When I first stepped into a leadership role within a school where I had been a teacher, I made several mistakes. Innovation was at the center of my vision for the school’s path forward and I saw a clear course for how we should implement transformational practices. I was inspired! I was passionate! I was eager to see it happen! And this is how I came to be on the receiving end of the statement – uttered in a moment of deep frustration by a teacher – “You’re just a little bit bossy!”

Ouch! Now, it was true I was technically her “boss” but the real truth was no amount of authority was going to help me get buy-in from this teacher in my innovation journey because the problem was it was “my journey” and not “our journey.” Despite the awkwardness of the situation, I was grateful to this teacher as she opened a critical fail-forward reflection for me. As I continued in my leadership career, I often thought back to this first ah-ha moment for its rich learnings:

  1. I hadn’t built my innovation vision alongside my team. It wasn’t a shared vision. 
  2. I was leading with the “how” instead of the “why.” 
  3. My team members had unique needs that couldn’t be addressed in one-size-fits-all support.
  4. I was being “bossy” – mandating actions in isolation, failing to build capacity, and passing on the opportunity to get teacher feedback.

My most essential learning from this experience was the critical importance of creating a culture of generativity to empower innovation. In Part 1 of our Generativity series, LINC Co-Founder Jason Green shared the foundational components of Dr. Arnetha Ball’s Model of Generative Change and how its “reflect, tinker, grow” cycle fosters innovative learning transformation. In Part 2, I share three strategies for transforming a traditional faculty mindset to one of generativity and present “in-action” examples to support the work.

How to spot a culture of teacher generativity

Step #1: Build Transformation Teams

In our consulting practice at LINC, we help leaders identify a group of stakeholders who work together to form a shared vision and pathway for leading learning innovation. We call these groups “Transformation Teams” as we understand that collaboration is vital to shifting mindsets and to understanding the support needed to transform long-standing instructional practices. This team is responsible for gathering key perspectives from teachers, students, parents, and other stakeholders to drive change from an empathetic understanding of those who will be affected by it.

In Action: I’m a school leader who wants to increase collaboration and build digital competencies using shared documents. A colleague in my network recommended implementing a program that may help. I invite a few teachers and students to a team who can answer the questions – How does this already look in our school? Is anyone using this platform or another comparable platform? What can we build on and learn from? What is the potential impact if we implement this platform? Is it worth exploring further, and how can we try it out?

 

Step #2: Empower Teacher Agency

As we transform teaching and learning, a core goal is to increase student agency. We define student agency as “giving learners the opportunity to participate in key decisions in their learning experience (LINC PAACC Hallmarks of Effective Practice).” In order to build teachers’ capacity to foster agency in students, teachers may need to first experience it themselves. Leaders can do this by empowering teachers as agents of school transformation by offering personalized professional development and choice-based PLCs. Through personalized, blended professional development, teachers not only experience greater agency, but they also are able to meet the varying pedagogical challenges within their class. 

In Action: I am a teacher leader responsible for teacher professional development. I want to shift from sit-and-get, infrequent workshops to ongoing PD with coaching support. I survey teachers to solicit high priority focus areas to form PLC groups. I decide to use an online PD platform to build a community sharing space, organize the PLC work, and provide resources that can help teachers access what they need when they need it in planning.

 

Step #3: Encourage Innovation in Action

To build a culture of innovation and risk-taking, it is helpful to encourage teachers to try new things and to reward them when they do so. By shifting the framework of teacher evaluation from summative to formative, leaders create the foundation for this type of culture and encourage the sharing of innovation. This means creating new tools for classroom observation and self-reflection that seek evidence of innovation in learning rather than traditional indicators. It means acknowledging teachers’ efforts to innovate and share as critical to school transformation, even when things don’t work and lead to a “fail forward” moment. 

This is distinct from modeling exemplary practice which focuses on showcasing perfected practices. This can work against innovation as teachers feel the risks are too high to tinker with new strategies. 

In Action: I am an instructional coach working with teachers to implement more personalized learning. Teachers have shared some reluctance to implementing blended learning as a way to personalize, mainly out of fear of failure. Together we came up with an idea to reward risk-taking. I’ve given teachers signs with the label “Innovator in Action.” When these are up on their doors, it means they are trying something new and are somewhat uncomfortable. We will look for these signs as a way to share practices and when the sign is up, the observation rubric will be different. We’ve decided to use the LINC Roadmap to Learning Innovation as a tool for this purpose and for self-reflection as a team.

 

A culture of generativity is not easy to build, but the steps to begin shifting towards one are simple. If school leaders and teachers can identify one practice to help take the first step, they will begin to see big returns almost immediately. Regardless of how much time it may take to build a generative faculty culture, it is a critical commitment to uphold if we aspire to foster generativity as a student skill set. While the two can be built simultaneously, one cannot work without the other. Look for our next post for tips on building and spotting a culture of student generativity.