As part of IMMOOC #4 participants have been asked to reflect on the following:

How might you improve the innovation ecosystem?

Today we need to be brave and make moves to innovate the educational system our student’s need instead of making tiny tweaks to improve the educational system we have.  Not approaching our student’s experience in this way is the equivalent to what it would have been like if Thomas Edison invested efforts in improving the candle instead of inventing the lightbulb.  

Disconnection and contradictions exist all around in our world of education from the agricultural based school calendar, to early start times for students despite the science that proves this is a bad practice, to a hyper-focused system that has turned assessment and data into bad words, as well as a system that promotes empowerment of students, but often lacks empowerment for the adults in the same system.  We can’t get lost in these realities and shut down, we have to rise above these challenges and create new.

In order to innovate the system we need, intentional work has to be done to inspire and co-create the learning culture desired. In her book, Learner-Centered Innovation, Katie Martin calls the following components a “Learning Ecosystem” consisting of values, culture, systems, and policies.  Alignment of these components is often where school districts fall short. It’s where what we say misaligns with what we do.  

How can school districts get better at alignment of their values, culture, systems and policies so there can be clear direction, alignment and commitment to the desired transformational vision and goals ?

A few years ago I heard Dr. Judith Glaser speak about how to create the right “we” culture and lead change in organizations.  A “we culture” is focused on “we-centric” practices and authentic collaboration. Her research reveals,

To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of the relationships, which depends on the quality of the conversations.  Everything happens through conversations.”

Knowing this, Glaser asks leaders to consider a question.  How often have we found ourselves in conversations that result in the following?:

  • Fight (when we talk and talk arguing our point often from a defensive stance)
  • Flight (when we abandon our own views and hide behind the group consensus to escape conflict)
  • Freeze (when we totally disengage, a total shut down and lack of involvement)
  • Please (agreeing with a person just to earn favor and get along)

As leaders, we need to improve the quality of our conversations to improve our relationships.  This will ultimately impact our culture to positively advance transformation. If we find ourselves in “fight, flight, freeze and/or please” mode we are creating more disconnects, barriers, and unfortunately perpetuating the “us vs. them” mentality.

Small practices can begin to make a difference:

  • The letters in the word listen are also in the word silent.  Get comfortable with silence.  Listen without judgment and truly engage instead of formulating what you are going to say in your mind.
  • Stay curious, ask more questions; don’t assume you’re always right and have all the answers.
  • Intentionally practice empathy.  Walk in the other person’s shoes.  Use design thinking to build this skill in your school district.
  • The top leader in the room should be the last to speak instead of the first.  Sharing ideas first thwarts innovative thinking. Be mindful of this.
  • Create norms for meetings that address quality conversations such as “Listen to understand” and “Be in the arena--Create eye -level solutions”
  • Phrases to adopt as part of the way you do business:  
    • How might we?
    • Tell me more.
    • How can we make this better?
    • What you’re saying is….
    • I hear you…
  • Eliminate distractions and BE ALL IN!

“One Good Conversation can shift the direction of change forever” Linda Lambert

Reading Judith Glaser’s book Conversational Intelligence:  How Great Leaders Build Trust & Get Extraordinary Results, Kerry Patterson’s  Crucial Conversations:  Tools for Talking when Stakes are High , Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations:  Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time, and The World Cafe:  Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations that Matter serve as additional tools for improving the quality of conversations.

In Learner-Centered Innovation, Katie Martin writes, “Nothing is more inspiring than working toward a common goal with people who share your passion and commitment.  This collaboration creates a contagious vibe. Working with such a team motivates us to be better and makes us want to provide similar passion-filled experiences for others.  In short, our behaviors are impacted by the cultures where we workWhen is the last time you had a conversation that stirs this kind of thinking, inspiration and calls you to action?  Conversation matters. Connecting with humans matter. Let’s get better and create change one conversation at a time!