Monday, June 19, 2017

Innovation over Complacency

The word “innovation” is all over the place in the world of education right now.  We are all pushing teachers, students, and school communities to embrace creative, novel ways “do school.”  

Of course, as with any “trending” terms, I refuse to obsess about it.  There are too many tried-and-true tactics to abandon the good stuff, just for the sake of innovation.  We’ve got to innovate, sure, but that doesn’t mean we should be impulsive or over-the-top about it all.

With that said, innovation really is an exciting thing. Personally, I find it thrilling; I love re-examining our traditional ways of teaching, leading, and learning—considering how to do it better, more efficiently, and with a bigger impact.

In that spirit, I would argue that innovation has an enemy:  Complacency. And after being an educator for some time, it really is easy to become complacent.  We evolve into relative masters of our content and then slide into a routine in which everything is going swimmingly.  Everyone seems happy.  Ehe ebbs and flows of a school year are identifiable and sensible.  Everything is fine.  Right? 

Which is precisely when complacency can settle in, subtle and unnoticeable. Just.  Like. That.

To stave it off, I am going to do some sniffing around this next school year to see if there are ways I can incorporate innovative thinking into my own professional practices.  In that spirit, here are three things I’m committing myself to do in the upcoming year in my attempt fight off complacency. 

Actively seek ways to learn new things.  I have begun to target specific areas where I can refine and improve.  As an example, it’s been ten years since I sat down and actually administered a particular reading assessment required by our district.  I did it hundreds and hundreds of times before going into building leadership; I speak about the data like it’s my own; and I can use the numbers to determine a student’s reading progress. But I haven’t actually administered one in over a decade.  Yikes.  So when I identified this as an area of potential complacency, I sought a counter action:  I called our district reading specialist and asked her to re-train me and then supervise me while I administered the test to multiple students.  Hopefully, when school starts up again in August, I’ll be sharp as ever when using this assessment to make decisions for students.

Grasp at unexpected learning opportunities.  This spring, we were interviewing multiple candidates for teaching openings.  Among other things, we asked candidates, “What are some of the resources you rely upon when intervening or enriching the literacy experience for your kids?”  The answers were full of learning opportunities for me.  Often the candidates would spout out the acronym of a particular program or resource; in those cases, I’d stop them and ask them to explain further.   I’d jot down some ideas and then, later, snuggled on my couch with my perched laptop, I’d search through apps, programs, and resources to see if any seemed they could make our school more efficient and effective.  I'm going to continue to do that—find new ideas and find ways to incorporate them into our daily work.

Re-boot areas that foster complacency.  Complacency is a close, close cousin to weariness.  There are things in my job that certainly make me weary—but, alas, they must be done and they must be done well.   School safety drills; staff evaluations; daily duties; parent-teacher conferences; IEP and 504 meetings—all of these things were exciting and fostered my full engagement when I first started my job.  Now, though, I find myself feeling dragged down with the time and energy they require.  To combat this (unacceptable) feeling, I plan to actively search for a “restart” button and find ways to become better at leading each one.  Can I make our drills more efficient and streamlined?  During evaluations, how can I give feedback that will really make a difference to staff and, therefore, their students?  How can I bring back the fun and energy to covering a standard bus or recess duty?

So.  That's my goal for the upcoming year.  I have three things to focus on as I work to be a better principal and leader.  Call it innovation, call it evolution, call it whatever fits best.  I call it choosing innovation over complacency.  

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