My article in The Monthly Recharge, a Leadership+Design newsletter…

Screen shot 2014-12-29 at 8.38.22 AM

As school leaders we are the designers of experiences–for students, faculty, parents, and the community as a whole. What does this mean? How do we develop the mindsets, skillets, habits, and practices of designers to enhance learning at our schools?

Designing something exceptional requires identifying and articulating a meaningful, compelling mission and a bold, directional vision. It’s not just about utility (plan, process, and methodology), but equally, if not more important, design is about significance (thinking differently, creating value, making a dent). Your mission should be a nonnegotiable imperative. How many in your community know it, understand it, live it?

As a result, lead learning designers must assist in answering the essential questions about their community: Why? What? How? Attempting to answer these significant questions, Greg McKeown’s work, Essentialism, challenges my core as a designer: “Essentialism is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution.” This exercise refines the meaning, tests the assumptions,and widens the options. A number of programs, events, and exercises have existed at our schools for decades because this is what we believe schools do. Look at the familiar as if you have never seen it before. As Jim Collins would advocate, conduct an autopsy without blame on the most sacred items. Understanding your highest point of contribution as a school in a transformative world is critical for students to innovate now, collaborate now, and create now. As an educational leader, I get one shot at impacting a generation of students.

Posture is the secret sauce to this journey. What norms has your school identified in order to cultivate a culture of innovation? This cannot be an area of ambiguity. Once identified, commit to them daily, discuss them consistently, test their meaning periodically. What if you gave out a “Mistake of the Year Award” at the end of the year faculty meeting? It would demonstrate how serious you are about risk taking in your community, allowing teachers and students to experiment.

Norms birth common language. Do not underestimate the power of common language. I stumbled into it during my leadership career and have discovered its impact in a community. Regardless of how an organization completes the design question, “How might we?” –  “how might we” tells a story of how an organization is going to live, breathe, create, function, and act. While “how might we” infers access, opportunity, and infinite possibility, culture will strangle strategy every day of the week. Design purpose, principles, and product around common language. It creates clarity, builds momentum, and deepens institutional direction.

However, what got us here won’t get us there. In order to transform an organization, lead designers must be plugged in. In the 21st century, we have to be futurists. This is a tall order. Not sure there is a MOOC, Kahn lesson, or executive leadership program available for us. Being aware of the major disruptions and drivers of change around the world give us a platform to onboard our students now. As the Institute for the Future says, “New technologies, work patterns, and practices are disrupting how we learn, where we learn, and what we need to learn.” The flow of learning is no longer limited to time or setting. Lead your community to consider adapting current practices or adopting new methodologies or even disrupting the pervasive educational paradigm.

Ultimately, as a lead designer, I cannot be interested in red tape, fixed mindsets, 20th century expectations, and blending in.