(Originally posted on One Administrator’s View.)

By David Steward

Recently, I was fortunate to engage in a chat on Twitter that accompanied a local district beginning to discuss innovation and change for their kids.  The chat was extremely interesting (check out #ImagineSPS to see the discussion) and got me reflecting on change, innovation, and specifically the speed at which each can occur.

I’m fortunate to be part of a district that encourages innovation for the purpose of preparing students for their future.  My high school has undergone two major innovations in the past 5 years and I have learned a significant amount about the change process through those experiences.  We have implemented a 1:1 laptop program for grades 9-12 (almost 4 years ago) and transitioned from a traditional schedule (8 period day) to a flexible modular schedule (see more about it here).  I was very surprised at how quickly we were able to implement each innovation and I believe the items below were key in the quick pace of our change.

1.  The innovation/change must have a specific purpose and address a specific need.  We put technology into each student’s hands not for technology’s sake, but to give each student equal access to a global community in preparation for the jobs/careers they will have in the future.  Our schedule change was to address the need to provide additional support to students during the school day and to help students develop ‘soft skills’ such as time management, prioritization, and self-advocacy.

2.  Stakeholders must be informed and have the opportunity to share their thoughts.  In each of the above innovations, focus groups and/or a task force was involved early in the process to gather input from varying perspectives.  It is critical to include parents and students in these discussions early.  These conversations shaped the unique design of each initiative and made it ‘ours’ instead of a packaged product.

3.  The leader must be the champion of the project.  Leading with passion and purpose is necessary when asking people to think beyond their own experiences and to look at what the future holds for students.  The leader must be responsive to the thoughts and opinions of others, but must keep the focus on the needs to be addressed through the innovation.

4.  Learning from others that are already doing it is crucial.  In each case, we took multiple site visits and engaged with other schools that had undertaken similar initiatives.  This allowed our staff to see the change in action, alleviated fears, and built momentum.  This is one of the most critical components for success!

5.  Acknowledge hopes and fears.  With any change, no matter how much we understand the benefits of implementing it, there will be associated hopes and fears.  It is vital that these be discussed openly and honestly – especially for innovation to occur quickly.  Doing so will not make them go away, but it is reassuring to teachers when they are able to express their doubts and know that they are being heard.

6.  Once the decision is made and the plan developed, get to work quickly.  Momentum will fade if these discussions and plans happen then action is delayed.  In each case, the time from the first focus group meeting to implementation was less than 12 months.  Capitalize on the excitement!

7.  Remember that the implementation will have speed bumps.  No matter how much thought, planning, and analyzing occurs prior to implementation there will be things that don’t go as planned.  Innovation and change are messy.  Being flexible and ready to adjust is key to success.  The final product (if there is such a thing) will look somewhat different than the initial plan.  Be mindful of this.

8.  Keep the impact on kids at the forefront.  We are in the education business to prepare kids for their future, not to make things convenient for adults.  Innovation and change will upset traditional constructs and routines.  Continually remind yourself and others that what is occurring is about kids and their education.

9.  Don’t wait until there is 100% agreement – because that will never happen.  Many times in education we wait until everyone is on board before we try something.  Quality leaders know how and when to ‘pull the trigger’ to begin the innovation process.  Innovation cannot occur without significant buy in, but waiting until everyone is on board means never changing anything.

These items are not intended to be all inclusive, but are important if you want the change/innovation process to occur quickly.  Our current education structure has been in place for more than 150 years with relatively little substantive change.  We need educators and education entities to be willing to look at what is best for today’s kids and make strategic, systemic changes in a timely fashion.  The world is changing more rapidly each day.  Education must change and innovate in order to avoid becoming irrelevant.

Be sure that you also celebrate successes and share your story.  If we want to change the narrative that surrounds public education, we must be willing to publicly share and recognize the successes we have achieved.  Other schools need to know that change and innovation will work and that it’s ok to try new things.

It takes a large, committed team to make any innovative efforts successful.  I am blessed to be working with a group of educators that are committed to kids and their future success.   None of the innovations we have undertaken could have been accomplished without the work of our Board of Education, Central Office administration and staff, counselors, and teachers.  Surround yourself with good people and trust them!

David is a High School Principal in Monett, Missouri. He shares his insights on his blog, One Administrator’s View. Follow David on Twitter at @DSteward89.