Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a round table discussion with George Couros, the Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning for Parkland School Division, at the Marin County Office of Education (@MCOEPD). George has been inspirational to me. He’s challenged me to take risks in my own professional learning and provided gentle nudges to stick with the process. I was delighted to be able to meet him in person and talk about his ideas about how to grow a culture of innovation.
With his personable style and passion, George focused our attention on a key question for educational leaders: How do we move from pockets of innovation to a culture of innovation? He provide much food for thought that is summarized very well by Eric Saibel, Assistant Principal at Sir Francis Drake High School, in his post, Stepping Beyond the Cage of the Unknown. George has also outlined these ideas in the Leading Innovative Change series on his blog, The Principal of Change.
While I came away from the discussion and presentation with my head spinning — lots to think about — I’d like to focus on a few of the key ideas that resonate with my work.
Like other districts, we are taking a close look at how we prepare our students for an uncertain future. An essential part of this process is inspiring and fostering adult learning to transform student learning. In the discussion, George emphasized the need for educational leaders to rethink our assumptions and approaches to adult learning. If we want our students to experience innovative learning, then we need to create the conditions that make it a reality for teachers. What are the seeds we need to sow to grow a culture of innovation?
As George emphasized creating conditions for powerful professional learning must begin with a strengths-based approach. Just as we cannot adopt a deficit model of thinking when working with students, it is also critical that we focus on the strengths that educators bring to their work and build upon them.
George also urged participants to think in terms of individual growth targets. Instead of focusing exclusively on moving the organization from point A to point B, we also need to consider how does each person move from his or her point A to point B. As Elena Aguilar points out in The Art of Coaching: “Meeting people where they are means exercising compassion, and it really is the only place to start when trying to make meaningful change” (Kindle location 1197). To cultivate a culture of innovation, we need to begin by supporting each person to move forward.
One of the ways we can do this is to work one to one, learning side by side. George talked about a superintendent with whom he’s work as being “elbow deep in the learning.” I love this image as it reminds me that we are all learners and that we have an obligation to support each other in learning and growing.
This part of the discussion reminded me of Atul Gawande’s article, “Slow Ideas.” In the article, Gawande asks “why do some innovations spread so swiftly and others so slowly?” In her blog post, Accelerating Slow Ideas, Kristen Swanson sums up Gawande’s findings and applies them to educators: “Slow change speeds up when people learn from a trusted friend.” What matters is the powerful combination of establishing relationships based on trust, meeting people where they are and helping them to adopt new practices.