divergence · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · Innovator's Mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships

Five Characteristics of the Divergent Teacher

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The idea of divergence is occasionally envisioned as two paths diverging in the wood, perhaps thanks to our friend Robert Frost. However, the idea of divergent teaching is much more than choosing the road less traveled. To clearly define what a divergent teacher is, I (Mandy) adapted the psychological definition of divergent: (of thought) using a variety of premises, especially unfamiliar premises, as bases for inference, and avoiding common limiting assumptions in making deductions. Therefore, the definition I’ve developed for divergent teaching is:

The ability to recognize our own assumptions, look for limitations and challenge our own thinking in regards to teaching and learning. It’s taking an idea and creating new thinking that will facilitate student learning in new, innovative directions for deeper understanding. It is diverging from the norm, challenging current ideas, looking for a variety of solutions, and being willing to fail and grow. (Divergent EDU, 2018)

Divergent teachers create experiences that encourage learners to consider and explore new ideas within a culture where all individuals (educators and students) are supported to step beyond their zone of comfort by developing new ways of thinking and promoting more in-depth learning. In education, we often place emphasis on convergent as opposed to divergent thinking. Although both are critical to the process of learning, fostering divergent thinking promotes the creation of new ideas or unique wonderings, while convergent thinking is necessary for engaging in critical thinking and being able to analyze problems using information and logic. More than ever, in today’s world, we need to empower learners to explore new possibilities and ideas by fostering divergent thinking, expanding on creativity. Carving out time for learners to ponder their curiosities and explore their wonderings inspires our youth to stretch their thinking to ideate. Following ample time to consider various ideas, learners then benefit from reflecting and retooling their work which entails convergent thinking. In my (Elisabeth) book, Take the L.E.A.P., Ignite a Culture of Innovation (to be released in January 2019), we will explore this concept more deeply in addition to how we can foster the conditions to empower learning and inspire a culture of innovation.

We (Mandy and Elisabeth) came together as a result of our shared passion for challenging conventional thinking and sparking innovation through fostering a growth and an innovator’s mindset within a supportive culture that embraces responsible risk-taking, deep reflection, and the ability to demonstrate tenacity as we experience and overcome failure, leading toward improvement.

Divergent teachers have certain characteristics that differentiate them from others. While the definition requires them to challenge current ideas and their own assumptions, there are additional qualities that are ingrained in their divergence. The combination of these attributes results in a well-rounded, innovative and divergent thinker.

Deeply Reflective – Divergent teachers recognize that significant growth cannot happen without taking time for deep reflection. They know how they reflect best, whether it’s through writing, meditating, or driving quietly in their car on the way home. They have strategies in place to allow them to take the time and hold reflection in high regards as one of the reasons they are who they are professionally. Deep reflection goes beyond what could go differently in a recent lesson. It also leads an educator down the path of discovering how their own beliefs and assumptions affect what they do in the classroom or how they perceive and communicate with others. Understanding the difference between surface-level reflection and deep reflection is an integral part of divergent thought. Once you understand what you believe, how it affects what you do and how you are perceived, it is easier to change your behavior and push yourself forward.

Voracious Learner – At all stages of our journey, we embrace learning as an ongoing process. There is no finality, but instead continuous growth. Divergent teachers learn in multiple ways; through reading, reflective writing, peer observations, collaborative conversations, seeking meaningful feedback, and considering how they can improve through goal setting. They are cognizant to learn from their mistakes and retool to move toward growth. With the understanding that transformation doesn’t happen overnight, they frequently immerse themselves in opportunities that foster 

deep learning and then employ new findings to the classroom. In doing so, they identify what works best for their learners and share with colleagues to contribute to the culture of learning.

Tenacious – Tenacity is a hallmark of anyone who assumes the risk and is passionate about moving forward. To fail and repeatedly get back up and try again takes the kind of tenacity that requires a significant amount of strength, reflection and personal growth to achieve. Sometimes failing can be difficult especially if what we tried is particularly far out of our comfort zone or something we really wanted to go right. This trait of a divergent teacher keeps them moving forward when others might quit. Demonstrating tenacity inspires others to understand that just because something is challenging, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth our continued effort. Our goal is to persevere while lending encouragement and support to others as well.

Mentor – Divergent teachers have a sincere appreciation for uplifting and adding value to others to elevate education. They grasp that it’s essential to inspire collective efficacy, producing a positive, long-lasting impact on learner achievement. In addition to providing support through developing trusting relationships, they demonstrate help-seeking as well, contributing to the understanding that we all have strengths to contribute. We often reference collaboration as a necessary component of effective teaching and it is. However, collaboration should be the baseline expectation. Mentorship brings an additional quality to collaboration that focuses on not only the give-and-take of collaboration, but also the guidance, support, and high expectations that only a mentor can provide

Courageous – Divergent teachers understand the importance of taking thoughtful risks. However, just because they understand the unmatched learning that can occur when risks are taken doesn’t mean that they don’t fear taking risks. They may still feel anxiety (especially if they work in a compliance-based culture) but they are courageous to move forward anyway because they understand the reward outweighs the risk. This characteristic often has the potential to spark courage in others too. When we are transparent and demonstrate the risks we’re taking, along with our vulnerabilities, we inspire others to join hands with us, collaboratively creating enhanced learning experiences for our youth.

As we strive to transform learning experiences, developing unique opportunities for students to engage in divergent thinking and leverage their strengths to shine, we benefit from employing the characteristics of the divergent teacher. Embracing these five characteristics has direct implications on the culture of learning, and we simply cannot afford to remain complacent. Innovation and divergence are more than an act, it is a way of thinking and being. Stretching ourselves encourages learners to do the same. As you move forward in your learning journey, which characteristic will you focus on and employ to grow as an educator? 

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Mandy Froehlich is the Director of Innovation and Technology for the Ripon Area School District in Ripon, Wisconsin where she supports and encourages educators to create innovative change in their classrooms. She consults with school districts and post-secondary institutions around the country in the effective use of technology to support great teaching, as a Google for Education Certified Trainer and has presented on similar topics at conferences such as CUE, TIES, FETC and ISTE. Her first book, The Fire Within: Lessons from defeat that have ignited a passion for learning (#FireWithinBook), discusses mental health awareness for teachers. Her book based on an organizational structure she developed to support teachers in innovative and divergent thinking, Divergent EDU: Challenging assumptions and limitations to create a culture of innovation (#divergentEDU), is set for release late 2018.

Elisabeth Bostwick is a teacher who’s passionate about sparking curiosity and unleashing creativity to empower learning. She continues to be a leader in education as she avidly seeks alternative methods to innovate in the classroom and support systemic change for learners to thrive. Driven to elevate education and support educators in their journey, she consults with school districts to support cultivating the maker mindset, leveraging technology to enhance learning, and fostering a culture of innovation. Elisabeth presents on these topics and more at conferences including ISTE, NYSCATE, and Model Schools. Her first book, Education Write Now Volume II, Top Strategies for Improving Relationships and Culture, co-authored with nine other passionate educators, will release in December 2018. In early January 2019, her second book, Take the L.E.A.P., Ignite a Culture of Innovation (#LEAPeffect) will be released.

Climate · Culture · divergence · growth mindset · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · Innovator's Mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking: When the supports are in place

This is the fifth installment of the #hierarchyseries. You can find the first post here.

Hierarchy of Needs Infographic

The purpose of the Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation and Divergent Thinking is to give a more concrete look at what supports need to be in place to give educators the best chance at thinking innovatively and divergently. Realistically, in looking at an organization, reflecting on these particular support systems is probably going to be more about plugging the holes that might be found in the foundational levels rather than creating them from scratch. For example, you may have teachers with a growth or innovator’s mindset already but may need to “patch” the areas that are predominately a fixed mindset by working with those educators on recognizing growth mindset and swinging their pendulum in that direction. While the idea of the hierarchy should help districts put the supports in place, it still does not “create” innovative and divergent thinkers and teachers. Instead, it gives the base support so educators can focus on new learning, thinking, and doing versus using brainspace for worrying about other issues around them.

The act of becoming innovative is not something you can be forced to do, nor is it something someone can give you. It is a personal choice to move outside your comfort zone and try or learn something new. Again, even with the Hierarchy complete and solid, that is only the support structure. A person still needs to make the decision personally to want to be innovative.

Innovation can be messy
As we move toward more innovative approaches, we need to learn, relearn, fail, try again, and use our knowledge to develop our new thinking. Rarely is true innovation a straight line to the end, and even when we get to the end, are we really done? Once an innovation continues to be used, doesn’t it just become part of the status quo? So, we need to continue the process of moving forward with innovation in order to not become stagnant.

Innovation is personal
I grabbed onto this idea from George Couros. Innovation is personal to each individual. What is innovative to one may not be innovative to another who has already been doing it, and that is ok. Everyone is on their own personal learning journey. Also, innovation is not “either you are or you are not innovative”. The idea of innovating and thinking divergently is a continuum, and each person falls somewhere on that continuum. That’s why when looking at the people around you, it’s best to try to discover what you can learn from that person and how they think differently than you versus trying to compare the amazing things you to do the amazing things they do.

Innovation involves failing
The quicker you accept that it is going to happen, the quicker you’ll begin your journey. Failing is not always easy, it’s not always fun, and sometimes you just want an idea to work. All of that is understandable. However, if failing stops someone from moving forward and trying again, then that’s where the problem lies. Our failures do teach us what doesn’t work. They are valuable and help us figure out what might work when we try again. That kind of learning cannot be replicated by being continuously successful all the time.

Divergent teaching will stem from divergent thinking
Divergence is the act of thinking and doing outside the box, moving outside your comfort zone, acknowledging and challenging assumptions, being forward-thinking, using known and recognizing/learning unknown information in decision-making. Divergent teaching uses divergent thinking in all aspects of teaching; from lesson planning to the moments working directly with kids. A teaching thinking divergently will try a new idea with their students instead of scrapping it because they wonder if they can handle it (assuming and forward-thinking). They will actively seek out new information on their own and not wait for the district to provide all their professional learning. They will allow students to try a new technology that they don’t know themselves because they trust their students will learn to use it without their help (recognizing unknown information in decision-making). They will be willing to make quick trajectory changes when they know that it will be better for student learning.

When the Hierarchy is in place, this gives educators the chance to move toward this kind of thinking and teaching. If they are worried about what their leadership will say if they fail (holes in climate/culture and effective leadership), they are less likely to try the new idea they had. They are less able to expend energy in bettering themselves as professionals because they are too busy with being concerned with the holes in their foundation. Providing people with the support they need in the foundational areas is imperative when expecting them to be innovative and divergent teachers.

The Hierarchy is not something that can be put to rest when most of the holes are filled. It is a structure to be constantly cognizant. One hole can create a host of issues in other levels. A change in leadership, for example, can create a domino effect hole throughout many foundations of the hierarchy, just as a change in leadership might be just what the organization needs in order to fill some of their holes. The Hierarchy is not a finished product, but rather a constant work in progress, similar to the way innovative and divergent thinking are never truly complete. We will always need to continuously improve to move forward, and that kind of innovation and divergence comes from our own motivation to be the best people we can for our students.

Climate · Culture · growth mindset · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking: Professional Development

This is the fifth post in the #hierarchyseries. You can find the first post here.

Hierarchy of Needs Infographic

In an effort to support professional learning, personal passions, and to model how we want students to learn, there has been a shift to incorporate personalization into professional development. But, professional development, in general, is not given enough time and consideration in districts. If we make time for the things that are important, we perpetuate the idea that professional learning is unimportant by the lack of time we spend on it and opportunities that we provide educators. We say “we value learning” and then don’t embed the necessary time for educators to continue their own professional learning.

While all professional learning is generally called “professional development”, there are different types of learning that typically happen in a district. While there is a strong movement toward all personalized professional development, I believe that there is a time and place for all types of learning. Oftentimes, we lump all types of professional learning into one basket, but not all of it is created equal. There is no silver bullet in student learning, and there is no silver bullet in professional development either.

Training

Training is skills based only learning. It provides opportunities for more efficient, have a better workflow, and understand how things work.

Examples of trainings are:
How to use Gmail
Setting up your gradebook in your SIS
Utilizing a new piece of equipment or technology

Professional Development

Professional development is learning that helps an educator improve their competence and effectiveness. It provides not only best practices and instructional strategies, but also confidence helps reduce anxiety by providing answers to the question, “Am I doing this right?”

Examples of PD are:
Setting up a Reader’s Workshop
How to implement project-based learning

Personalized Professional Development

Learning that happens when educators choose where their passions or weaknesses necessitate additional coaching, resources, research or expert guidance. Personalized Professional Development supports educators in their search to become better teachers. It also allows them to continue to follow their passions while supporting their students in finding theirs.

Examples of Personalized Professional Development:
Learning about growth mindset on Twitter
Connecting via Google Hangouts with PLN members to discuss a book study
Meeting and collaborating with a technology integrator to learn more about your passion: robotics

While training and professional development are not the same as personalized professional development, there are always that these learning opportunities can have elements of personalization in order to make them more engaging. We often miss the opportunity to add these personalizations in because we are so quick to pass the information out.

  • Allowing for alternative modes of delivery: online, flipped or face to face.
  • Creating levels, gamifying learning or competency-based learning
  • Embedding voice, choice, and pacing options

By continuing the sit-and-get types of training and professional development, we are not modeling the kind of learning that we want students to have in the classroom. I’ve absolutely been guilty of this myself, but in reality, it is really difficult to add personalization any kind of professional development when you’re told, “You have 20 minutes…go!” If more time was dedicated to purposeful, personalized, and educator-driven PD, professional learning would have a chance to make it back into the classroom where it would affect students, just like it’s meant to. It takes a mindset shift and giving priority to professional learning as an integral part of education and teaching kids.

Another issue with professional development is the engagement of the participants in training and professional development and the level of empowerment they feel towards their personalized professional development. If they are not of the mindset that they are able to learn or that their students are able to learn whatever it is that is being presented, chances are that they will be less likely to implement any changes. Also, if a participant doesn’t have buy-in into the learning, they are less likely to implement it as well. There needs to be a significant level of intrinsic motivation for a teacher to try something new, fail, and then tweak it and try it again. This coupled with the buy-in to what they’ve learned can make all the difference in the success of the implementation. Finally, embedded support to assist teachers in the implementation of learning in the classroom is imperative. If that component is missing, there is nothing in place to support teachers as they begin to implement their learning and to encourage them if something goes awry.  We are often missing a few of these pieces, especially if the learning is a sit-and-get, information disseminated by an “expert” type of learning transaction.

I’m currently reading Jarod Bormann’s Professionally Driven book on personalized professional development, and loved this:

I’ve sat in with PD planning teams that give out surveys to see what topics teachers want. When the results come in, inevitably the team looks to see which categories got the most votes/comments. However, what happens is they say, “Oh, that topic got 64%, so that’s got to be a top priority for everyone.” Everyone? There’s 36% of the staff that indicateed they didn’t need it, so now it’s a priority for everyone? This is not an effective strategy.

As a planner of PD, I have absolutely made this same mistake, and have watched others do it as well. I think that sometimes as adults we panic when we are in charge of large-scale learning sessions, but if we spoke with a teacher who was creating lessons that applied to only 64% of their class, we would be questioning their professional judgment.

I have been a part of discussions repeatedly where district administrators say they value learning but undervalue professional learning, or they make the mistake of calling the logistical, housekeeping staff meetings professional development. I say with 100% certainty that as a teacher, I never left a staff meeting feeling like I was provided with a learning opportunity that made me a better teacher. At some point, I figured out that I was responsible for my own growth, and when I wasn’t supported by the district, I found my own support. While a professional educator should inherently love learning and be willing to learn from others, they should not be expected to find all of their growth options outside of what the district provides.  They should be provided the support they need to grow in the areas they have identified. If they don’t know how to identify these areas, they should be taught how to do that as well. Providing these opportunities not only shows educators that we value what they do in the classroom, but that we value who they are as a person because we are willing to spend time on them to become the teacher they want to be for their students.

You can find the next post in the #hierarchyseries here.

Climate · Culture · growth mindset · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · Innovator's Mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections · relationships · Trust

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking: Mindset

This is the fourth post in the #hierarchyseries. The first post can be found here.

Hierarchy of Needs Infographic

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, when moving between the different levels of the hierarchy, the higher up you go, the more personal of a journey the hierarchy becomes. Mindset is the section where this becomes the most obvious. The reason that mindset can be difficult to change is because although people can be offered information and research and support, it takes a person to change their own mindset. Nobody can do that for them. Therefore, it takes a person with the ability to be genuinely reflective and open to change to shift their mindset.

Most of us are familiar with Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset and understanding that abilities can be developed and are not set at a certain level and cannot be changed. George Couros has developed the idea of the Innovator’s Mindset: based on the work of Carol Dweck, an Innovator’s Mindset is the belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed leading to the creation of new and better ideas. Both of these mindsets work FOR learning. They provide a positive lens for looking at growth and change through development and learning.

A Fixed Mindset is believing that abilities are predetermined and cannot be changed. Again, we regularly address Fixed Mindset and how believing in predetermined abilities hinders learning if we don’t believe our students can improve no matter what we do. One area I don’t think that we pay enough attention to, however, is the idea of a False Growth Mindest, which in my mind, is the most dangerous mindset of all. A False Growth Mindset is when a person believes that they possess a Growth Mindset, but when it comes to change, is unwilling to move forward because they believe it won’t be effective. I relate it to having an addictive type behavior. It’s difficult to get better if you don’t recognize that you have the problem. If you believe that you have mastered the Growth Mindset but don’t actually put it into practice, you may find it difficult to move to a Growth Mindset because you believe you’re already there.

Note: A False Growth Mindset or even a Fixed Mindset is not the same as fundamentally disagreeing with an initiative or change based on data or solid evidence.

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So, if mindset change is a personal journey and must be done by the person necessitating the change, how can we support someone in this endeavor? Or, how can we go about changing our mindsets if we feel we are the ones who need the change?

Six Strategies for Changing Mindset

Continue to Learn

Recognize that we are all continuous learners. Read, be open to new information, collaborate with others, seek advice from experts. When helping someone else change their mindset, provide them with information, research, and opportunities for additional learning. 

Find a Mentor

Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in education, there are people who are smarter and better at your job than you. Find them. Learn from them. I have multiple mentors depending on the realm I am working in. I have a mentor that supports me in my director role and one that supports me in my speaking role, for example. They each provide me with different kinds of support that I need to do my job better. If you’re trying to help someone else change their mindset, BE their mentor. Provide the modeling that they need to show them how awesome change can be with that type of mindset.

Create Goals

Studies show that people who write down specific, meaningful goals are more likely to reach them. We expect students to create goals and work toward them. Shouldn’t we do the same? Goals create the feeling that we should be accomplishing the task we set out to do. Incremental changes to meet goals allow us to “practice” thinking about change and growth as a positive opportunity until it becomes more of a second nature. 

Develop Core Beliefs & Find Your Voice

When you develop your core beliefs,  you have a foundation to bounce off every decision you make. When you don’t know what you stand for, it’s difficult to know if a change or new initiative is something you support or just another change for the sake of change. When you know what you believe, it gives you a platform for moving forward or moving others forward. Core beliefs support your voice. Develop that voice by blogging or participating in reflective journaling of some kind.

Know Your Weaknesses

I am confident in where I fall on the Growth or Innovator’s Mindset continuums. This is less because I think that I have a complete Growth Mindset or Innovator’s Mindset and more because I am reflective enough to know where my weaknesses are and be cognizant of how they affect my reactions. For example, I preach failing forward but my first reaction to my own failure is sometimes one of dissatisfaction and disgust. However, because I know this about myself, I am able to work through those feelings by using the information I know (we learn from failure, we can’t grow without it) and support myself with that type of thinking instead.

The absolutely most important step I took in my journey to change the way I think is to begin blogging. It has allowed me to develop the core beliefs that I use to guide my thinking and decisions. It is incredibly powerful to know what you stand for, and I developed them by the reflective thinking in my writing:

My Core Beliefs 

 

  • Is this what’s best for learners
  • We often ask people to do things that we don’t teach them how to do
  • We need to model the behaviors we want to see
  • Start with empathy
  • We need to take responsibility for our own learning
  • We are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with
  • Focus on the why

I believe that the most important tool we have to change mindset is reflection and focusing our energies on organizing our thoughts. If our thinking is scattered and chaotic, more energy will be necessary to focus in on change and growth. Developing the right mindset to move forward effectively will provide a base for moving forward when beginning to focus on Personalized Professional Development.

You can find the next post in the #hierarchyseries here.

Climate · Culture · growth mindset · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections · relationships · Trust

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking Series: Effective Leadership

This post is the third in the #HierarchySeries. You can find the first post here.

Hierarchy of Needs Infographic

The area of effective leadership encompasses everyone that influences the people around them. I do not hold the area of leadership for only administration. I’m a firm believer that teacher leaders have so much more influence than they ever give themselves credit for.

I was listening to my friend, Adam Welcome, speak about leadership a few weeks ago, and he said that you can take a great leader and put them on an ineffective team and they will be able to morph that team into effectiveness. The effectiveness of a leader or leaders in an organization can be so influential, so detrimental or beneficial depending, that a change in leadership can cause a tidal wave throughout the entire organization.

In the hierarchy, I’ve placed effective leadership above climate & culture because a positive climate and culture will continue to support an effective leader so they can move forward and create change. I believe that an effective leader put in the position of needing to fix a negative climate will be able to do that, but it will take away from their ability to move an organization forward immediately when they are forced to take time and energy away to fill the holes in the foundation. I also believe that an ineffective leader can be the catalyst for issues in a positive climate & culture.

I was reading a post by Peter Economy called the 10 Powerful Habits of Highly Effective Leaders, and this is what he listed:

  • Confident but not arrogant
  • A persuasive communicator
  • Sensitive & responsive to others
  • Determined
  • Supportive
  • Distinguished
  • Responsible
  • An optimist
  • Honest
  • Organized & together

I agree with all of these traits, but I also believe that educators need special skills to work in the industry we do, so I added these additional ones:

  • Empathetic and compassionateimages
  • Models behaviors
  • Can effectively move from student interaction to teacher interaction
  • Truly & authentically reflective
  • Recognizes themselves as a servant
  • Focuses on positive relationships
  • Recognizes trust as imperative
  • Understands perception is reality
  • Supports risk-taking & learning from failure

In the hierarchy, I added “transparent and relationship focused”. I believe that these two encompass many of the traits listed in the habits. It is difficult, if not impossible, to create authentic relationships and connections if a leader is not empathetic and compassionate, trustworthy, supportive, and sensitive to other’s needs. In an authentic connection, a teacher will never wonder if an attempt at a positive interaction was merely because the leader needed something from them. I truly believe that when there is an authentic, positive relationship between a leader and the people they serve, both sides will walk through fire to make certain that they have what they need to be successful.

An effective leader will also model what they want to see. As an administrator, if I ask you to coach other teachers, I will be working with them as well. If I ask you to expand your learning using Twitter, I am going to pull my profile up and show you how I use it. If I ask you to personalize learning, you will notice me personalizing your professional development. Modeling behaviors that we ask of others will show them that we find so much value in them that we are willing to take time to do them ourselves. It also eliminates the “do as I say, not as I do” perception, which can affect trust.

One of the biggest issues I’ve seen ineffective leadership is when the leaders do not have a true pulse on their organization. If there is a shaky trust between teachers and administration, and teachers may not give honest feedback. Therefore, the administration feels like everything is going well and it perpetuates whatever mistrust they have created. From the leadership side, whatever it is that they believe is not what is not in line with what is perceived by the rest of the district. From the teacher perspective, they don’t believe that they will make a difference anyway, and they choose not to put their positions in jeopardy. It is a Catch-22.

Leaders can become more effective by beginning to truly value the relationships with the people around them, whether we are speaking about the custodians, parents, students, teachers, paraprofessionals, or any of the other multitudes of support systems that we have in place in education. Also, becoming reflective enough to recognize if what they think about their leadership matches the perception of the people they serve.

Here are some questions to ponder:

Is your perception of your strengths and weaknesses everyone else’s reality?

How can you work with others to realize their leadership strengths? Weaknesses?

How is the leadership perceived overall in the district? Is there a way to improve this perception? How do you create buy-in amongst the leaders?

How do you really feel about risk-taking? Do you say you support it, but question others when they fail?

I believe the leadership of an organization is crucial to its success. The support that the leadership gives, regardless of if that is in an administrative capacity or not, will influence the mindset of the organization and the people in it. Because of the magnitude of difference the leadership can make, it’s imperative that effective leaders cultivate other leaders within their organization, and that ineffective leaders be given the support they need to grow and improve.

Read the next post in the #hierarchyseries here: Mindset

Climate · Culture · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships · Trust

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking: Climate & Culture

The idea of the Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking came to me at a time when I was looking for a more concrete way to support teachers in becoming innovative thinkers. This is post two in the series. You can find the introduction here.

Hierarchy of Needs Infographic

When processing the hierarchy diagram, there are a few important points to remember:

The hierarchical structure is not about being linear but instead about there being foundational concepts that support the rest of the hierarchy. It is not gamified, you do not finish one level and move onto the rest. Instead, there may be places where the district, school, or person is strong, and then holes in other areas that need to be filled.

The hierarchy is not about answering the question, “How can I be more innovative?” nor does it represent innovative thinking and doing. The question the hierarchy is trying to answer is “How can we support an environment conducive to innovative thinking?” Each component is less of a level and more of a foundation to the following level to get to the environment that we want to provide for learners so that they have the best chance to choose-their-own-adventure…so they have the opportunity, the climate and culture, leadership support, mindset and the personalized professional development that they need in order to begin thinking innovatively. The process of innovating and ideating is messy, but the organizational support to give people the best chance at thinking this way definitely shouldn’t be.

While I developed the hierarchy for organizational change, it could definitely be applied to a classroom as well to give students the best chance at innovative thinking. Climate and culture, leadership (both teacher and student leadership), mindset, and personalized learning (versus personalized professional development) will lead to an environment that supports innovation.

The climate and culture of our district, building, and classroom is the foundation in which all of our other activities, thoughts, and daily interactions because it creates the relationship and feeling we have toward our professional environment. When we feel a connection to the rituals, traditions, people, and icons, it allows us to focus on our jobs instead of any negative outside influences.

There are many issues that can affect climate and culture: a lack of connection felt among educators, leaders skipping the “why” and moving right to the “how”, or maybe a history of opaque transparency and mixed messages in regards to district initiatives. But, if climate and culture is the foundation that supports the rest of the hierarchy, trust is the foundation of climate and culture and building and maintaining trust is imperative to supporting it.

If you don’t trust the people around you, there is a significant amount of energy expended on wonderings like this:

  • If I tell other people that my idea failed, will they think I’m an idiot?
    (You don’t trust the people around you to support you learning from failure)
  • I’d rather ask for forgiveness than permission, so I’ll just do it and hope I don’t need to say sorry later.
    (You don’t trust your leadership to be supportive of new ideas)
  • I am overwhelmed and need help, but I can’t ask for it because people will think I’m incompetent.
    (You don’t trust people to be empathetic and support you when you ask)

When people don’t feel like they can trust the people around them to be supportive and make them feel safe, it breeds overall negative feelings. That negativity can eventually seep into other cracks in the climate and culture foundation. Unfortunately, the only way to combat distrust is to either never break the trust bond to begin with or to build it back up after it’s been broken. I’ve spoken with leaders who have clear trust issues with their staff, and they’re always disappointed when they feel like they’re trying but it’s not working. Trust is not an overnight fix. When trust is broken, it takes a significant amount of effort and time to bring it back. Another issue with rebuilding trust is that it’s the perception and acceptance of the trusting relationship on the part of the person whose trust has been broken that matters, not the person who broke the trust. In other words, if a leader has broken trust with a teacher, it is up to the teacher to decide when enough has been done to restore the trust, not the leader.

To build trust, one must do what they say they’re going to do, be consistent and fair, have policies and procedures that are followed the same for everyone, and place a high value on the feelings, attitudes, and actions of the people around them. This needs to be done purposefully and with legitimate concern over improving trust. If it’s faked, everyone will know. 

An example of a common scenario that has the potential to create broken trust: A teacher has decided to take a risk and try a new technology in his classroom with kids. It doesn’t go as well as he would have hoped, but he considers tweaking what he did and try again the next day. The school administrator, who regularly discusses risk-taking and how to be more innovative, comes in, witnesses the failure, and advises the teacher that they shouldn’t try that again because it “clearly didn’t work”, types up some notes, and leaves. In this case, the administrator has taken the chance that they have broken trust. They said one thing (risk-taking is encouraged to be innovative) but did another (sent a message of “you failed at that, don’t do it again”). The administrator has shown that while they might support the idea of risk-taking, ACTUAL risk-taking and failing is not acceptable. Result: possible broken trust.

Another issue that can affect climate and culture is the prevalence of teachers who are disengaged from their profession. We often speak about teachers who are disengaged from professional development, but don’t know what to do with the teachers who have become apathetic towards teaching. We often say they’re “checked out”, ready for retirement, should get out of teaching, etc. I’ve found more often than not, these teachers were not always like that, but have become this way due to not feeling supported or trust that was broken somewhere along the line. At some point, they gave up trying. For teachers who are still engaged in what they are doing, these people can bring a negativity to otherwise pleasant interactions that ruin any positive climate or culture that could develop. Leaders often give up on these people, feeling like no amount of coaching or professional development is going to change how they are. I feel, however, that they don’t need “fixing”. What we can do for them is remind them why they became teachers in the first place. Allow them room to find and follow their passions in teaching, and then give them the support they need. Reignite them. They were a teacher superhero at one point, too. They deserve that attention. 

Climate and culture drive the decisions we make and how much buy-in we will receive. They determine how we feel about our jobs, how we talk about our schools and kids, and how supported we are in our journey to become the innovators that we know we want to be. It can be the most time-consuming and difficult of the levels to fix because it involves a unified effort by all to solve issues and improve. It is also incredibly rewarding to work in an environment where everyone feels connected, supported, and joined in the mission to do the best job we can for our students, and is definitely worth the effort. This kind of positive climate and culture is one of the first steps in developing an environment ripe for innovation and divergent thinking.

You can find the third post in the #hierarchyseries on Effective Leadership here.

Climate · Culture · growth mindset · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · Innovator's Mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking

Awhile back, I began trying to delineate what needed to be in place for a teacher to really have the best chance of being innovative in their classrooms. Whenever I’m looking for where changes need to be made, it is easiest for me to have some sort of graphical representation of where I want to go and what is necessary to accomplish what I’m setting out to do. I am a very linear thinker and checking a box gives me true euphoria. I needed to solidify my thinking into something more concrete.

Asking myself “how do I make people more innovative?” was not only a daunting question but the wrong one. I cannot force people to be more innovative. In fact, forcing any kind of change in thinking takes time and support. Compliance measures will most likely have the opposite effect. The only thing I can do is take away as many barriers as possible and create an atmosphere where they have everything they need to be innovative and give their students a chance to be as well.

While trying to reason through this issue, I developed the Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking and this graphic:

Hierarchy of Needs Infographic

I’ve moved each section multiple times, and while there are arguments for why one might be interchangeable with another, this is what I have decided makes the most sense to me as to what needs to be in place to move up the hierarchy. As I’ve compared the hierarchy to my own district, I’ve realized that it’s not about completely missing a level. Similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, most likely there are holes in each level that need to be filled. Some schools, or even people, are closer to the top than others.

I have also discovered that as you go higher in the hierarchy, the more the change moves from organizational focus to an individual change. For example, a change in climate and culture is more of an organizational change than personalized professional development. Personalized PD is really about what an individual needs and pairing that with support. While it could be argued that mindset is perhaps the most individual level on the hierarchy, I felt like if you did not have a mindset that was ready to take on the personalized professional development and become professionally driven, you couldn’t be successful at that level. That means that as you move up the hierarchy, the individual support needed to create change grows higher because the changes that need to occur become a change that needs to happen within people versus at an organizational level.

This post is the first in a series going through each level of the hierarchy, and in the next post, when I work through climate and culture, I’ll also be talking about the importance of creating a common language. In order to do that going forward, I want to define two of the terms I’ve used for the hierarchy.

Innovation* – An idea, concept or product that is new, different and better. Need not to be something completely new, but can also be a new way to use the original idea. Innovation is a personal journey.

Divergent Thinking – The ability to take one idea and create new thinking that will bring teaching and learning in new, innovative direction for deeper learning. It is diverging from the norm, the ability to turn an idea on its head, and being willing to fail and grow.

As always, blog posts are my way to organize my thinking. I welcome any feedback on how the hierarchy could be organized to be more accurate or effective. As I’ve worked on my Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking workshop for #TIES17, questions and support for moving up the hierarchy have become more clear (you can sign up for the workshop here), and my hope is that as I share my ideas going forward in the next few weeks, actionable items can be taken away to help move other districts/schools/people forward as well.

The second post in the series is now available here

*adapted from George Couros’s Innovator’s Mindset