How can we support innovation?

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Yesterday, I wrote this post.  It expressed my frustration over the challenge of being creative and innovative within a large education corporation.  It is OK to complain, but after that, what do you do?  First, the post:

The Death of Innovation

 I write this post because it has to be written.  It will not be inspiring, but I hope it is a bit of a cautionary tale.
There is a real danger in working for a big institution, especially when that institution is a school board.  Educators should encourage innovation, risk-taking and creative thinking.  What happens when the leadership of a school board loses sight of what an educator is challenged to do?

There is always a risk when a small group of people gather power onto themselves and try then to manage a large school district.  They run the risk of closing out dissenting voices and become used to expecting no opposition to their opinions. Their perspectives become narrow and informed by a very narrow base.  They lose sight of the risks and challenges that are so important to be on the cutting edge in the field.

I remember reading Steve Jobs‘ biography.  For me I was most intrigued by the story of Applewithout Steve Jobs.  The company lost sight of its mission and what made them cutting edge.  They began a long slow decline that only stopped when Jobs returned and made radical changes to the corporation.

I believe that all large organizations need to be wary of this.  Large organizations can become complacent and depend too much on the advice of a small group of people.  Organizations begin to be motivated by self-preservation, locking out any ideas that do not fit within their narrow view of the world.

This is an extremely dangerous situation for an organization.  It leads to the death of innovation within the board.  When ideas like 1:1 implementation or innovative forms of fundraising are discouraged you have to wonder what other good ideas are dying around the board table.

I am not sure how to fix a difficult decline in the ability of an organization to innovate, but I do think an organization has to learn again how to take risks and how to accept and welcome dissenting voices.  It has to learn to take away the fear of stepping up and offering something new that might not fit into their corporate vision.

I am sure this is a common problem, many organizations face this.  When it is an educational organization it is imperative that something be done.  Our primary job is the education of children. We can’t be effective and innovative in a culture that discourages change.

Ok, so what now?  once you get over your own frustration what do you do?
I remember years ago talking to Mexican farmers about their frustrations with NAFTA and their inability to compete with cheap American corn.  One solution that was considered at the time was the development of local economic ‘hubs’ where local producers would supply food in exchange for the local goods they needed.  I don’t know if this model ever succeeded, but fifteen years later I still remember it.  It was an innovative economic solution to a huge problem for local farmers.
Maybe the best we can do is look after our own school, our own students, staff and parents.  Try not to worry about the mammoth organization we all work for and do what is best for our own community.  Maybe it’s impossible to be creative as a large organization.
It would be interesting to hear what people think, maybe a #satchat topic?

Asphalt to Oasis – the drive to transform a schoolyard

mural project painted earlier this year by the students of St. Anthony
mural project painted earlier this year by the students of St. Anthony

 

St. Anthony Catholic School today, just as at its beginnings as the Dante Academy, is a Catholic school that serves a high proportion of children from immigrant families living in the Somerset Street West area of Ottawa.

 

This is a wonderful school community with students and parents from Asia, Latin America and Africa. The combination of different languages and cultures makes for a vibrant and exciting atmosphere. It is a true joy to work here at St. Anthony.

St. Anthony School was founded as the Dante Academy in 1925. On June 8, the Ottawa Citizen reported on the official opening of the school as follows: “The official opening of the Dante Separate School for Italian children took place yesterday morning, and a special Mass, honoured by the presence of Monsignor L.N. Campeau, representing the Archbishop, was celebrated by Rev. Father L. Larocque at the Church of St. Anthony…” It is very interesting to note that the Dominion horticulturalist, Mr. W. T. Macoun, provided ‘a generous donation of trees’ to celebrate the opening of the school.

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This began a long history of establishing a green oasis in the center of Somerset West. In 1998, the school, along with dozens of others, applied to win the “Ugliest Schoolyard Contest,” sponsored by Earth Day Ottawa-Carleton, the Canadian Biodiversity Institute and Nortel Networks. St. Anthony won the contest, which was held to encourage schools to take positive environmental action. By winning the contest, St. Anthony received $5,000 to help plant trees and make the schoolyard greener.  Additional awards were received from the City of Ottawa, the Arbour Foundation and the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

 

Now, 17 years later, the schoolyard is in need of assistance. Many of the trees planted in 1998 need a good deal of work to revive them. The yard is mostly made up of cracked concrete that is extremely dangerous in the months when it is not snow covered. This year alone there have been several injuries resulting in trips to the hospital for several students.

In response to this need, St. Anthony School has worked with Evergreen to develop a new concept for the yard. The concept plan, draw by Evergreen consultant Andrew Harvey, is based on extensive discussions with the students and staff of St. Anthony School.

concept plan drawn up by Evergreen
concept plan drawn up by Evergreen

 

The plan calls for the pulling up of much of the old pavement along with the planting of more trees and shrubs. Evergreen also designed the yard in such a way that students would have low-cost wooden structures to play on. Currently, there is no play structure on the yard.

 

This is an ambitious plan. In the fall, we took part in the Aviva Community Fund campaign – a national competition to raise the money to start work on the greening project. We competed with hundreds of projects across the country and came very close to making it into the finals. The campaign is still visible on their website: https://www.avivacommunityfund.org/ideas/acf19604

 

Now it is back to the drawing board. We are still totally committed to building our new yard and we are actively looking for new, inventive ways of raising money. St. Anthony’s Ladies Aid has been very helpful in their support of the project as has one of our local high schools.

St. Anthony is the community’s school and it will ultimately be the community that helps us continue to work of W.T. Macoun and Earth Day Ottawa-Carleton. As our slogan goes, we will turn our Asphalt into an Oasis!

 

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