If you’ve ever had the opportunity to attend a ropes course, it’s likely that you felt intrigued while observing the varying levels of ability. From novice to expert every individual moves at his or her own pace. Others prefer to stand to the side and watch the action take place.
Following a recent experience at a ropes course with my sons, I was struck with how schools are comparable. While some teachers avidly advance forward as innovators who motivate and challenge colleagues to try new ideas, others want to know every minute detail and speculate all of the possibilities in order to grasp the big picture and purpose before committing to taking action. We need to be in tune with the needs of the individuals in our organization, decipher what drives them, and how we can support them to move forward. In our field, we need to aspire to empower every educator to be a significant agent of change regardless of their starting point.
Educators have the capacity to be the fire starters to ignite a movement when the culture and climate are robust enough to support it. By movement, I mean a complete transformation in the way we envision and do school. Individually we are making varying differences daily, but collectively we can produce a significant impact and provoke immense change. In today’s world we desperately need committed educators who spark awe and wonder within students, while encouraging the spark to spread contagiously as students continue to inquire, seek answers, and develop new questions around relevant topics. Leaders alike need to do the same amongst their staff and colleagues shifting to foster a culture where educators feel supported to take responsible risks. The culture of schools, with trust as the cornerstone, should be one that stirs up a crusade where teachers eagerly identify their passions and feel supported to take risks, grow, and challenge one another.
On the ropes course I had to feel assured that my sons and I were completely safe in our harnesses in order to proceed through the challenges. Guides were in the vicinity checking in and also demonstrating safety, which promoted confidence in those of us on the course.
In any organization, relationships and trust are the pillars to a strong culture. Educators and administrators alike need to feel supported. If our goal is to increase innovative practices and opportunities for our students and teachers, we need to take a step back and analyze how we’re nurturing the culture. Fear can cripple a person and lead to avoiding risk-taking behavior and therefore stifle innovation.
In our organizations we need to know our people, understand and be empathetic to their needs, as well as listen to and value their ideas. Our schools need to cultivate a culture of innovation so strong that it carries itself beyond any change in staff or leadership in order to continue to do what’s best for students as our world changes minute-to-minute.
Connect With Thought Leaders
Coming together through connections with like-minded educators enhances the power to be trailblazers in education as we are able to support one another and share ideas. Joining together through shared beliefs and dreams drives passion within individuals enabling synergy to develop. Connect through Twitter or use an app such as Voxer that will provide you with flexibility to communicate. This enables interdependence between educators to support and collaboratively move one another forward. The more often we connect with a team of like-minded thought leaders we develop confidence. Confidence is critical in order to make pedagogical shifts and face challenges head on. We need to know who is by our side to support us without judging our alternative ideas and who will provide authentic feedback for reflection and growth.
Encourage Educators to be “Non-Compliant.”
Compliance doesn’t lead to change. Compliance leads to complacency, which jeopardizes growth and success. At the ropes course, I was tempted to call out to my sons to hold the rope, or to slow down. I had to refrain because if I didn’t want to suppress their growth. My sons are both risk takers, and I had to trust the fact that they were using all of their senses to appropriately travel through the challenges in a supportive environment.
In thinking about the diversity that fills our schools, we need to examine what makes each individual most confident in order for them to join the movement. Cultivating and sustaining a culture of innovation requires delicate balance.
When we recognize risk-taking educators who are ready to soar, we need to clear the runway and provide encouragement along with the space to take off; but the key is that we also need to have them on our teams collaborating to provoke deep thinking, which can elicit others to join the movement. Initiate conversations around how their ideas support the shared vision, what action steps they’re taking, and see how others could gain from what they have to offer. When we bring a diverse team of thought leaders together to collaborate we can promote growth from all angles and develop thorough plans. Within every organization there are educators who are comfortable diving-in and just going for it, while others take time to adjust. Honoring and celebrating individual qualities creates a no-judgment zone where educators know they’re supported when they feel it’s their time to fly.
Likewise, when we sense educators are uncomfortable about change, we need to be cognizant of the environment they’re in, who are they connected with, and nurture the culture to support their individual growth. Educators who require all of the nuts and bolts of a plan, or to see the big picture before moving forward, benefit from clarity of the vision. When we engage in active listening practices and are genuinely empathetic, others are able to trust that they’re supported. As educators we can all highlight the strengths that shine within each individual. Our role as educators is to empower, whether it’s empowering students, colleagues, families, or ourselves.
In terms of non-compliance, educators need to have the autonomy to do what they know is best for students. We need to motivate educators to make every decision with students at the forefront. Educators benefit from developing a shared vision with coherence by examining the world students are living in and stretching our means to support them to be successful and future ready.
As an educator, I know I need to utilize the standards as the foundation of student learning, but traditional education as we know it is hindering our students’ growth. Is learning in silos effective and is it how we apply information to life outside of the classroom? Educators in all positions need to challenge themselves by reflecting on why they’re doing, what they’re doing. Being a continuous learner enables us to develop confidence in our endeavor. As trailblazers who are shifting paradigms of education, I urge all to join in and be an influencer who walks the talk.