Everyday Innovation

Ten practical tips for fostering innovation.

For educators to be successful in teaching students to step up and become tomorrow's innovators, they must become innovators themselves. Enter school leadership. Here are ten practical steps any superintendent, principal, or other administrator can take to help make that happen.

1. Go on record. Let your staff know that you value innovation and why. Tell them face-to-face, not in a memo or e-mail. Post pictures of innovators you admire on your office wall. Find powerful quotations about innovation and share them in your newsletters or in the signature line of your e-mail messages.

2. Model innovation. Walk the walk. If you always choose the safe path, not only will you see less innovation in your staff, they may even lose respect for you.

3. Pollinate. Staff members need access to inventions and ideas that can serve as the basis of their own innovations. Send them to relevant conferences or to other schools. Bring in guest speakers and structure opportunities for idea sharing.

4. Nurture expert practice. Successful innovation increases with work efficiency. Be sure staff has access to professional development so they can hone their skills.

5. Build a receptive climate. Honor people's ideas and put them to work. Take a "what if" approach. Look for ways to shape the innovation so that it maintains its essence while being tested.

6. Budget for innovation. You get what you pay for. If you really want to see innovation, you need to spend some money on it. Consider establishing innovation as its own program.

7. Hold people accountable. If your evaluation system is flexible and you have a good relationship with the staff, consider including innovation as part of the formal review process or ask teachers to share examples of their efforts at staff meetings or during informal conversations. They could do "quick writes" during staff meetings describing one of their efforts to innovate.

8. Declare a "holiday from routine." Choose some routine process and say, "For today, we can't do it that way. We've still got to do it, but we need to find some other way to get it done." For example, the daily loudspeaker announcements might have to be delivered a different way.

9. Bring problems to the group. Two heads are better than one. But what about three heads? Ten? Twenty-five? By tapping the collective wisdom of your staff, you'll increase the chances that innovative ideas will emerge — and that those ideas will be good ones.

10. Develop an innovation management plan. If your efforts to foster innovation are a success, you may soon find yourself with more innovations than you can cope with. Put a process in place to set priorities, target scarce funds at innovations with the most promise, and evaluate the results obtained from innovations as they are implemented.

Michael Simkins, Ed.D., is director of the Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership (TICAL) at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education.