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18 things that leaders of innovative schools do differently

18 things that leaders of innovative schools do differently

I had a wonderful time this past week at the TIES conference in Minneapolis. Having worked at the University of Minnesota for six years, it was super fun to connect with old educator friends and new (including a lot of goofiness with Shelly Terrell while at Flipgrid headquarters).
I served as the lunch keynote for TIES on Sunday and then facilitated a lesson redesign workshop that afternoon using our trudacot discussion protocol (thanks, Julie Graber, for joining us!). I always love redesigning instructional activities with teachers and school leaders. Two random comments from that Sunday workshop that gave my heart a warm glow:
“We’re not having these kinds of conversations using the Danielson framework”
“I skipped the Vikings game for this workshop and am glad that I did” 
Both of those were high praise indeed!
On Monday I was in charge of TIES’ annual all-day Leadership Seminar. There are a few things that I would do differently next time, but all in all it went very well and we had some superb conversations. In the afternoon we looked at a variety of innovative schools from around the world and tried to answer the twin questions of ‘What is going on in these schools that’s different?’ and ‘What do we think the leaders of these schools are doing differently?’ [compared to those in more traditional schools]. Here is the list that my group came up with…
Leaders in innovative schools…
give permission for innovation AND ALSO provide support. Teachers know that they can take risks and will be supported by their administrators.
take risks themselves and have the understanding that things will not always go as planned. They are brave and courageous enough to put their school and themselves ‘out there.’
are able to change existing schedule, transportation, staffing, budgeting, and other structures in concrete, tangible, productive, and strategic ways to support new forms of learning.
empower student choice. They and their staff are able to open up spaces to find out what students are passionate about and interested in and then leverage those opportunities to create cultures of intrinsic motivation.
create academic pathways that help learners be successful based on their unique interests, skills, and talents. Both vocational and professional partnerships, internships, and mentorships are created.
reduce, distill, and connect disparate initiatives in order to reduce the number of things on educators’ plates.
facilitate clarity of organizational purpose and establish instructional coherence in partnership with their teachers and other staff.
provide lots of time for staff to collaborate in rich, substantive, and meaningful ways.
engage their community in the instructional and organizational redesign processes and provide opportunities for community members to be part of the work. Redesign work is less individually-dependent and more community-driven.
understand that every person brings their own beliefs, ideas, assumptions, and values to the table. They see those differences as assets, not problems to be managed, and are able to harness the power of distributed leadership to facilitate ownership and contribution across various stakeholder groups.
help educators, students, parents, and community members see new possibilities and the power of instructional transformations.
facilitate shared agreement and commitments toward core values and day-to-day expectations. Protocols are put into place for discussion, dissent, and revisiting previous decisions. 
create climates of open communication and safety in which everyone is sharing information, successes, challenges, and questions.
take a holistic approach toward identifying and addressing student needs.
have a vision of what success – the end goal – looks like. Celebrations are connected to both the process and the progress. Explicit structures are created to share and celebrate those successes.
are able to plant seeds of innovation and grow them successfully while anticipating the problems that may come up during the transformation process. They create proactive – not reactive – response structures that automatically kick in when anticipated issues inevitably arise.
find ways to ensure that ‘the change people’ win instead of the resisters. They buffer and protect innovative educators rather than allowing ‘crab bucket’ or ‘tall poppy’ environments to flourish.
are able to help teachers translate big ideas from mission and vision statements into day-to-day instructional practice. [emphasis added]
I don’t know if this covers everything but it’s an excellent start as we think about innovative leadership. This obviously is complex work, which is why most schools and administrators aren’t doing it…
 
Which of these do you think are most important? How are your school leaders doing with these: which are they doing well and which could use some more attention? What would you add to this list?

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