I’m fairly confident that the most important thing anyone can do to help educators improve what they do is to help them become more capable of generating ideas.
In my role as someone who supports organizations that are engaging in a change process, the ability of the membership to think beyond the constraints of their organization’s climate and culture are non-negotiables. As you might expect, this can be a challenge to actualize.
Change is dependent on generating ideas, and about creating ideas that have magnitude - and that really is the key. Big ideas, ideas that potentially position the organization beyond their horizon line, bold, creative, audacious ideas, and those that make you tilt your head, squint your eyes, and then slightly nod. And then smile.
You have to work at being able to create big ideas. In part, it's about adopting a new worldview, a new lens in how to think and see potential and possibility. My exposure to design and exceptionally creative people helped me improved my ability to be open to see the potential of any type of direction, moment or trajectory. My ability to think divergently and creatively is in a much different place than it was three years ago as a result. I attribute this to being around people that engaged me in experiences that challenged how I thought and what it meant to develop and extend the potential of an idea beyond my limited experience and lens. It also took practice, and the belief that the ability to engage successfully in ideation is a skill. And just like the development of a skill, it takes time, perseverance and and a range of experiences to get to the point where you’re capable of executing that skill at a high level.
It’s unreasonable to think that all teachers can just begin to develop those big ideas when presented with the opportunity to do so. How many times are teachers positioned as ideators in this context? When do they develop the skills necessary to become accomplished developers of ideas? Why don’t schools help them build those skills in the same way they expect teachers to help students build skills that lead them on the path to advanced capabilities?
So, what are some steps that can move you forward to do exactly that?
Begin by getting out from behind the education curtain. Go to places where ideas represent the currency of interaction. Ask questions about ideas. Practice with ideas. Take a simple idea and force yourself to extend that to a new place. If you go to a conference, go to a session you have no interest in and allow yourself to be challenged to develop ideas around the topic. Write down your ideas and revisit them frequently. If you are in a leadership role, support all of this. Engage in it yourself. Make the ability to ideate it a school goal - wouldn’t that be interesting? How many schools have a goal focused on the ability of the professionals to get better at creating ideas? If you did that, would you agree that you’d be taking the steps necessary to build a new organizational mindset associated with more creative practice and the potential for creating the conditions for interesting change and improvement?
Little ideas are easy. Big, potentially impactful ideas - not so much.
Helping teachers learn how to develop big ideas is really about helping them develop a disposition of openness, the ability to disassociate from their current reality so that reality does not limit thought, and supporting them in building an ideation skill set and mindset. All of that has to come first before the expectation that change efforts are supported by meaningful ideas that will result in systemic change and improvement.