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The Innovation Clock: School Improvement at the Right Time

Posted by Scott Barron on Apr 9, 2014 8:55:00 PM
Scott Barron

Innovation is critical to improving school design. Competition - for funds, students, faculty, market share - makes innovation today even more important. Schools are trying to figure out:

“How do we grow? How do we increase enrollment? How do we take advantage of new opportunities in technology? How do we find new sources of revenue?”

The traditional approach to strategic planning is too cumbersome and can't adapt to new opportunities rapidly enough. Some schools have been able to take advantage of a process of improvement that involves a faster planning and innovation cycle. This approach to school design will give you a competitive advantage, enabling growth academically, financially, and sustainably.

What is Innovation?

Innovation is a Process, rather than an event. It's an ongoing process that builds the culture and strategies of the school. This is innovation for improvement, not just change. Let's innovate to improve learning, to improve the lives of teachers. Let's innovate to improve the experience of students to inspire great thinking that leads to real purpose.

Everyone wants excellent schools. Innovation is how you, as the school designer, accelerate that process. School improvement is nothing new for educators like you, and it must be planned, repeatable, measurable, and adjustable. That’s the process of innovation!

Innovation in Design

Your school design goes well beyond the classroom to consider the whole eco-system of the organization. Governance, Operations, Administration, and Learning are the Four Gears of School Design™. The gears are interconnected, which means that a change in one area has an affect in the other areas as well. For example, if you make a budgeting process adjustment (Operations), it is going to have an affect on the Administration, Governance, and Learning. Recognizing this risk of unintended consequences will help you improve your design.

Innovation doesn't require rapid change in all areas--actually that can be unnecessarily disruptive. Consider how to implement incremental changes that build momentum, helping you learn from the process of improvement by learning from your employees, students, and community. As you upgrade your process through better learning and better design practices, the culture of your school will be more committed to growth.

Innovation Clock™ Innovation Clock

This proprietary process for innovation was developed for 
School Growth to illustrate the different timeframes for innovative improvement throughout the school design.

The fastest rate of innovation occurs on a monthly basis with the inner most clock. This might include communications, certain aspects of service delivery, and/or individualized employee coaching. The second clock is where quarterly innovation happens, which could seek to improve operational efficiency, internal support services, and/or process improvement. Annual innovation is illustrated by the third clock, where innovation around cash management, target market, technology, and/or recruiting happens. The fourth clock measures innovation that occurs every 3-5 years, addressing issues such as the overall economic model, board selection & performance, core values, and/or brand. Finally, the outer most clock illustrates innovation that occurs over 10+ years, improving for example the design of the mission, by-laws, corporate documents, and/or building master plan. Accelerating innovation outside of the appropriate timeframe has consequences that must be considered.

Innovation isn't always about disrupting the whole school! Save that for the worst case scenarios. Some areas can innovate more quickly at a monthly level, while others aspects of your design should be considered perhaps every decade.

Your challenge as a school designer is to find the opportunities that are going to create a higher value proposition for your target market. This may be new language for some, but part of this process is learning to think like an entrepreneur. Schools don’t exist on their own--you are part of the larger economy, and organizations within this economy are improving more quickly. Our challenge as school designers is staying true to our mission, building a thriving culture, yet also finding innovative ways to improve the way we serve our students.

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