Saturday, June 30, 2012

Innovation, Ego, Autonomy & Irrelevance

"So what innovative initiatives is your school undertaking?"

I was recently asked the above question by a fellow educator.

This caused me to pause.  I rambled a few things off.  But to be honest, the questions threw me off.

It made me uneasy.  What follows are some thoughts, ramblings and questions regarding innovation, autonomy and leadership ego.

What is driving the innovation?

Are we searching for "innovation" for innovation's sake?

I often wonder about school wide "innovations".  What is driving the innovation? What are the precursors to implementation?  Who do the innovations benefit the most?

Why are we doing what we are doing?

Are we driven by a greater purpose?  Our mission?  Our vision?

It is really about innovation?  Is it rooted in student learning?

Is the innovation about creating engaging learning experiences for students?

Is the innovation about creating learning conditions that are motivating for students?

Is innovation about creating an environment where every student feels connected and safe?

I'm aware that, when it comes to being the "leader" at my school, it is about checking by ego at the door.

What is best, easy, comfortable, familiar or trendy for me,  may not be what is best for the students and school community.

As principal, I need to give up my need to be "relevant" for the sake of being "irrelevant" if it means doing what is best for students.  As Henri Nouwen writes:
"The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation..."
I would suggest that innovation driven by personality and ego is toxic and doomed to be unsustainable.

Autonomy & Innovation

I also wonder about the place of autonomy (student & teacher) when it comes to innovation. I agree that motivation is rooted in autonomy. But can there be too much autonomy?

I like  the image of a river flowing.  A river is free to flow and meander.  However, the river is given its shape and direction by its banks.  Without the banks, the river becomes a puddle or lake.

What is the role of leadership in providing the "banks of a river"?  In my opinion, this is a critical aspect of leadership - to provide the delicate balance of enough autonomy within an agreed up "preferred future".

The bottom line is that innovation and autonomy needs to be rooted in what is best for students and their individual success.

Still figuring it out.....any thoughts?


  1. Over the years I have often reflected over what style of leadership works for me as a teacher. I used to think that I needed a principal to inspire me with their vision and I was content to follow behind. What I noticed was that when the principal left the school, so would my inspiration; I would be left high and dry. The banks would disappear and I would be the puddle.
    I agree with you, any river built completely on ego and ambition only flow back to the principal themselves and not sustainable in the long term.
    Other "river"s may not move as quickly or be as initially inviting, but these banks are built to carry the water out into a bigger body of water. The vision is not based solely on ego, but is deeply rooted in service to support the water as it moves to a greater body of water.
    This analogy, holds true for me as I reflect on my journey as a teacher with respect to my students and what I want to provide for them. I think over the years I often confused engagement for empowerment. The engagement was good for my ego, but did not empower students to connect to themselves in a self sustaining way.

    I liked your analogy and the post resonated with what I have been thinking about.

    1. Thanks for sharing a great reflection and adding to the metaphor. I particularly like the idea of "empowerment". Hope you enjoy your holidays!