It’s difficult to explain how the past seven months have influenced who I am and who I want to become.  As I’ve drifted father from the shore of what I’m comfortable with into my areas of growth, my perspective has changed drastically. The shore calls me.

In the documentary, Losing Sight of the Shore, we’re introduced to six women who have their own dreams to accomplish and demons to conquer. The movie tag line is “everyone has their own pacific to cross.” Each team member faces the unknown and struggles with the challenges of being at sea for months as they move from California to Hawaii to Samoa to Australia on the Coxless Crew women’s rowing team.

Laura, who funded the expedition, has the weight of the world on her shoulders as they begin the journey and then must return back to California to start over again. Emma, who loves to row more than anything, finds herself hating the work and falling into deep depression. Storms and currents put them off track time after time and they struggle to make their two hours shifts. Two hours rowing and two hours resting. Relentlessly over a period of 257 days at sea.

Reflecting on my own journey to “cross the pacific”, I’m inspired by these amazing women who reached for their dreams and kept on going even in the midst of terrible circumstances. Time after time they show their calloused hands and talk openly about their inner struggles. They accomplished something that no one had even done before, and yet they aren’t the heroes in many of the stories that we tell.

After a year of conference presentations and workshops, I’ve found myself empathizing with Emma. Emma reached a point in the journey where what she loved became something that she hated. Each day, she would drag herself to rowing duty and hate every minute of it. Why? because it was hard. There weren’t easy rewards. She didn’t receive outward rewards for her work and questioned whether she was good enough for the job. And in spite of the hard work, others in the field were capitalizing on the marketing and making names for themselves. It’s hard to be on a journey into the unknown and you begin to question yourself. When you go beyond the shore of what you’re comfortable with, failure will happen. You’ll discover

Which brings me to my message. I am at my best when I’m focusing on the people on the shore. The people who, like me, are starting out on new journeys. All the hype of conferences and workshops is about the glitz. Sharing out fabulous tools and providing a “show” for the participants. A chance to meet someone who is an allstar in the edtech world either through workshop presentations, keynotes, books, blogs, etc. Who doesn’t want to be the person with the perfect slide deck or the funny videos and stories?

Well, me. I’m going to turn back to the shore and see who is there waiting for me. The boat had four rowers at all times, but three of the rowers on the team of six only rowed for one leg. It was enough for them. They accomplished what they set out to do and motivated the three full time members to keep going. I want to help others see the work ahead of them and help them make it to the new destination. It takes a lot of strength to stay on the shore. To go to work in a school or district every day and tackle the real challenges and needs of an organization. This is my pacific. Drifting offshore just enough to help others step into the boat and push off to new destinations.

Wherever you are, whatever you do  in education, never go so far offshore that you lose sight of the people who are trying to get started on the journey. Be kind to others. Be supportive. Remove red tape. Watch them set sail and never give into the desire to be center of the story. Help others create and tell their stories. This is the work of educators. Join me!

 

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IMG_20170919_162613How might we cultivate, spread and scale a culture of innovation throughout our classrooms and schools to catalyze people for positive change? This is the powerful question that we’re exploring in my school district, Richland School District Two  in Columbia, SC. Coming to a common understanding about what a culture of innovation means has been essential in the development of our vision. An innovative school culture fosters community, encourages new ideas to solve complex issues and is the foundation for successful schools and ultimately for successful students. It’s easy to talk about creating a culture of innovation, but it’s harder to implement. And if trust in the culture is broken, it’s much harder to rebuild.

Many great resources are available to assist schools in reimagining culture and taking steps for a culture shift. Some of my favorite resources include the Johnson and Scholes Culture Web and *Gartner research on steps that lead to a culture of creativity.  We can also learn from companies like Intel and Google and how they create a climate for curiosity, agency, risk taking, and collaboration.  Based on my own experience and the research of others, here are six steps you can take this year to build a culture of innovation in your classroom and school.

Six Steps to Building a Culture of Innovation

  1. Change your perspective. Use design thinking techniques for observing and interviewing to get a sense of what is going on in your school or classroom. Observation gives you fuel for thought, but you need to follow up with interviews to find out more about what people are thinking and feeling. Shadow a student or colleague for a day to change your perspective and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You can read more about this from my Intel Visionary friend and colleague Melissa Lim. In her post on the Intel IT Peer Network, Setting Goals for the New School Year, she talks about being a mindful listener and being aware of implicit biases.
  2. Activate others to use their talents. How we welcome our staff, learners and community sets the stage for how everyone engages in the school culture. Little steps like sending hand written invites to an event, setting up a room for collaboration and incorporating mixer activities can make a big difference in participation and engagement. In a typical meeting, 20% of the people take up 80% of the time. To create a culture of innovation, organize the structure of classes, workshops and design sessions so that 100% of the attendees are involved 100% of the time. Follow-up after events by sending out thank you notes and giving shout outs to participants. Remind people of next steps and provide ongoing support, check-ins, and road block removal.
  3. Create rituals and routines to foster innovation. Rituals are a way to bridge the gap between our desired beliefs and behaviors and the current state.  They can be used to create a group identity, raise team spirit, put people in a mindset to think creatively, or encourage collaboration. Ideas that can easily be incorporated include using design thinking methods in team meetings, providing exercise or mindfulness breaks, and celebrating new students and staff members through recognition programs. Think about your desired results and then design rituals to achieve those results.
  4. Position yourself as a learner. It’s easy to get into a routine of doing work that we know instead of reaching out to learn new content, methods or skills. Time constraints and daily work make it challenging for us to take on new growth opportunities but we need to model learning to be successful in creating a positive school culture. Step outside of your comfort zone and try something new to rewire your brain. We need to unlearn old habits to make way for new ways of working. In the video, The Backwards Brain Bicycle, Destin Sandlin, explores how difficult it is for us to unlearn habits and biases. Keeping ourselves challenged and in flow will help to develop a culture where risking taking and learning from failure is valued. Encourage practices like 20% time to provide students and others in your organization with time to work on their passions.
  5. Build a network of trust and collaboration. Building an innovative community is achieved by creating opportunities for others to have discussions and collaboration.  In The Power of Onlyness, Nilofer Merchant emphasizes that each person in a network brings their own unique contribution (onlyness) that becomes amplified by the onlyness of others. When people come together for a common cause, they can have a powerful influence on the naysayers. During a recent visit to Nashville, I was reminded of the power of networks while visiting RCA Studio B. This small room produced some of the most well known singers and musicians with over 1000 hits. By giving everyone a place to share their voice, we build trust which is an essential ingredient for a thriving, innovative community.
  6. Be a storyteller. To be successful with shifting to a culture of innovation, you need to share stories. Create opportunities for students and educators to share their ideas and tell their stories. Innovation events and activities promote collaboration and provide a way for people to share both their successes and their failures. As more stories are told, more people will be willing to try new approaches and share their experiences.

The next steps is to get started! Bring together a team, establish a common vision for a culture of innovation and brainstorm ideas that you can prototype and test. I look forward to hearing how these approaches work for you!


References and Suggested Reading:

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