Saturday, June 11, 2011

So, you have any idea. Now, how to get administrative support?

Here is a nice  response to my recent post, Innovative teachers: Revolutionaries or rebels?
I enjoyed this post, my Admn. trusts me and allows me to do almost anything I ask (in the name of education). I take many risks because I know she will allow me to do it. Unfortunately I am one of the only ones in my building taking the risks....
This response, as well as a recent #isedchat Twitter session (Thursday evenings at 9 pm EST), got me thinking.
Why do some administrators not "allow" innovation to exist? 
What strategies can teachers use to "enchant" support for innovative ideas from their administrators?
Before I begin, let me offer a strong recommendation for the following books.  If you are interested in this topic and are looking for a stimulating and passionate read, please check out Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by Guy Kawasaki, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? bySeth Godin, Poke the Box by Seth Godin, and Do the Work by Steven Pressfield.

Why do some administrators not "allow" innovation to exist?

There are two reasons why I think some administrators would discourage innovation.  One may be that the administrator is not a naturally innovative thinker.  The other may be attributed to the fear of failure and how that applies to the responsibilities of the administrator.

A lack of innovative thinking is not uncommon.  As a matter of opinion, innovative thinkers are rare and often in demand.  The good news is that she may be more innovative than you think and simply needs to rediscover that part of her.  Try to listen to her objections carefully and ask clarifying questions.

Another reason is connected to the administrator's responsibilities.  I have written quite a few times that the school leader can delegate authority, but cannot delegate responsibility.  When the day is done, the final outcome rests mostly on the leader's shoulders.  Fear of failure is a huge reason why innovative ideas are not eagerly supported.

I also expect that, if faced with the opinion that they are discouraging innovation, they would disagree.  People are not born to be less creative or innovative, they become that way over time.  Because the change can take years, it is rarely noticed by the person.  Much like I can only tell that I have aged after looking at pictures from years ago, a less innovative administrator may need to find a barometer (or project) against which the creative spirit can be measured.

What strategies can teachers use to "enchant" support for innovative ideas from their administrators?

Good leaders expect, essentially, one thing - for you to deliver a successful product that produces the desired results.  If you want to get on the administrator's "good side" begin by looking at your recent history of delivering results.

Do you meet deadlines?  Are you often late to school?  Are you aware of what is going on or do you ignore memos and emails?  Have you said you would do something recently only to not deliver on that claim?  Can you be trusted?  Are you dependable?  Do you make excuses or are you responsible?  Are you a team player?

When teachers present ideas to administrators, believe me when I say that almost all of those questions (or other similar to those) are answered inside the leader's head.  Here is an inside tip, so pay close attention.

Leaders want you to have ideas and be innovative in class.

The problem is that administrators have limited resources to spend (either money, time, energy, etc.) on ideas.  If you have a trust/dependability/responsibility problem, you are going to have a tough time convincing any administrator that your idea deserves attention.

If you want support, be the responsible professional who consistently delivers results. 

Concluding thoughts for school leaders
There is a saying that I refer to in my work that was shared with me by a friend and mentor.

You lead it or it will lead you.

I believe this is an important part of being a school leader, but the art of leading is in properly defining what "it" is.  When it comes to innovation and creative thinking, we should not confuse tradition for a lack of innovation.  As a matter of fact, excellent schools are places where part of the tradition is in finding innovative ways to continue to uphold the high expectations developed over time.

I like to define innovation as "ideas in action."  The collective wisdom of your teaching faculty is one of the most valuable resources at your school.  Put that resource to work by supporting good ideas.  Lead the effort to be innovative or the drive for innovation will lead you. 

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