The world constantly evolves, and schools must adapt to keep pace with societal and technological changes. Innovative leaders can help schools stay relevant and prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of the future.
Innovation in school leadership can lead to the development and implementation of new teaching methods, curriculum designs, and educational technologies. These innovations can enhance the quality of education and improve student outcomes.
To prepare for the future job market, students need to develop adaptability, creativity, and digital literacy skills. School leaders have to introduce programs and initiatives to nurture these skills.
Innovative practices are also required to generate creative solutions for those hard-to-reach students who don’t fit the mold of regular schools. As important is the modeling of these practices for teachers to embrace the need for education to perform differently than in the past to fit the present and future needs.
With more than 20 years of district leadership experience under our belts, here are some of our leadership actions to consider to promote innovation.
Supporting Innovation: Embrace Technology & Promote Blended Learning
Embracing technology is essential for both leaders and students if both are to find success in an era focused on the importance of individual needs. Leaders should make use of data akin to a marketing strategy when meeting the needs of both staff and students. This could include using digital tools, online resources, and innovative ways to hold meetings.
Encouraging a blend of traditional classroom instruction and online learning provides flexibility that allows students to learn at their own pace and style while providing teachers with data to personalize instruction.
Feedback for Teachers
We have found a tool such as Voxer to be of great use when it comes to feedback, based on its ability to reach teachers more effectively in a manner that avoids defensiveness. Gone are the days of reading between the lines on evaluative checklists or skimming reports too dense (or boring) to read. The recorded voice or video allow messages to be absorbed on demand as they move through their other tasks.
Rather than failing students and making them attend summer school, we decided to help students who struggled to pass their courses by instituting what we call Winter School. This has students reviewing critical concepts they fell short on via an online platform and at their own pace. They can enroll through the year as usual by successfully completing those concepts. Online platforms also serve as avenues for exploration in courses for which no teachers or when students cannot attend school for medical reasons. Google Classrooms are now the norm, but they are only the first step in truly using technology to innovate for the benefit of students.
Support Professional Development
It's key to invest in PD for teachers and staff, focusing on innovative teaching methods, technology integration, and new educational trends.
The most meaningful PD is relevant, ongoing, and job-embedded. It is key for leaders to discover creative ways to hit these three markers of success.
For example, we held a staff-created and -run conference on a district PD day. Staff members submitted proposals for sessions they would run and then individuals attended based on their needs. There was a high level of personalization, and sessions included current issues needing support, topics for deeper discussions as we move forward, and every staff position, from paraprofessional to nurse to art teacher. This event created an environment that allowed exploration of current topics, consistent follow-up with presenters, and the ability for teachers to coach one another in their areas of expertise.
Create Flexible Learning Spaces
Redesign classrooms and learning environments to be flexible and adaptable to different teaching and learning styles. This can foster creativity and collaboration.
It’s not just that everyone learns differently, but students also can maximize their learning based on their surroundings.
For example, knowing and understanding this, we changed the structure of our library. We removed large, stationary desks that once housed desktop computers and bookshelves that occupied most of the floor space. These items were replaced with a large center area containing high-top bistro-style tables and chairs on wheels. We also put all the bookshelves on wheels. The result has been an area that houses mini concerts, lunch, multiple classes, afterschool programming, and more. And we now have a flexible space that can be reconfigured to meet the many different needs of students and staff throughout the day and evening. Students can consistently collaborate or work individually based on their unique needs.
School leaders should stay up-to-date with the latest educational research, trends, and best practices to identify opportunities for innovation.
It is also essential for leaders to hear multiple perspectives on every aspect of the educational experience so they can help make it what it needs to be in the future. Besides reading non education-based books on leadership, consider being part of a professional growth organization such as Better Leaders Better Schools Mastermind.
Innovation comes from surrounding yourself with other leaders who will challenge what you are doing, support you through obstacles, and hold you accountable for ensuring the success of all those you serve by creatively meeting their individual needs.
It’s important to know and understand that innovation does not just appear. It is the result of transforming current ideas into a reality that achieves the goal of continually moving forward in a way that effectively supports, engages, and empowers students and staff to reach their highest level of success.
By fostering a culture of innovation and providing the necessary support and resources, school leaders can contribute to developing effective and forward-thinking educational practices.