From Flavor-of-the-Month to Sustainable Innovation

Essential Conditions for Sustainable InnovationAre you familiar with saying flavor-of-the-month? Initiatives, products, and strategies frequently come into ed-space with an initial jolt of excitement, professional development, and over time the product or initiative moves from the “endangered” list into “extinction.” Every year, the process continues.

In education, moving from flavor-of-the-month into a sustainable innovation model isn’t as hard as it sounds but requires a collective and intentional effort. Sustainable Innovation means implementing new or improved ideas and methods that continue or evolve over time. It energizes both staff and students, and there is no script for creating it. Innovative ideas can come from anyone, anywhere and along the way, students will build competencies and skills versus simply remembering the content. However, there are certain foundations, called Essential Conditions, that allow for consistent support and understanding of these innovative ideas.

The Essential Conditions for Sustainable Innovation are all abstract, but without them, it won’t matter how innovative the environment is or how much technology you have in the classroom.

The Three Essential Conditions for Sustainable Innovation are:


The first condition is a culture of trust where new ideas are encouraged and easily emerge. Today, educators feel vulnerable due to evaluation systems and government or district mandates. When a culture of trust exists, these vulnerabilities make their way into conversations resulting in a mutual understanding of risk and reward. Judith E. Glaser, author of Conversational Intelligence® affirms, based on neuroscientific evidence, people don’t innovate when they are fearful because their brains go into “protection” mode. To co-create and collaborate, we must use Conversational Intelligence®. Everything happens through conversations. In trust cultures, people authentically care about one another, not only professionally, but personally allowing for idea-generation, constructive feedback, and superior results.

Here are some strategies to help create a trust culture:

  • Be personal. Get to know your colleagues. It sends the message that you care about them as a person, not just an employee. Say hello or good morning and address the staff member by name. Make sure you aren’t leaving anyone out because this kind gesture towards one person can feel devaluing to the person you didn’t acknowledge.
  • Celebrate and Recognize Effort. Do you have a personal note someone sent to you in your wallet or desk drawer? Most of us do because it lifts us up, a so-called “bucket filler.” The best bucket fillers are simple, unexpected, authentic gestures. Be generous with your recognition. What you reward, you will encourage.
  • Be positive. There’s nothing worse than being in a meeting and hearing “we’ve failed.” Your heart falls to your feet, cortisol increases and you go into protect and retreat mode like a flower closing in the rain. Instead try, “How can we do better?” This open-ended question encourages reflection and solution-based conversation.
  • Listen to Connect. Leave your past experiences behind and intently listen versus assuming you know what someone will say or do. Practice empathy, a core characteristic of the Innovator’s Mindset that clears the pathway for co-creating and innovation.

“To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of relationships, which depends on the quality of conversations. Everything happens through conversations.” – Judith E. Glaser

Read more about building a Culture of Trust and my interview with Judith E. Glaser.

MindsetInnovator's Mindset Crosswalk

Sustainable Innovation relies on an Innovator’s Mindset, a phrase coined by George Couros.  An Innovator’s mindset is
the belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed, so they lead to the creation of new and better ideas. 
Anyone can develop an Innovator’s Mindset.

In fact, the Innovator’s Mindset characteristics intersect with New Pedagogies for Deep Learning’s Competencies and ISTE Standards for Students. Regardless of which list speaks to you, each gets you to the same end. The Innovator’s Mindset Crosswalk infographic demonstrates these intersections, and one could argue that more exist, but the objective was to show the ideas are sound, researched, and proven techniques for moving staff and students forward in the digital age.

Some strategies for developing an Innovator’s Mindset:

  • Twitter – In the busy life of an educator, Twitter provides “quick hits” to pique your interest of what’s possible. This personal learning network provides powerful professional development based on your interests. Virtually all websites today offer the share feature making it simple to give back and share resources you find.
  • Read the  Innovator’s Mindset. Another great book worth a read is Launch by AJ Juliani and John Spencer.
  • Collaborate with innovators colleagues within the district and globally. Take advantage of the flat world. Ask LOTS of questions!
  • Visit the Google Transformation Center – Curated resources for transforming education

Great follow-ups:


The last of the Essential Conditions is opportunity. Opportunity means everyone contributes to the organization from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy where people understand one another’s perspective, their value, and offer their expertise along the way. Teachers, students, administrative assistants, custodians, maintenance, food service, and central office employees have opportunities to spend time together co-creating and innovating to improve the organization. In essence, to sustain innovation, flattening the hierarchy provides the best chance for fresh ideas to emerge with support and most importantly, buy-in.

Here are some quick ways to create Opportunity:

  • Office Hours: Central Office Employees and Principals can hold office hours in their building where people can have one-on-one time. Get to know staff member’s names.
  • Talk to students and ask them about their experience. Most gladly share their opinions.
  • Invite Teachers to Big Meetings: Invite teachers to be part of planning meetings. Move meetings around to different buildings for a new perspective.

Read more about creating Opportunities in your district.

Innovation Accelerators

Innovation Accelerators can “fast track” new and creative ideas. Below are some examples of Innovation Accelerators:

  • Innovative Environments with mobile, flexible furniture.
  • Technology – Technology such as zSpace, Virtual Reality Viewers, and 3D printing provide opportunities for innovation.
  • Personalized Professional Development – move away from canned professional development and allow staff members to seek their pathway of interest modeling personalization.
  • Book Studies – offer a variety of book studies and let anyone start or lead one. Budget funds to which anyone has access if he/she has an excellent proposal.
  • Site Visits – allow staff members to visit others within their district or hit to road journeying to see innovation in action.
  • Grants – receiving an innovation grant such as the Straight A Grant,  provides clear objectives and accountability
  • Design Thinking Challenges – including students and staff in design challenges can inspire amazing ideas increasing buy-in and ownership

The list of accelerators will continue to grow but without The Essential Conditions for Sustainable Innovation the light of innovation could dim over time or will be achieved in pockets.

Build a trust culture, inspire an Innovator’s Mindset, and provide opportunities for all members of the staff to create innovation that sticks.


“The Principal of Change – Stories of learning and leading.”

“New Pedagogies for Deep Learning.”

Conversational Intelligence.”