Innovation is an art

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“But if we want to build organizations that can innovate time and again, we must recast our understanding of what leadership is about. Leading innovation is about creating the space where people are willing and able to do the hard work of innovative problem solving.” – Linda Hill

One of my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE thinkers about innovation is Linda Hill. She is on faculty at Harvard and the author of several books that you should take a look at when you get the chance. Read more about her here: https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/profile.aspx?facId=6479

I bring Hill up in this post because one of the biggest buzzwords in education at the moment is innovation. I was recently in a conversation about the role of education technology in providing students with personalized learning experiences and educational access when it occurred to me that the person I was speaking with equated technology with “innovation”. As I thought of the conversation later on I realized that I have had several conversations where educators expressed a similar sentiment. The realization made me reflect on my own practice and how I define the innovative work I champion most. The truth is that it is easy to view technology and various platforms for student learning as “innovative.” Each platform contributes to student innovation in its own way. Still, the presence or absence of technology in no way affects the level of innovation in a school or school system.

Hill defines it this way, “What we know is, at the heart of innovation is a paradox. You have to unleash the talents and passions of many people and you have to harness them into a work that is actually useful. Innovation is a journey. It’s a type of collaborative problem solving, usually among people who have different expertise and different points of view.”

Where in there does it say that schools are outfitted with makerspaces and the newest technology? Where does it say that all teaching and building faculty are FlipGrid/SeeSaw/Google/etc certified? Each of those technologies helps student inquiry and learning but they are not in and of themselves the only source of innovation to be found in the education space. As classroom OR building OR district leader you have to be aware of the world your students/teachers/principals are dealing with. You have to know how to interact with it too, so there is no reason not to be a connected educator. Still, I want you to hear this you teacher OR principal OR district administrator. If you want to create a truly innovative classroom/school/school system you have to create a space where it is safe for people to disagree and test ideas. You have to allow for conflict to arise and for people to try, fail, and try again. You have to be okay with being uncomfortable while you work to collectively arrive at a solution. Innovation is not a program, it is about you unlocking the collective capacity of your staff and using it to solve your most pressing concerns. You can watch Hill’s TED Talk below.

“Innovation is not about solo genius. It is about collective genius.” – Linda Hill

Remember, to lead is to constantly learn and while others may not tell you the truth, I always will. Innovation is a journey you can only successfully make when you empower your team. – Dr. Kia