Innovating Despite Success

Oregon Episcopal School administrative team designing parachutes during a recent session. Exercises like these help us get in the mindset for innovation and creative risk-taking.

Oregon Episcopal School administrative team designing parachutes during a recent session. Exercises like these help us get in the mindset for innovation and creative risk-taking.

Innovation is never easy. But it can be particularly hard when the experience you have created is resulting in highly successful outcomes and satisfied users. It takes a special kind of innovator to ask the right questions that unpack whether the experience is truly the best that it can be today. Even harder still is the ability to look around the corner to understand how that experience may or may not meet the needs of an uncertain tomorrow.

We’ve recently had the privilege of beginning to work with some independent school educators who are embracing this exciting and challenging work to innovate against their highly successful models. One such example of this work is a group of five prestigious secondary schools in the Bay Area who joined together three years ago to form the BlendEd Consortium.

The consortium offers courses across the five campuses through a blended environment - providing students access to a broader set of course offerings and peers, while also expanding growth opportunities for teachers. Rather than asserting a long-term vision for the endeavor, these five schools dove into the deep end of a pilot phase. We view the prototype, test, evaluate cycle as an essential component of all innovation. We’re now helping the heads of these five schools wrestle with essential questions around what the next phase of the consortium could look like in service of creating the best possible learning experience for their students. The dialogue is rich, complex, and only made possible by the data unearthed through the prototyping phase that they undertook.

Another inspiring example of this work is the approach that Oregon Episcopal School (OES) is taking to how they work together as an administrative team. We recently supported these leaders in building their muscles around tools that enable a cycle of listening to their community, coming up with lots of ideas, and then testing these ideas before deciding how to best proceed. OES has an inquiry-based learning model for their students and so this is a cycle that is foundational to their ethos. What was inspiring to watch was how these adults realized the power that implementing this cycle of inquiry into their own work as administrators could have. They are diving particularly deep into that first listening - or “empathy” - phase of the cycle. We find this to be very exciting because it is only by truly listening to your users (students, parents, and educators) that you understand what needs you may or may not be serving as well as you could be.

We look forward to continuing to watch and support the innovation of these independent school educators. They have the autonomy to play in ways that their public school peers do not. And yet the cultural barriers to thinking differently are equally if not more challenging. Kudos to those who are making the leap.