Innovation Kitchen: What’s Cooking? – #NAISAC @NAISNetwork #TMILearns @TMIEpiscopal

Lessons Learned from NAIS Innovation Kitchen

I’ve never seen myself as a mountain climber, but after yesterday’s Innovation Kitchen session at the NAIS Annual Conference, I am reconsidering. I love the metaphor of a school’s journey to innovation as a climb up a Magnetic Mountain, a series of day hikes, ascents and descents, and summits of innovation. All the while, the journey is generating a magnetic field that draws others in, students and teachers.

A few points from the session resonated especially with me:

  • The importance of day hikes
    • Day hikes are those times teachers explore new things, the short sprints that occur in classrooms, the project based learning units or changes in assessment practices or Breakout EDUs. There are moments when I question the number of initiatives happening in a school at one time. I wrote about it last year in a post entitled, Piling On. I worry about teacher overload and I worry about how all those day hikes contribute to the overall mission of the school (if at all). But, as Tim Fish, NAIS Chief Innovation Officer, pointed out, those day hikes generate the steam that drives innovation and they are needed to get to the summits, the school’s common vision, the through-lines of the day hikes. The key is to not get caught in the day hike valleys, where ideas flourish like wild flowers without purpose. 
  • Just pack your bag and go!
    • Changes in practices or programming don’t have to be polished and perfect. It is more imperative that we just go! Our students demand this from us and, increasingly, so do our parents and constituents. 
  • The magnetic effect of innovation “mountain climbing” 
    • As you climb the mountain of innovation, as people grow, as a common point of view is distilled, we become a community of mountain climbers. And, that community draws people in, students and teachers. Innovation becomes a disposition. 
  • We are in this together
    • Independent schools around the nation are all struggling to find the right balance of tradition and innovation, staying true to the core of who we are as institutions, but embracing the change that is required of us in the 21st century. There really is no “right” path for this. It’s easy to get caught up in our silos as independent schools if we aren’t careful and if we aren’t connected. During the Innovation Kitchen session, I felt a collective sigh of relief as we all shared our journeys and our struggles to blend old and new. There is some comfort in being in a space where we all understand one another. And, there is a lot we can learn from one another. 

What does this all mean? And what can I do when I get back to my school?

  • Map the day hikes. What day hikes are happening in my school? Look for the through lines. Are there any day hikes in the same direction, and how can we capitalize on them? 
  • I’ve got to practice more of a Design Thinking approach when it comes to solving school challenges. Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. It’s the ideate and prototype stages I struggle with because I want solutions to be perfect. I am learning to let it go. 
  • Consider this question: what do I take up the hill and what do I leave behind? Not just when it comes to leading for innovation, but also as a leader. Besides the belief that ideas need to be perfect to implement, what else can I let go of?


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