The thing about the word ‘change’ is that it sometimes gets a bad wrap. It may elicit feelings of discomfort or even distrust. Likewise, the idea of ‘innovation’ can perhaps feel unattainable within the established structures of our day-to-day in a public school. But the word that’s scariest of all is ‘complacency’ – and that’s exactly where we find ourselves if we fail to embrace the potential growth that results from change and innovation in our schools.
In maintaining growth as our priority, here’s what I’ve learned as a principal…
- Everything starts with relationships. It’s difficult to lead change, inspire innovation, or start a movement without transparent relationships in place. That doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything; it’s actually pretty likely we may not see eye-to-eye every step of the way. But we have to operate in a space where it’s safe to question, to offer new viewpoints, and to take risks. None of these things can happen with the fidelity necessary for success if we aren’t working from a foundation of trusting relationships.
- We have to be able to articulate the why. I’m not a believer in change for the sake of change. I am, however, a believer in change and innovation for the sake of being better everyday – for myself, for my staff, and for our students. When we work with our staff to identify our individual and collective ‘why’, we find common purpose, and we can justify moving forward with an idea. Even if we’re not exactly sure where it’ll end up, when we know why we are doing the work, it’s easy to find the greater purpose in our daily efforts.
- There’s no moving forward without an open mind and willingness to accept feedback. When you’re trying to bring everyone along with you, every voice has to matter (even when it’s one you may prefer not to hear). We’ve all heard David Weinberger’s quote, “The smartest person in the room is the room,” and it’s so important to apply this principle when working toward meaningful, innovative change. Ask for feedback (and be prepared to hear it), and use protocols to help you discuss feedback with your leadership team or even the whole staff. Let ‘the room’ do the thinking, and enter these conversations with an open mind if you hope to make progress.
- The work we do is rarely easy; it’s emotional, and it matters every single day. When we agree to trust the process, we make a collective commitment to work through the obstacles that will come, to stay accountable to one another, and to keep our growth goal central – knowing that better is always better.
If our public schools are in the business of continuous learning, words like ‘change’ and ‘innovation’ must be part of our language and behaviors. Maybe at this moment there isn’t a glaring problem of practice you need to address on your campus; celebrate that! But surely there’s an area that has potential to be better than it’s been; whether it’s academic or social, collaborate with your team to pinpoint a starting place. Identify the why, bring along your people, and get going!