6 Steps to Building a Culture of Innovation

How can we cultivate, spread and scale a culture of innovation throughout our classrooms and schools to create positive change? This is the powerful question that we’re exploring in my school district, Richland School District Two in Columbia, South Carolina. Coming to a common understanding about what a culture of innovation means has been essential to the development of our vision. An innovative school culture fosters community and encourages new ideas to solve complex issues. It is the foundation for successful schools and ultimately for successful students. It’s easy to talk about creating a culture of innovation, but it’s harder to implement. And if trust in the culture is broken, it’s much harder to rebuild.

Many great resources are available to assist schools in reimagining culture and taking steps to shift it. Some of my favorite resources include the Johnson and Scholes Culture Web and Gartner research on steps that lead to a culture of creativity.  We can also learn from companies like Intel and Google in terms of how they create a climate for curiosity, agency, risk-taking, and collaboration.

Based on my own experience and the research of others, here are six steps you can take this year to build a culture of innovation in your classroom and school:

  1. Change your perspective. Use design thinking techniques for observing and interviewing to give you a sense of what is going on in your school or classroom. Observation gives you fuel for thought, but you need to follow it up with interviews to find out more about what people are thinking and feeling. Shadow a student or colleague for a day to change your perspective and put yourself in their shoes. You can read more about this from my Intel® Education Visionary friend and colleague Melissa Lim. In her post on the Intel IT Peer Network, Setting Goals for the New School Year, she talks about being a mindful listener and staying aware of implicit biases.
  2. Activate others to use their talents. The ways in which we welcome our staff, learners and community set the stage for how everyone engages in the school culture. Small steps like sending handwritten invites to an event, setting up a room for collaboration or incorporating mixer activities can make a big difference in participation and engagement. In a typical meeting, 20% of the people take up 80% of the time. To create a culture of innovation, organize the structure of classes, workshops and design sessions so that 100% of the attendees are involved 100% of the time. Follow-up after events by sending out thank you notes and giving shout-outs to participants. Remind people of next steps and provide ongoing support, check-ins, and roadblock removal.
  3. Create rituals and routines to foster innovation. Rituals are a way to bridge the gap between our desired beliefs and behaviors and the current state. They can be used to create a group identity, raise team spirit, put people in a mindset to think creatively and encourage collaboration. Ideas that can easily be incorporated include design thinking methods in team meetings, providing exercise or mindfulness breaks, and celebrating new students and staff members through recognition programs. Think about your desired results and then design rituals to achieve those results.
  4. Position yourself as a learner. It’s easy to settle into a routine of doing work that we know instead of reaching out to learn new content, methods or skills. Time constraints and daily work make it challenging for us to take on new growth opportunities but we need to model learning to be successful in creating a positive school culture. Step outside of your comfort zone and try something new to rewire your brain. We need to unlearn old habits to make room for new ways of working. In The Backwards Brain Bicycle, Destin Sandlin explores how difficult it is for us to unlearn habits and biases. Keeping ourselves challenged and growing helps to develop a culture where risk-taking and learning from failure is valued. Try encouraging practices like giving students and other members of your organization 20 percent of the time to work on their passions.
  5. Build a network of trust and collaboration. Building an innovative community is achieved by creating opportunities for others to have discussions and collaborate. In The Power of Onlyness, Nilofer Merchant emphasizes that each person in a network brings their own unique contribution (onlyness) that becomes amplified by the onlyness of others. When people come together for a common cause, they can have a powerful influence on naysayers. During a recent visit to Nashville, I was reminded of the power that networks have while visiting RCA Studio B. This small room produced some of the most well-known singers and musicians with over 1,000 hits. By giving everyone a place to share their voice, we build trust which is an essential ingredient for a thriving, innovative community.
  6. Be a storyteller. To successfully shift to a culture of innovation, stories need to be shared. Create opportunities for students and educators to contribute their ideas and tell their stories. Innovation events and activities promote collaboration and provide a way for people to discuss both their successes and failures. As more stories are told, more people will be willing to try new approaches and share their experiences.

The next step is to get started. Bring your team together, establish a common vision for a culture of innovation and brainstorm ideas that you can prototype and test. I look forward to hearing how these approaches work for you!

Published on Categories EducationTags , , ,
Donna Teuber

About Donna Teuber

Donna is a respected leader in the field of educational technology with a passion for using design thinking to help schools implement innovative practices that support engaged student learning. She is the Innovation Program Designer in Richland School District Two, Columbia, SC. In her work, she leads the R2 Innovates innovation incubator and hub which provides leaders, teachers and staff with the support that they need to implement innovative, promising practices. Through her work as an IDEO U Alumni Coaching Fellow, she has worked with people from around the world to design solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing their organizations. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, Intel Education Visionary, Google for Education Certified Innovator and a Google for Education Certified Trainer. She received the 2014 Power to the People DILA Award from EdSurge and Digital Promise as well as the 2014 Columbia Chamber Palmetto Pillar Award for Leadership. Her work has been highlighted by ASCD, Forbes.com, T.H.E. Journal, District Administration magazine, Google, Project Red, Tech & Learning magazine, EdWeek, and The Center for Digital Education. Donna presents at conferences on innovation and design thinking, learning spaces, creative leadership, 1:1 student computing implementation, and digital learning initiatives. Donna is a contributing writer for the ISTE publication, Making Space for Active Learning.