Sunday, January 21, 2018

Reframing The Fear of Educational Innovation

I have been at several workshops in the last few weeks with educators and administrators and the biggest theme that keeps emerging (around why more schools aren't disrupting the status quo) is the fear of change or failure. 

I believe all educators are also designers - and that we need to design for courage while having a bias for action. 

Albert Bandura used the process of guided mastery to help people gain courage and overcome mental roadblocks. Breaking down the big steps needed to design and execute changes in education systems becomes manageable when we break them down into smaller pieces. Sometimes we just need to start. The failure to get started or stop when things "fall off the rails" stalls innovation in education. If we think about educational change and innovation as a series of small steps it helps administrators and teachers overcome the fear of failure that blocks their momentum to start. Small successes with pilot programs, "school within a school" models and other efforts at innovation help schools go onto the next level of the necessary education change most schools/districts currently face. 

If we accept making mistake as part of learning, the fear of failure will not hold us back and help us continue to do the work in the face of setbacks. If you hold a position of power within a school/district, role model risk taking and give teachers permission to fail from time to time. Acknowledge mistakes and move on. When teachers lose confidence in their creativity, the impact can be profound within a school system - leading to fixed mindsets and fear. Sir Ken Robinson says that in most schools "mistakes are the worst thing you can make." The goal of schools should be to fulfill the promise of helping students (and educators) find their strengths, passions and enable them to make their way in the world. 

Most schools remain stuck in place with the status quo while the most innovative are sprinting forward. It takes creative confidence (Kelley and Kelley, 2013) to leave the land of certain outcomes and the comfort of what we know to try a new approach or share a wild sounding idea. Once insecurity takes hold, efforts at changing schools stop and fizzle out. What matters most is our belief in our capacity to create positive change and the courage to take action. Often efforts to improve school systems move into planning but end before action - or start too soon. Using a framework like design thinking, where we are called to build empathy for others, fail fast and be resilient, can support change efforts. To embrace experimentation, don't get stuck in the planning stage; innovation is all about quickly turning ideas into action. 

Ideas to "Get Going"
Adapted from Kelley and Kelley, Creative Confidence, 2013. 

  • Get help: form a think tank made up of diverse stakeholders from both inside and outside of your school, hire the right consultant: organizational psychologist, designer, or business advisor. 
  • Create peer pressure: gather your team frequently, give teacher leaders release time or run an innovation fellows program (similar to a program I have run in past schools with success) or find a mentor. Get other schools/districts onboard.
  • Gather an audience: finding attentive listeners that can be your parents, other innovators at meetups or offer workshops at your school using the edcamp model.
  • Do a bad job: this gets back to the fear of change... while it might be hard, suspend judgement of how well you are doing. Just get something out there. 
  • Lower the stakes: If the problem you are working on feels so important that everything hinges on it, make it less important. Use design methods like Difficulty Impact Matrix, "What's on Your Radar," or creative matrix (LUMA Institute System of Innovating for People) to figure out what makes sense. 

These small changes to combat fear of change and failure can create infectious action. It might start in a few classrooms, lead to a building and eventually a larger school system but embracing an innovation mindset helps fuel innovation. So, embrace the fear and don't sit back and let circumstances determine the fate of a future generation of students. It's our duty as educators to reframe fear into educational innovation. 

Replace "corporate" for school and this model works.

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