A teacher recently reached out to me and shared her frustration of being “held back” by her own school administration for pursuing a new idea that she believed would be beneficial to students. I shared the following story from “The Innovator’s Mindset”:
Years ago, another educator shared a similar story, explaining that she wanted to try something new called “blogging.” The teacher asked her principal if she could try it out and, at the time, was told “no.” The reason? The principal was concerned that if the venture succeeded, everyone on staff would be expected to do it.
At least the leaders in these two cases were brave enough to say what many others think but never verbalize. The fear that drives leaders is not always about failure. Sometimes, the real fear is of success. If something works, other educators in the building would be expected to do it, thus creating more work for everyone.
Another concern often voiced in response to innovative initiatives is that the new program or approach might create superior learning opportunities — opportunities that aren’t offered in another learning environment. If what’s best for learners is our primary concern, equity of opportunities will be created at the highest of levels, not the lowest.
A few things I wanted to build on from this story.
1. When we discourage people from trying new things, we often discourage others from the same process as well, without knowing it. They might not say anything to you, but they see others being denied opportunities, and they accept that’s the way it is. I remember Superintendent Joe Sanfelippo sharing that when someone comes to him with a new idea, he wants them to leave about it more excited than when they first brought it to his attention. This doesn’t mean just saying “yes” to everything but guiding people to succeed in their endeavors. Of course, we can’t do every idea that pops into our mind, but we have to focus on the idea of “what’s the best that can happen?” as opposed to the opposite.
I made this chart as a discussion piece for schools.
2. Trying new things is part of the learning process. There are many ideas that I have tried in school that didn’t work out the way that I wanted them to. There were initiatives that I hoped to implement as an administrator that didn’t come to fruition in the way I hoped. But from every failed idea came important learning that led to success along the way, as long as I was willing to look for it.
Why did an idea not work?
What could I have done better next time?
What elements were beneficial that I can using moving forward?
If you ask those things after something doesn’t work the way you hoped, not only will you have learned from the process, you are setting yourself up for future success.
I shared this image in “Innovate Inside the Box” to discuss this process:
Trying something new is valuable for not only the product but the process.
3. A culture of thoughtful risk-taking is promoted not only by the administration but the school community as a whole. As a teacher, I can honestly tell you that sometimes I felt some jealousy toward the person across the hallway doing incredible work that I might not have had the capacity to do at that point in my career.
Did I ever try to outright stop them from doing that great work?
Did I make some snarky and passive-aggressive comments about what others were trying to do that made me feel inferior at the moment?
What I started to realize was that what someone did in their classroom didn’t necessarily make me more or less of a teacher, just different. I had strengths that others had, and others had strengths that I didn’t possess. To me, there are some standards that we must all share in our classrooms (focusing on relationships, empowering learners. etc.). Still, I think different styles of delivery are beneficial, as long as they are focused on providing great experiences for our students. There are teachers that I really enjoyed how they taught and others that I didn’t, yet my friends did. The same is true with books I read, movies I like to watch, and so on.
Education is about elevation.
Not only of our students but of one another. Everything we do to create better opportunities for those we serve should be cheered on and learned from, but they don’t have to be replicated in every classroom as it is. We all bring different strengths, passions, and talents to our classrooms, and utilizing them to provide great but varied experiences, is beneficial to learning.