term and may need political advocacy and / or structural change. Once categorized, solutions can be integrated immediately or inform future education strategy. How would you categorize these thoughts?

Take risks personally

Be willing to take risks as the leader. If I am not willing to “walk the walk”, I cannot expect others to do the same.

Celebrate risk

Celebrate those who take risks. Find ways to publicly recognize and celebrate those who are actively pushing boundaries in positive ways.

Provide a safe place

Support sharing of ideas. Provide a safe place to share ideas and thinking outside the box. Support brainstorming sessions.

No early judging

We do not judge in the early stages of implementation. Many people are afraid of change. We have to build trust. People will not trust if they feel they are being judged all the time. We need to be vocal.

A few initiatives over time

Take a developmental approach to change. It is helpful if one selects a few complimentary initiatives and sustains efforts over time. When supported with repeated opportunities for PD and effective feedback loops in place, staff can build confidence that their risk-taking will produce a positive effect or at least inform the process.

Support implementers with empirical data

Managed innovation. We will be developing a process and form to capture a school’s innovative ideas in a way that ties research and local data to a plan for implementing and evaluating progress of the new idea to provide a measure of safety and support to implementers.

Fund innovation

Budget for R&D – funds are set aside for matching funds or for new ideas. Some grants are bypassed because they require matching funds. Other innovative ideas or partnership opportunities may not have been known at the time of budget preparation so by budgeting some funds for R&D, there’s opportunity to support innovation.

System wide change

Balance tight and loose controls. We must create and leverage a demand for change in our systems. Mandates should be balanced with a flexibility that encourages personal ownership of the work. Staff, like students, will have a better chance for success if increased demands for performance are matched with the appropriate supports.

Contract innovation

Flexibility contract. We have a flexibility contract with our state department of education. Entering the contract was a conscious decision on the part of the district after much discussion with decision-makers. Schools are encouraged to use the flexibilities for the purpose of innovation.

 

 

Crowdsource Insights

Analytic tools show connections, however, they don’t replace the ability of the human eye to explore thoughts, and find the insights that fit the innovation life cycle in your district. Exploration connects leaders to life-tested solutions that can help move innovation forward.

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