#IMMOOC Week 5 Blog Challenge:
While I’m a big proponent for thinking OUTSIDE the box, I nearly always use the results of that thinking to innovate WITHIN the box where I currently reside (a few times to get out of the box), whether that be personally or professionally. My brain does not work like other peoples, a fact of which I’m well aware (and my mother did not have me tested), but there are some things everyone can do to think a bit out of the box and then apply it TO and WITHIN your own box (and learn about prepositions as a side bonus). While I cannot hand you the perfect innovation blueprint that is always successful, I can definitely offer encouragement for a way of thinking that can get you on your way toward innovation in your classroom, hallway, building, or district, and cheer you on through the process.
Typically teachers and those in education are used to leading students through the brainstorming process, but for many of us, we either do not utilize or do not take the time to make this a priority for ourselves. When we do, we may not get the same type of results that we expect when we guide students through the process. For me (again, my brain’s wired differently) and maybe for some of you, the best ideas usually happen when we aren’t trying. Maybe I’m in a Twitter chat, tossing ideas around with other educators while multitasking as a wife, mom, teacher, coach, person. If you aren’t on Twitter as an educator, then get off your island and jump in with the rest of us. I have had same day application (or next day) for many of the ideas that I’ve gotten from my Twitter #PLN or had my own ideas refined so that they were suddenly awesome. Sometimes I’m just doing normal household or educational chores, mulling over the thousands of things we deal with daily, and an idea for my classroom, school, or district strikes. Whenever it happens, I pay attention to it, get it written down or voiced somehow so that I don’t forget, and then I work (sometimes just mentally) to put it into action. That’s great, you say, but what about this box thing?
Right, the box. While on Twitter, at conferences, EdCamps, workshops, or just chilling with my educator friends, ideas happen. They float around, swirl, and energize us until either we act, we panic and mentally throw up walls to block them, or someone else (usually higher up the chain) does. This is the crucial moment. Do you let the walls stop your ideas from flowing and taking shape, or do you then figure out ways over, around, or through the walls? Time and again I see and hear educators give up on their idea. They do not think OUTSIDE the walls in order to make their idea happen WITHIN their classroom, district, school, hallway, or whatever the case may be. If the idea is good, then nothing should stop you from implementation beyond a direct order from your administration. Generally speaking, the idea isn’t what gets vetoed so much as the implementation, so think OUTSIDE your box and move your thinking toward the implementation of your ideas that will work WITHIN your box. Let’s see how.
A good friend of mine had this happen to her recently. She wanted to reach out to teachers of her grade level from schools in our conference to compare notes and ideas of what works and is successful for them. Great idea, right? So she floats it by the principal who seemingly blows it off, and this upset her. She felt her ideas had hit the dreaded wall of administration, and she lamented the death of the idea. Now she is generally a very innovative teacher, so this was just a weak moment, but she let the principal’s lack of enthusiasm or support for her idea bump repeatedly against the wall, getting nowhere. (Okay, I may be about to step on some toes, so if you are really sensitive, then you might want to pause here to go grab some steel-toed boots or shoes.) During this conversation, another teacher jumped right in and stated that the reason he blew it off was because our principal wants our school to be the best. He wants others to look to us for innovation, not the other way around. I could tell that sentiment wasn’t echoed yet among our staff. (Note to administrators, sometimes teachers need to know on the spot that you will take the time to consider an idea. A quick assurance will go along way toward positive school culture.) I know my administrator is not against collaboration. He’s for it. And, like my principal, I’m highly competitive, so I was at once sitting between a rock and a hard place during this conversation, so to speak. Perceived or actual negativity from administration or the higher ups can cause many ideas to never get off the ground, but wallowing in that negativity will definitely put your ideas into an early grave. There’s no reason to surrender to the wall. There’s ALWAYS a wall. Get over it. Or go around, under, or through it. Any drug cartel can tell you that there’s always a way around the wall to get the product to the other side. The point is, don’t stop. Keep your idea in motion. My friend’s idea doesn’t really need the principal to give it wings. Maybe she wanted or needed his blessing, which I also understand, but the idea itself, and it’s implementation, does not require the building administration in order to get off the ground, much less to succeed. It doesn’t. Your ideas may not either. Start small. Don’t let them die from lack of support or blessing. If the idea is good, get it moving.
Let’s look at her idea again. She wants to connect with others who teach at her grade level in schools from our conference. Since there’s no organized way to do this already in place, and the principal does not seem inclined to set up something, what should she do? Collaborate with an idea person, and in this case, it was me. Here’s where I use my thinking INSIDE the box of our system. Since technology today is very conducive to collaboration, I suggested that she start by looking up the conference schools and contacting principals. If the grade level teachers aren’t made obvious on the websites, then my friend merely has to explain her purpose and ask the building principal, through an email, to be put in touch with the teachers of same subject and grade level. She could send one email to all principals or one per principal, then contact those teachers. Now the collaboration can begin! With teachers who are willing, set up times during the year to do a #CoffeeEdu or meet on Twitter, or Skype/Hangout together. I will suggest a #CoffeeEdu since my friend loves coffee, but the options for how to connect are there. They can start meeting on their own time, and possibly get the support of a building principal to host a meeting as PD for those teachers during the school week periodically. Start small and build. It’s like the Snowball Effect Dave Burgess talks about. If you haven’t read his blog post on that, then please do (after finishing the last bit of my post here). Then start making your snowball. Don’t feel up to making a snowball alone yet? Grab your idea person to help. My friend’s problem is just one example of how you can think OUTSIDE the box while working WITHIN it. She wasn’t told not to collaborate, but the initiative is now on her. It’s on all of us. If drug cartels can go to extreme lengths to get around, over, and through walls, can we do less for our students, schools, and communities? When you are ready, take the first steps toward moving your initial idea toward a reality. Grab a handful of snow. Baby steps are fine at first, because at least you are moving forward, and that’s the idea with innovation. Move. Move forward. Go. Are you ready? We got this.