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Successful School Innovators are Experts at Connecting the Dots

Posted by Scott Barron on Apr 9, 2014 9:04:52 PM
Scott Barron

“The magic of connecting dots is that once you learn the techniques, the dots can change but you’ll still be good at connecting them.”
- Seth Godin

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School Innovation is about connecting the dots to create higher value. Schools are learning organizations--we should be the best innovators! Too often, though, school leaders get bogged down by “the way we've always done things.” How can you start building a culture of connecting the dots and focusing on the market that you want to serve? That’s the goal of The Ultimate Innovator’s Guide webinar series that we are sharing in March and April.

Sir Richard Branson’s mantra:
A-B-C-D (Always Be Connecting the Dots)

The School Innovator's Dilemma

Clayton Christensen wrote a book called, The Innovator’s Dilemma, which explores situations where new technologies cause great organizations to fail. This idea is also applicable in the world of schools because technological innovation has and will continue to cause major shifts in design. A multitude of technological tools are transforming ed strategies:

  • Digital Curriculum
  • Personalized Instructional Techniques
  • Operation Efficiencies
  • Teacher Coaching
  • Learning Management & Data Systems
  • Inexpensive Hardware

Teachers and students are connecting the dots in new ways, so how does the school design adapt? That the school innovator’s dilemma: How do you create focus out of the blur of chaos?

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward;
you can only connect them looking backward.”
- Steve Jobs

School Innovator’s Solutions

This four step solution is an educator’s version of Christensen’s proposal. He found that those organizations that came into an established market (like education) and began to capture a large market share started off with a low-margin program. They were able to test that out and get feedback from the market, flying below the radar of established organizations that didn’t care about that part of the market. Later these innovators gained a greater share of the profits, displacing those who once dominated.

How can you find those latent opportunities to create high value, then develop the processes, people, tools, and systems to achieve greater returns and market share?

1. Start Now

Your goal is not perfection! Start with a minimum value product (MVP) by identifying an initiative that has high value and low risk. This could include STEM curriculum emphasis in one grade, expanding services to a few students with a specific special need, or working with homeschool students. The key is to identify a need and see what you can do to create something better that is also profitable. Take aim at the circumstances in which the people in your target market find themselves and start listening to figure out how to solve their pain points.

2. Build a Team

Establish a small team (3-4 people) that has enough autonomy to connect the dots and own the process. Give them the essence of what you want them to achieve, then give them the ability to go and do it. They’ll do the research, put together a solution, and test it out.

This only works when you have a school that has a culture that supports experimentation. What happens when you experiment? Things don’t always work as expected. That’s why you focus on the minimum value product - you build it, deliver it, get feedback, make adjustments and learn. Then you’re ready to build a better solution.

3. Engage the Leadership

Your team will need sufficient authority to make decisions and move the organization forward. If you have three teachers on the team they may not have the ability to overcome barriers. When working with school designers to build an Innovation Plan we suggest having at least one administrator on the team in order for them to be well achieve success. The communication strategy about the project needs to engage the board, other administrators, faculty, and parents.

4. Teach Innovation Skills

These skills don’t come naturally to many people. The team should begin to teach the concept of "build--measure--learn" and the process of experimentation. Design thinking is one way to do that. At the they solve problems with design, and many schools have adopted this in their school design and as part of their curriculum.

The best schools in the world do one thing with fanatical discipline: process improvement. They are fanatical about improving the process of teaching, of administrating, of recruiting, of governing, of inspiring students, and so on. Start small and begin building momentum towards the school of your dreams, and you will see that the focus gained enables you to improve faster than you ever imagined.

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