Read This: Two Books that School Leaders Must Read to Be More Courageous and Future Forward

Read This: Two Books that School Leaders Must Read to Be More Courageous and Future Forward

Leaders are Readers

Learning and growing as a school leader through reflection, training, and experience is a professional choice. One powerful way to improve is through reading great books, which is why we feature two books on a particular topic each month. These are books that we believe can help school leaders to lead better and grow faster.

This month we are completely focused on two mental shifts that school leaders must make for greater success. The first is shifting from a place of fear to operating in a space of courage. The second is shifting from short-term thinking to long-term thinking. As easy as it is to grasp both of these concepts as necessary, shifting the mind from fear to courage and from short-term reaction to long-term planning is incredibly difficult. That’s why we’ve chosen these two books that are designed to shepherd you through making the change necessary to lead better and grow faster.   

Joe’s Pick: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

Featured Author: Dale Carnegie

First, let’s acknowledge that Dale Carnegie is a beast. His work, How to Win Friends and Influence People is legendary and a must read for anyone who is serious about leading effectively. However, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living is also a phenomenal book, filled with incredible advice that applies to school leadership. There are few things that really stand out for Joe in this book:

  • Carnegie fills the book with relatable stories from practical people. The stories are real and you’ll find yourself in the people he features. 
  • He offers advice that you can implement right away. Suggestions like “living in day-tight compartments” make a ton of sense. 
  • Carnegie also writes about the importance of mental attitudes and how to cultivate the right mindset–to make a mental decision to be happy and live a full life, as an example. He reminds readers of the eight most important words we can ever hear, “our life is what our thoughts make it.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

This book is a must read so you too can live and lead from a seat of courage with tools to help you as the worry and fear creep into your life.

T.J.’s Pick: The Power of One More: The Ultimate Guide to Happiness and Success

Featured Author: Ed Mylett

If you don’t know Ed Mylett, stop reading this post right now and Google his name: Ed Mylett. Ed is an impressive leader who has taken social media by storm over the last few years. He built his fortune in the financial services industry, as what he describes a team-made millionaire. That’s one reason we love his work. It’s not about Ed. Granted, his endeavors have worked out very well for him, but his service and dedication to people are very evident in his shows and books. Here are a few reasons why T.J. chose The Power of One More as his pick this month:  

  • Mylett humbly describes what “the power of one more” is really about and how he learned to be resilient. His description of his alcoholic, turned sober, father is compelling. Ed attributes much of his success to his father but not always through the good times.
  • The book is filled with sage advice, but one great takeaway is how Ed organizes his day and time. The advice is radical although it makes sense. Dividing up your day is very effective and can lead to astronomical productivity.
  • Mylett decrees why this work is important to him. His WHY will inspire you to ensure that yours is clear too. 

We hope you enjoy this new release as much as we did. 

Both of these books are more like manuals. They are not to be read as simple words on a page. They act as a call-to-action for leaders. If you want to change your life and lead for the better, then you must embrace the responsibility of doing what is written in these books and others that we recommend on our ReadThisSeries.

Technical Tip for Leaders Who Read

Each month, Joe and T.J. leave listeners with a tip. This month the books they chose span almost 77 years. Don’t abandon the old. Granted there are incredible discoveries every day that are changing our world, but there are men and women from the past that had incredible insight into human behavior and leadership, like Dale Carnegie. Don’t overlook those works and the genius that lies within their pages. Also, don’t discount new books that seem to cover the same content as many other authors. Mylett admits in his book that much of the content has been written in the past, but that his take is slightly different. We couldn’t agree more. It’s the perspective on the topic and new ideas that offer a different angle for leaders, an angle that just might be the one you need. 

Enjoy both of these books to lead better and grow faster as school leaders. We always appreciate a like, a follow, a comment, or a share. 

Let us know what you’re reading by contacting us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com. And don’t miss our leadership newsletter every week by subscribing on the site. 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

Let us know what you’re reading by contacting us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com. And don’t miss our leadership newsletter every week by subscribing on the site. 

 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

 

Joe & T.J.

2 Mental Shifts that Every School Leader Must Make for Greater Success

2 Mental Shifts that Every School Leader Must Make for Greater Success

Shifting our thinking in new and different ways requires a lot of personal reflection, self-understanding, and some technical know-how. It’s not easy, but it is possible. Thinking differently, outside of your normal realm, requires a paradigm shift. This shift is usually fueled by passion and fervor, and sustained through well-developed models that help frame our desire. We applaud leaders who have developed the skills to shift their thinking and agree with entrepreneurial giants like Ed Mylett who recognize that it’s actually a sign of strength.

Once we overcome some of the self-imposed worries like, “is changing my mind a sign of weakness?” or “will it look like I am indecisive?” or our favorite, “I don’t want to look like a waffler!” then we can start to make serious gains through our leadership. The following are two areas where leaders must shift their thinking for greater effectiveness and sustained change.

Shift From Fear to Courage

Fear is a natural emotion, and, left unchecked, it can put a stop to our ability to lead. The challenge that we find is that too many school leaders filter every decision through some sort of fear or deficit mindset. Instead of shifting their brains to operate from what is possible, they focus on the obstacles. They fail to harness the power and the responsibility to lead courageously and embrace what Jim Collins called the Stockdale Complex

On the one hand, they stoically accepted the brutal facts of reality. On the other hand, they maintained an unwavering faith in the endgame, and a commitment to prevail as a great company despite the brutal facts. We came to call this duality the Stockdale Paradox. (Collins, 2001)

While fear is natural, courage is not. Courage is actually a choice that leaders must make when they feel that fear is taking over. Fear often occurs when we’re feeling that things are too risky or when conflict aversion arises within us. It happens, for example, when we know that we have to have a feedback conversation that feels like it might not go well. Conflict aversion is mostly prevalent in people who enjoy harmonious relationship-driven work, which happens to be a huge aspect of what many school leaders believe is their job–to build strong personal relationships

The problem with this type of thinking and approach is that it puts the relationship first and makes the work come second, which can derail necessary and meaningful conversations. The relationship and the work have to go together, not one before or after the other. The way we build strong professional relationships at work is often different than in our personal lives. We build relationships at work by doing the work and succeeding together. It creates one of the most powerful social structures that humans can feel, which is called collective efficacy. 

Collective efficacy in schools has been demonstrated to be a game changer for student success. Any school leader who is looking to shift from fear to courage, can rely on the outcomes and relationships associated with a unified goal, collective effort toward that goal, and the relationships that are built when we reach the goal. Risk and conflict aversion begin to subside when we know that our leadership efforts are worthwhile and will make a difference. 

The second shift leaders must make is maintaining focus on the long game. Despite the allure of the short term, greater success is found when we create scenarios that yield results down the road. Great leaders never make long-term decisions with short-term emotions, but it’s hard. Thinking in the short term has long-term implications, which is why we must shift to longer-term planning so that our short-term reactions don’t cloud out what might happen in the future.

Shift From Short-Term Thinking to Long-Term Creating 

Let’s acknowledge up-front that playing the long game is difficult. Our own human nature is against us at times, convincing us to buy into a short-term win that isn’t going to be good later on. Why? Quick results are so much more attractive; they provide us and others the appearance that we are making progress. On a professional level, we often feel external pressures from boards, legislators, parents, and the community to deliver results. People want results right away to feel like things are improving. This can present a real challenge for school leaders who recognize the proven benefits of the long game but who also realize that some of the profound and difficult changes we make may not deliver results right away. 

When people say they want results, leaders often translate that as making a change. Rightly so. The truth is that when outside constituents demand a change, they’re often referring to the desire for comfort. But comfort doesn’t always provide the future that we want. This is why we constantly need to be communicating the reasons why the current initiatives are about long-term implications and not what it feels like at the moment. 

To make this mental shift for you and others, you have to fight short termism, an excessive focus on short-term results at the expense of long-term interests. For sustained and lasting change, this is critical for the success of any school. Effective school leaders embrace the idea of being a futurist, which is why we point to folks who can help with this type of thinking, like game designer Jane McGonigal.

Being a futurist means that we are creating and making the future. A futurist means being creative and imagining all the different possible futures and figuring out which future you want and making that a reality. ~ Jane McGonigal

Over the past couple months, we’ve been talking and writing about the “it’s possible” mindshift. Being a futurist embraces this challenge. As Susan Forchheimer writes, 

“…for futures thinking to be valuable it has to be grounded in present-day facts that with synthesis, sensemaking, creativity, and visualization are put into plausible, provocative stories about possible futures that resonate and inspire us to act differently today.”

For school leaders, this means that we must make time for ourselves and others to think about the future and communicate what it will be like so that current emotions don’t put a stop to changes that will put our school and our students in a better position for success. For futurist-type thinking as a team, we often do an activity that allows the mind to visualize possibilities rather than just talk about the goals and their outcomes. The following questions can be used as prompts: 

    • What does engagement in the classroom look and sound like? 
    • How do we want students to treat one another?
    • What does a lively and vibrant school culture look and sound like for teachers and students?
    • How do we create lessons that are rigorous and relevant?
    • What changes do we need to make to current practice for these things to be a reality? 
    • What supports do we need so that we don’t revert back to old practices when the going gets tough? 

The point is that this process sparks creativity and imagination, as well as a future that we can all agree, is possible. Too often we set goals but don’t necessarily realize what it will take to achieve them. Goal setting becomes an activity and not exploration. As Rosie Greer once said, “you have to sees it to seize it.” It’s also why leaders use models to help the team think differently. 

Using Models to Support Thinking Differently

One way to begin the process of embracing courage and fighting short-termism is using models. The truth about thinking differently is that we need models and structures to support our thinking and behavior or we will revert back to old thinking. Using the same type of thinking to solve our  problems will not work. Problems that haven’t been solved so far are not likely to get solved because we haven’t changed our model or approach to thinking about them. 

One model that we love is the S.W.O.T. analysis. A SWOT analysis can be used for an initiative, program, or a person. Just using this model–strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats–brings forth new information that might not have surfaced without the SWOT model for thinking. Thinking and designing the future requires planning and effective models take our thinking from the idea and insight phase to the investigation and implementation phase.

Below is a sample model to use for Professional Learning Communities. We chose PLCs because when they are highly effective and done well, they have a greater impact on collective efficacy. And, we know that collective efficacy is very impactful for student success. We also know that without a model for thinking about them, PLCs can mostly be a waste of time. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes the most impactful strategies are useless unless we’re candid about what we need to make them successful. Models help with that. 

Conclusion 

We cannot leave our future to fate. By embracing courage and willingly taking the time to think and dream big, you are taking the necessary steps toward success. Add using an effective and proven model like S.W.O.T. (and other models for thinking differently about problems), your school’s success will be inevitable. Mindshifting is not easy, but it is fun. It starts the process of creating a whole new world of what’s possible. Our students, our schools, our communities, need educators to embrace these mindshifts. Together we can create an incredible future. 

Follow along with us at TheSchoolHouse302 over the next several months, and we’ll uncover new and different ways that you and your team can approach problems in your school. We’re going to recommend books, interview experts, and keep you informed about who is cracking the code of school leadership and why. 

And, we want to hear from you. Please hit us with a like, a follow, a comment, or a share. It helps us and it helps other readers, like you, to find our work so that more school leaders can lead better and grow faster. 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

Read This: Two Books that School Leaders Must Read to Be More Courageous and Future Forward

Great School Leaders Find Opportunity in Crisis

Leaders are Readers

Learning and growing as a school leader through reflection, training, and experience is a professional choice. One powerful way to improve is through reading great books, which is why we feature a couple of books on a particular topic each month. These are books we enjoy and believe are worth reading. 

Our aim is to link great books to our theme for the month. This month we are focused on school leaders recognizing the opportunity within a crisis. We know how incredibly challenging this can be because every issue brings with it the fact that it also dominates everyone’s mental energy, which means that looking for opportunity in the very moment that you’re trying to solve a problem can be daunting. However, the crisis itself may be our only chance to think differently to not only solve the problem at hand but also determine what advantages may arise during the situation that can be applied in the future. Because this type of thinking is necessary during a crisis, we chose these two powerful books this month. Common with John Maxwell books, they offer sage advice coupled with practical skills. Great leaders don’t just read books to gather tips and steps for how to lead but also the style of thinking required to lead better and grow faster. Great leaders are heavy readers and deep thinkers. 

Joe’s Pick: Good Leaders Ask Great Questions

Featured Author: John Maxwell

If you’re going to lead effectively, you have to be able to ask great questions. This book presents questions in two different ways. First, it starts with questions that the leader should ask in various situations. Maxwell lists great questions that can get a conversation started even if you don’t know where or how to begin. 

We can’t stress enough how important it is to have canned questions to lean on. Asking great questions to get to the root of a problem is hard, and this book offers several gems. Second, the book details many of the questions that Maxwell has been asked as a leader. The insight into his thinking is powerful and will help any leader consider the various ways to navigate difficult situations. 

T.J.’s Pick: Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success

Featured Author: John Maxwell

This book confronts success head-on and why some people achieve it and others don’t. The difference between triumph and failure is a question that many people wonder about and Maxwell offers the answer–response to adversity. He starts the book with a compelling concept from J. Wallace Hamilton who argues that people generally train to be successful while they should be training for failure. And, in typical Maxwell fashion, he illustrates his point through great stories, kicking it off with Mary Kay Ash.

If you are going to lead you are going to have problems. It’s inevitable. Effective leaders not only understand that conflict is necessary but they learn how to thrive amid adversity as they seek to make a change. It means that great leaders are willing to fail forward as they make things better. It’s what Seth Godin says about leadership: leaders are the ones who are willing to do something that might not work. This is a book that won’t disappoint, and every school leader should read it. 

Technical Tip for Leaders Who Read

We close every Read This Series with a technical tip. This month’s tip is to read the same author’s books in succession. There are very prolific authors with incredible insight into topics and very often there are similar ideas and thoughts presented with just a slight variation on the theme. These subtle differences can offer unique connections from which leaders can benefit in a way that doesn’t happen when you only read one book that the author published. This means that when you commit to one book by an author, you should consider reading two or three in a row. 

Enjoy both of these books to lead better and grow faster as school leaders. We always appreciate a like, a follow, a comment, or a share. 

Let us know what you’re reading by contacting us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com. And don’t miss our leadership newsletter every week by subscribing on the site. 

 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

 

Joe & T.J.

Let us know what you’re reading by contacting us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com. And don’t miss our leadership newsletter every week by subscribing on the site. 

 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

 

Joe & T.J.

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From Crisis to Opportunity–A School Leader’s Playbook

From Crisis to Opportunity–A School Leader’s Playbook

By focusing my attention on the solution to the problem rather than the problem, I was able to quickly turn what seemed like a major crisis into an opportunity. ~ Les Brown

It’s Possible

Identified, as he calls it, “educable mentally retarded,” or what we would refer today as an intellectual disability, Les Brown was poor, and with a whole host of potential issues stacked against him–including low self-esteem in school–he emerged as one of the greatest motivational speakers to ever grace a stage. Adopted by a single mother, Miss Mamie Brown, a cafeteria worker, he found success only after he repeatedly picked himself up from unsuccessful attempts to be a radio personality.  

There is power in learning how to turn adversity into advantage, crisis into potential, and setbacks into motivation. Think about that for a moment, if we could harness those three opportunities when we encounter them–adversity, crisis, and setbacks–we could make serious progress in education. There is no doubt that some schools and districts are achieving greatness, but how do we scale that success for every child?

We turn to the popular lesson that Les Brown espoused throughout his career: It’s Possible. What exactly is it that possible, you may ask? The answer is simple–whatever you decide. That’s the importance of the message. Life is filled with challenges, hardships, and difficulties; great school leaders harness a resiliency combined with an unwavering belief that it’s possible, that anything is possible. 

  • It’s possible that all students can learn to read on grade level.
  • It’s possible to attract top talent to this profession.
  • It’s possible to build a culture where staff and students thrive.
  • It’s possible for the community and school to work together in harmony.
  • It’s possible to change grading practices.
  • It’s possible for educators to receive appropriate pay.
  • It’s possible for students to feel safe–emotionally and physically–in every classroom.
  • It’s possible for every American child to graduate with a high school diploma. 

The list can go on-and-on; you get the idea. If the tragedy of the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that this lesson from Less Brown is the truth, it’s possible. Covid19 created a crisis that quickly required educators to shift their thinking about how and where students would be educated. There was no alternative except to change what we were doing, and fast. 

Teachers shifted to instruct students remotely, administrators worked to provide students with access to devices and the internet, nutritional services provided curbside meals, school parking lots turned into vaccination events, classrooms were systematically transformed to meet safety protocols, grading and assessment practices were shifted, instructional methods were altered, and more. The crisis created opportunity, and, in many cases, things improved. Some of the troubles that we were grappling with for year–like internet access at home–were solved in a matter of days. 

A New Mentality

It’s amazing what we’ve accomplished in our profession during tough times. Trust us, we never want to go back to the height of the pandemic, and by no means was everything perfect, but what was accomplished was nothing less than incredible. Now that we know what we are capable of doing as educators, it’s time to tackle some of our other long-standing issues, using the same determination that we had during the crisis. This begins with two fundamental steps: 1. identify and define the new mind-shift that we used when the crisis hit, or when any crisis occurs, and, 2. enumerate the issues in education that are constant, perennial problems. 

A Crisis Mindset

The first step to making changes to perennial problems is to define and implement what we call a crisis mindset. We, along with our friend and co-author Connie Hamilton, developed this definition to accompany a new mentality for solving problems and adopting systemic solutions, An unfiltered 360° view and approach to solving problems with an urgency that abandons conventional wisdom and accepted restraints until a meaningful solution is found, implemented, and sustainable. 

Reflection: 

What are some of the longstanding problems within your school or district? 

Do you believe you can solve them?

Perennial Problems

Take your pick from the various issues that are the Achilles heel for many schools and districts. Perennial problems are issues that consistently limit the success for students, schools, and their communities. They demand a continuous effort to manage and often never go away. These issues require the school system itself to have structures and supports in place to effectively make changes. Ultimately, these problems require a different and new shift in thinking to successfully attack the problems at their core. 

Take a few minutes to identify one or two perennial issues that are negatively affecting student success in your school. Which problems will impact you and your student the most this upcoming school year? Consider academic achievement, school climate, teacher retention, and other issues that recur. 

Reflection:

What issue has to be solved this school year? 

What have you done in the past to solve it?

What new ideas or approach could you use to solve it?

Leadership Hack: Make Problems Tangible

When working to solve perennial problems, it’s critical to take the problem from your mind and make it into something tangible. It may sound simple, but writing the problem out in detail on a sheet of paper makes it real and identifiable to the team. Putting the problem on poster paper or a whiteboard brings it to life in a way that takes it from an abstract notion to a concrete object. 

After you write it down, place it on the center of the table for the entire team to see. Begin to work towards solving what’s in front of you, detail-by-detail. To begin unpacking the problem, we often need a new mental structure to apply. The same old thinking is not going to solve the same old problems. Now that you have the details on paper, tangible and visible to the team, we suggest that your team uses our R.E.P.S. model for thinking about the problem in a new and structured way. This is a SchoolHouse302 original to get conversations going and reflect on an initiative or problem as you shift toward a crisis mindset. Feel free to download our free R.E.P.S. template here. For other new thinking models, check out our new book, 7 Mindshifts for School Leaders: Finding New Ways to Think About Old Problems

Reflect on the work already being done in a particular area of concern. This should be a brain dump of the activities and work that has already taken place to solve the issue, even if it didn’t work well. 

Evaluate what is and what is not working. There are degrees of success when it comes to perennial problems; it’s never a zero-sum game. If something has worked or displayed average success, identify it and work to discover why it worked to the degree that it did and not better. There are often good solutions within current efforts that need tweaking. 

Plan on making adjustments. This can range from involving more people in the discussion to seeking outside expertise to abandoning a current practice and replacing it with another.

Solidify the next steps. Please know that we are not saying to solidify the plan. Don’t jump to conclusions too fast. Finding quick solutions is in and of itself a mistake in education and solving problems in general. There are no silver bullets. Period. It’s a continuous and constant effort to make necessary changes that lead to improvement. And it starts with the mindset that school leaders apply to the problems, which is why R.E.P.S. can help to make sure the team gets to this final step in determining which actions to take after we unpack the problem. 

Conclusion

Looking for opportunities in a crisis and seeing the possibilities that can come from the big problems that we face as school leaders isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it. The good news is that you’re a school leader who wants to lead better and grow faster. The hard part is done; you’re here. The harder part is implementing new structures and new mind shifts that can tackle age-old issues. That’s why you need a crisis mindset

Follow along with us at TheSchoolHouse302 over the next several months, and we’ll uncover new and different ways that you and your team can approach problems in your school. We’re going to recommend books, interview experts, and keep you informed about who is cracking the code of school leadership and why. 

And, we want to hear from you. Please hit us with a like, a follow, a comment, or a share. It helps us and it helps other readers, like you, to find our work so that more school leaders can lead better and grow faster. 

 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

Read This: Two Books that School Leaders Must Read to Be More Courageous and Future Forward

Unlocking Innovation: Two Must Reads for School Leaders

Great School Leaders are Avid Readers

Learning and growing as a school leader through reflection, training, and experience is a professional choice. One powerful way to improve is through reading great books, which is why we feature a couple of books that we benefit from each month. 

Our aim is to link great books to our theme for the month. This month we are focused on school leaders who know that innovation is a key ingredient to successful schools. Innovation in school thrives in a culture that supports diverse and different thinking. Innovation isn’t a thing, it’s not a professional development session; we contend that it’s a value that needs nurturing and support.

For this reason, we chose two books that are must-reads for school leaders who want to build environments, for teachers and other staff members, that are innovative. These may not be the first books that you think of when you reach for a book about innovation, but they’ll support your team’s endeavors to actually be innovative versus just talking about what that means for schools. 

Joe’s Pick: Flamin’ Hot: The Incredible True Story of One Man’s Rise from Janitor to Top Executive

Featured Author: Richard Montanez

 

When we think of innovation in schools, we often think of technology. Whether blended lessons, cool assessment platforms, or flipping a classroom, we love the tech innovations that are reconstructing the instructional prowess of many teachers. However, innovation doesn’t begin or end with tech. Rather, it’s a mindset that should permeate every decision we make. This is why we appreciate Richard’s story and the lessons taught throughout this book. 

 

Listen to our description about how teachers and leaders can embrace an “owner’s mentality” to break from conventional thinking and unveil new ideas and new developments. 

 

T.J.’s Pick: Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy and Responsibility Using Restorative Justice

Featured Authors: Nathan Maynard & Brad Weinstein

We love the old adage, “doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.” There are a lot of things that we do in schools where this applies, especially with school discipline. So often our efforts to correct student misbehavior simply fall short. Don’t get us wrong, this doesn’t mean that people aren’t working hard to help students succeed. But, very often discipline practices are out-of-date and fail to address some of the deeper needs that students have. This is where restorative practices can be very effective, but they require an innovative mindset. 

Listen to our explanation about how this book provides an innovative approach to discipline that works toward correcting student conduct, which is likely obstructing their own and others’ learning. We love that this book addresses equity, empathy, diversity, and inclusiveness–all elements of a truly innovative mindset in schools. 

Technical Tip for Leaders Who Read

We close every Read This Series with a technical tip. This month’s tip is how to read two books a month. Most people believe that you need to be a fast reader to consistently devour books. Not true. It’s not speed, but consistency. Consider an average reading pace of 200 words per minute. This is a very reasonable pace. If you read 20 minutes a day, that’s 4,000 words per sitting. The average book is about 64,000 words. This means that f you read 4,000 words a day, you will read a book every 16 days. That’s about 2 a month. 

Enjoy both of these books to lead better and grow faster as school leaders. We always appreciate a like, a follow a comment, or a share.

Let us know what you’re reading by contacting us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com. And don’t miss our leadership newsletter every week by subscribing on the site. 

 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

 

Joe & T.J.

Today’s content was brought to you by GhostBed, a family-owned business of sleep experts with 20+ years of experience. With 30K+ 5-star reviews, you can’t go wrong with GhostBed. Their mattresses are handcrafted, and they come with a 101-night-at-home-sleep trial. For a limited time, you can get 30% by using our code — SH302 — at checkout. And, even if you tell someone about GhostBed, you can earn a $100 referral reward. Go to Ghostbed.com today and use SH302 at checkout.

Embracing Your Inner Tony Stark: How School Leaders Can Unleash Innovation in Their Schools

Embracing Your Inner Tony Stark: How School Leaders Can Unleash Innovation in Their Schools

Sometimes you gotta run before you can walk. ~ Iron Man

As many readers will know, Tony Stark is a Marvel character and a founding member of the Avengers. He’s also a brilliant inventor and CEO of Stark Industries. Stark invents Iron Man to help fight villains. And, if you have leadership on the brain no matter what you’re doing–like watching a science-fiction movie–like we do, you take note of the ways in which Tony Stark is innovative. 

First, the number of suits that Stark creates demonstrates the diversity in his thinking, the multiple angles in which he views a problem, and the pursuit of never-ending improvement. Second, Stark explores an abundance of ideas with both speed and precision. And, third, maybe most importantly, he takes risks. He challenges himself to get better, be better, and grow stronger because his purpose is resolute. Granted, Stark definitely has character flaws. He is brash and arrogant, but his innovative ways undoubtedly make him a unique contributor to the team. 

You might not love Tony Stark or even the Avengers. But, school leaders must support innovation. We can’t expect new and different results by continuing to do what we’ve always done. The problem is that a culture of innovation often feels like “one more thing” to staff, and comments about “the new shiny project” or “this too shall pass” can quickly take the wind out of your innovation sails. 

The difference between school leaders who successfully weave innovation into the culture and those who don’t can be found in their approach to the three concepts that we draw from Stark. Let’s explore the model and dive deeper into all three. 

A Culture of Innovation Requires Diversity 

The Google search rate for the definition of innovation exceeds 74,000 searches per month. People clearly want to know what it means to be innovative. Science, technology, and innovation can be at the center of economic development, which is one reason why STEM is so popular in schools. But innovation doesn’t always mean science and technology. In fact, innovating in schools is often about doing something different versus just doing what we’ve always done and expecting different results. 

A first step, for any team that wants to drive innovation for change within the school culture, is to establish a definition of innovation. This makes it so that everyone is crystal clear what we mean when we talk about innovating. 

TheSchoolHouse302 Definition of Innovation 

Any new idea, program, project, or initiative that enhances or alters what we used to do, creating something new and different.  

One thing is for certain, leaders who want to drive innovative decision-making through a culture that embraces change, have to diversify the staff and the teams who are making the decision. Research finds that when teams are diverse, not only do they analyze and process facts more carefully–staying objective with the problem as opposed to subjectively inserting an opinion–they innovate at a greater speed. Homogenous groups, on the other hand, may be more comfortable for leaders to establish, but their conformity discourages innovative thinking.

School Leadership Tip #1: 

Reflect on the diversity of your staff. Consider their culture, race, age, gender, or expertise. Don’t settle for the makeup of the team as it stands. Just because the team formed itself, or was already in place, doesn’t mean that we can’t add people to it to make it more diverse. Not only should you be hiring for diversity on your staff–recruiting as best you can–you should be using the diversity that you already have on staff to create more innovative teams

A Culture of Innovation Requires Open Dialogue 

For innovation to be a norm within your school culture, people need to be free to express new ideas in their peer groups and to their supervisors. This is unfortunately not the case in every school; new ideas are often stifled by staff who perceive their peers as creating more work for them with new ideas, and leaders can often thwart new idea generation by communicating that if new ideas don’t come from them then they aren’t as important. 

In a culture of innovation, every new idea is welcomed and celebrated. This is not to say that every new idea is implemented, but it is given the chance to be heard, tested, and reviewed for its merit. In these cultures, we find that leaders have a specific method–meeting structures, timelines, communication platforms, etc–for people to express new ideas. And, research, data, and evidence are almost always presented in a way that supports a change. This type of environment is collegial, and staff feel free to challenge each other and their supervisors in a productive way

School Leadership Tip #2: 

Actively create a culture of open dialogue. This will not occur on its own. Start by creating what Jennie Magiera calls a Critical Friends group. A first step to creating a culture where new ideas are free-flowing is to develop spaces and times for it to happen. These can be established and supported much like an Edcamp. These spaces and times will widen and expand as you continue to push people to challenge the status quo until one day you’ll be surprised by how accepting people are of new ideas, and innovation will become a norm within the culture. 

A Culture of Innovation Requires Risk-Taking

Innovation in a school cannot rise above the leader’s willingness to support it. Leaders who actively support and build a culture of innovation are also the ones who encourage staff to take calculated risks and fail faster as they implement. They do their best to create situations and scenarios where teachers can simulate and role-play as learners who are trying new strategies, but they also promote mistake-making and progress over perfection. 

School leaders cannot underestimate how stressful risk-taking is in schools. The status-quo is safe and known; innovation is the exact opposite. Leaders who create a culture of innovation are able to help staff recognize the power of innovation and how it improves their professional practice, which decreases stress as anxiety. It’s a mindshift for staff that risk-taking is worth it, that it is exciting, and that it is one of the most important ways in which we make improvements. In this type of innovative culture, people view mistakes as valuable and don’t worry about whether or not something is going to work well the first time. 

School Leadership Tip #3: 

Praise effort rather than always looking for quality execution. Leaders can learn to praise teachers for their effort and willingness to take a risk that rewards the implementation of a new idea even if it is not perfect the first time. Of course, we want new strategies to be effective, but the only way for that to happen is through the evolution of practice. You can grab our model for praise and use it right away for those who are willing to take a risk

From a Culture of WHY to a Culture of TRY 

A very recent movement in organizational design is for leaders to consistently communicate the WHY of the organization or even that of a project so that staff can embrace the rationale behind it. We embrace this type of vision setting strategy for school leaders, but we also know that it cannot stop there. Schools are dynamic and complex, and everyone is not going to share the same WHY, even when it’s described in detail and is backed by research and evidence; as Doug Reeves says on our One Thing Series podcast, buy-in a myth. For this reason, school leaders should push past a culture of WHY and move to a culture of TRY.

Next time you focus on the WHY of your new innovative idea, be sure to include a “bias for action” and develop a culture of TRY. The key is to establish a small coalition of people who are willing to put something into practice before it’s totally understood. These folks are typically the ones who know that the current system is broken. They may not be Gung Ho! about the new idea, but they are passionate about change. They’ll go first, and they’re movement will be what others see. This public display of “trying something new” is sure to spread, which is what changes the culture from wanting to know the WHY to a willingness to give something new a TRY. Use the following three action steps to put this school leadership model for innovation into practice in your school. 

The Innovative School Leadership Model in Action:

  1. Reflect on the diversity of your team.
  2. Actively create a culture of open dialogue.
  3. Praise efforts for trying something new.


Reputable, Effective, Perception Survey for Schools

Support (REPSS)

Innovation Questions

 

    1. The staff at our school is made up of a diverse group of people. 
    2. My colleagues challenge my thinking in productive ways.
    3. I am encouraged to take instructional risks in the classroom. 
    4. I use data to alter my methods of teaching to improve student achievement. 
    5. I used what I learned in professional development this year. 
    6. I was recognized for being innovative with our practices. 
    7. Overall, innovation is a norm at our school. 
    8. I feel comfortable expressing new ideas to my colleagues.
    9. I feel comfortable expressing new ideas to my administration.
    10. Our school has a method for me to express new or different ideas. 

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TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple by maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Joe & T.J. 

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