Overcoming Innovation Fatigue: How to Make New Initiatives Stick
Innovation fatigue is something teachers and administrators know well. Every year there are new programs, standards, and expectations. We are always reinventing the wheel and have to learn a new system, take on a new responsibility, or embrace a new philosophy. However, change that benefits our students is worth doing — and doing well. Here are some best practices for administrators and school leaders looking to roll out new initiatives and improve buy-in and sustainability.
Have a new curriculum or program? Give it legitimacy through some memorable branding. When we take the time to conceptualize an idea into a presentable and shareable package, it takes on weight with our stakeholders. Create a logo, give your idea a name, and create a clear brand concept that’s easily digestible for new users. For example, let’s say you’re creating a new parent outreach program for Fridays. Call it Family Fridays, give it a logo, and package the parent outreach protocols and expectations into easily readable and workable materials for participants.
Think you don’t have the skills or time to brand your ideas? Log on to Fiverr.com or Etsy.com to get a logo package made for you for as little as $5.00, or sometimes less! Also, free phone-based apps like Word Swag, FontCandy, or Logo Maker make it easy for even the most design-challenged of us to create awesome logos in minutes. When ideas are not only clear, but look great, we build a vibrant and solid vision of success to which staff, parents, and students will respond.
Support in stages
It can be very disheartening to hear about new expectations or changes and receive no support for their implementation or continuation. With any new initiative, it’s critical to offer continual support in stages.
STAGE 1: What Is It? Why Are We Doing It?: This is the initial training and support that goes into explaining a new initiative and making sure that stakeholders are clear on the motivations, expectations, and vision of success.
STAGE 2: How and When: This is the next training and support stage, where participants learn how and when a new initiative will happen. Modeling, practice, and step-by-step instruction should be provided for getting started, continuing the practice, and troubleshooting. Also, provide clear expectations for the timeline and deadlines associated with the initiative.
STAGE 3: Follow Up: This is a critical support stage to maintain any initiative’s long-term sustainability. Basically, don’t leave your staff hanging. Without support continuity, initiatives can fail or get lost in the sea of other responsibilities and day-to-day business. If an initiative is truly a priority, nourish it by providing ongoing support and attention.
Dream big, but pilot small
When we have a great idea, it’s common to want to jump in and launch it tomorrow for the whole school or district — but it’s best to slow down. When we overshoot and rush, good ideas can crash fast. Choose a pilot subgroup to do a test run. For example: If you’d like to implement a mastery-based grading system for the whole school, first do a pilot run for a smaller group — like, say, the ninth-grade English classes. Create your own experiment with a small group, create measures for success, and methods for collecting data as well as a timetable. Then, examine how it went. What can be fixed before launching outward? What can be refined to ensure success for the larger audience? Good ideas, and especially large-scale ideas, require refinement and patience to ensure successful scaling and long-term sustainability.
It takes an empowered village
No one can make change happen alone, and people embrace change more readily when they have a voice in it. When schools distribute leadership roles throughout the staff, we empower teachers to become active change-makers. Creating grade teams, department teams, professional learning communities, or affinity groups encourages teachers to share ideas, take ownership, and be proactive. Ideas are stronger with they come out of isolation, and widening the field alleviates the top-down structures that foster resentment and expectations of compliance.
We can’t do it all — now
Ideas may be abundant, but resources — human and otherwise — are not. We just can’t do it all at the same time. When launching new initiatives, we have to narrow down our focus and limit ourselves to one or two new things at a time. What’s the priority? What’s the most needed and most impactful initiative? Let’s say you want to change the school’s grading standards and implement new expectations for lesson planning protocols. Hitting a staff with both large-scale practice changes at once is just asking for failure. Decide as a school what the year’s priorities should be. Consider the lift for stakeholders, the timeline, and support structures required to launch and sustain such a lift. When possible, divide and conquer by delegating projects and pilots to smaller subgroups. Patience wins the race to success. Ideas will stick if given the time, space, and room to breathe and take flight.
Jennifer L. M. Gunn spent 10 years in newspaper and magazine publishing before moving to public education, where she has been for nearly a decade. She is a curriculum designer and public high school educator in New York City. Jennifer is the creator of Right to Read, a literacy acceleration program for urban adolescent youth that’s steeped in social justice. She is an education writer and is co-founder of the annual EDxEDNYC Education Conference, which won the New York City Department of Education Excellence in School Technology Award this year. Jennifer regularly presents at conferences on the topics of adolescent literacy, leadership, and education innovation. Follow Jennifer online at www.jenniferlmgunn.com or on Twitter.