Much has been written about the ‘unprecedented’ nature of 2020. For schools and educators, so much of the way we work and learn had to ‘pivot’ and, generally, at very short notice. There was no time for extensive planning or to ‘get everyone on board with the change process.’ In Melbourne, Australia, where I live, we were literally at school one day in March and then, within a few days, had shifted to remote learning. And it remained that way until around late October with just a short stint back onsite in between two long periods of lockdown. Many people lost their jobs; health and emergency workers on the front line were under enormous pressure; many parents were working from home; and, within this context, we had to continue to deliver learning opportunities for students whilst at the same time support their wellbeing. We had to work out the best way to do this, and we had to do it fast. We had no choice but to embrace change.
Change interrupts well-established patterns of behaviour and calls for new patterns to be developed (Ford, Ford, and D’Amelio, 2008). Whilst resistance to change is a well-documented phenomenon, in this case it wasn’t really an option for school staff. Sometimes we fear the unsettling chaos that can come with change. Sometimes we fear not being the expert and starting over as a novice. Sometimes, we simply prefer what is familiar. However, while organizational change can be disruptive and chaotic, it can also be a valuable, creative process. Under this pressure of COVID-enforced change, there was much gold to be found. So many better and new ideas emerged, so many revelations. Many changes that have become part of our practice even though we are now back onsite.
One of the key themes for Converge 2022 is embracing change. Educators from across the globe will explore the ways in which they might courageously lead their school communities to empower young people, not only to flourish personally, but to be agents of change and hope. Our goal, as Christian educators, is to prepare the next generations to bring restoration, justice, and healing to the world they inhabit. Converge 2022 will be an opportunity for us to explore and wrestle together with how we might boldly and effectively do this.
The process of change can also be conceptualised as innovation. Put simply, innovation is the process of changing or improving a current practice or product or creating a new practice or product in order to add value. For many leaders, teachers, and schools across the globe, COVID restrictions have enforced us to adopt an innovative mindset. We have had to carefully consider those things that are of greatest importance to our students, and then deliver these in new ways. Innovation is much more than just a great idea—it is a great idea with purpose; it is a great idea executed.
What exactly are the characteristics of an innovative mindset and how might you foster this? In his book, Innovation is Everybody’s Business, Robert Tucker shares seven fundamental leadership skills that innovators have. I want to very briefly unpack each one and, in doing so, encourage you to think about how gathering together with like-minded Christian educators might support you in cultivating your skills as an innovator.
Innovation Skill 1: You Continually Embrace the ‘Opportunity’ Mode of Thinking
Embracing opportunity means that you are ‘passionately alert to possibility.’ Rather than seeing problems, you see potential. Rather than getting bogged down in details, you see the bigger picture and the vision of how things can be. Converge 2022 will be an opportunity for us to look collectively at the problems and opportunities we face and together consider alternative ways to address them.
Innovation Skill 2: You Are Adept at Critical Thinking
Tucker talks about the way that our brain, left to its own devices, routinely takes ‘perceptual shortcuts’ reverting to ‘the way things have always been done’ and habitual ways of thinking. To combat this, he encourages what he calls ‘assumption assaulting.’ This involves a willingness to challenge prevailing assumptions and the status quo and to force yourself to go beyond despairing at the thought that “there must be a better way!”—and actually pushing yourself to discover it.
Innovation Skill 3: You develop Empathy for the End Customer
In our context, the end customer is the student—and yet often their voice is completely missing from key discussions and decisions. What strategies might we use to listen more deeply and to truly walk in their shoes? Converge 2022 is committed to the inclusion of student voice into the key themes.
Innovation Skill 4: You Proactively Think Ahead of the Curve
In order to be innovative, we need to know what is coming ahead. Rather than having our heads constantly down toward the everyday and our deadlines, we need to be looking upward and forward. We need to be at the top of our profession. We need to be aware of trends both local and global. What key challenges and opportunities are on the horizon? How can we be ready for them?
Innovation Skill 5: You Continuously Fortify Your Idea Factory
In order to generate ideas and cultivate creativity, we need to intentionally make time and space to do so. Our capacity to ideate and brainstorm can and should be developed. We need to put ourselves in environments where our ideas are encouraged and stimulated.
Innovation Skill 6: You Become a Standout Collaborator
We all know that collaboration is a prized skill for current and future workplaces. This is not surprising given that the Bible, itself, clearly tells us that we are part of a body, with each part being valuable and each part needing the others. We were not created to be alone, and we will not achieve our potential unless we collaborate with others. Interacting with global colleagues will help us to sharpen our ideas and skills. Furthermore, a Forbes study found that diversity is a key driver of innovation and is a critical component of being successful. So, we do not want to be collaborating only with people who are exactly like us or even from the same system or country. Diversity is crucial to engaging with different perspectives and ideas that foster innovation.
Innovation Skill 7: You Are Adept at Building the Buy-in
The final innovation skill is really a key part of execution. There is no point in having innovative ideas if no one understands or supports them. We need to be able to articulate and communicate our ideas in a way that inspires action from our teams and community. One way to sharpen our message is to practice with and receive feedback from friends and colleagues.
I encourage you to consider participating in Converge 2022. It will not be a passive talk fest. It will not be the same as every other ‘conference’ you have attended. It will be an interactive, challenging, and creative gathering. It will be an opportunity for iron to sharpen iron. Difficult topics and shared problems will be brought to the table, and engaged minds will wrestle with them. Our perceptions of what effective Christian education ought to look like will be discussed and challenged. It will be a great opportunity to develop your skills of innovation so that you are ready to embrace the change needed to best equip the next generation for a life of flourishing. Furthermore, it will be an opportunity to actively develop a collective innovative mindset, as a global community of Christian educators.
Ford, Jeffrey. D., Ford, Laurie W., and D’Amelio, Angelo. “Resistance to Change: The Rest of the Story,” Academy of Management Review 33, no. 2 (2008): 364-377.
Tucker, Robert B., Innovation is Everybody’s Business: How to Make Yourself Indispensable in Today’s Hypercompetitive World. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons,2011.