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Friday, July 31, 2009

Routinization of Novelty: Influencing Positive Change in Practical Ways



Yes, OK, I admit it, I"ve been taking a hiatus.  Blogging a little but not much - but this video from Bob Sprankle that he made for BLC09 is really something that snagged me back to reality!




My Summer Break Classroom
It reminded me of my classroom today.

Today I had a student come to the computer lab to work.  He wanted to work on enhancing his summer assignment and making it better.  Nothing funny about this until you realize that he wrote his own assignment based upon guidelines I gave him back in May AND that he finished the assignment the week school got out AND that school doesn't go back for another two weeks AND that he had his dad take him to the school and wait for 30 minutes until I could get dressed and get over there.

You see, this student called me at home and woke me up from my lazy seat in the recliner (the one day I gave myself off the whole summer, I might add) and BEGGED for me to open my classroom.

The picture at the end of Bob's video reminded me of that.  This student is building a world to help teach digital citizenship on Reactiongrid and he can't get enough of it and he was BEGGING to get in!

The thing I like about this video is that Bob Sprankle is a real classroom teacher (and one of my favorite podcasters.)  He's learning, teaching and doing -- but also speaking out and challenging us to be more.

The Quest for School Reinvention

None of us... I repeat... NONE OF US (especially me) have arrived at this new probable hybrid between traditional school and elearning, but those of us that are part of this quest - this journey to truly reinvent schools are highly motivated and energized in our careers and there are a lot of us here.  I think that there will be an increasing value on including people like Bob in professional development opportunities for teachers -- real practioners doing real things and sharing what they are doing.  While, this doesn't replace the experts (see Ben Grey's recent article mentioning experts) that are out there, it is a highly needed supplement to what we see at many conferences.

You go Bob -- you've got a dream and I do too - and there are a lot of us out there discontent with where we are -- let's keep what works from the past and add new things that work.

Making the Transformation Happen
You know, there is an expert on innovation that I just happened upon, Andrew Hargadon (actually related to Steve Hargadon and author of How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate) and he wrote an older blog post in 2007 about creativity and efficiency where he says:
"The big challenge in managing innovation lies, I would suggest, not in building up two very strong skills in innovation and in operations, but rather in building the bridge between them--of developing the people and processes that facilitate the routinization of novelty. Of turning good ideas into practical processes that the larger organization can value, adopt, implement, and manage."1  Andrew Hargadon
The Need to Routinize Novelty
OK, so this is where we lie right now in education, building the bridge that will help us routinize novelty.  Turning good ideas into practical processes to improve education that ALL of education can "value, adopt, implement and manage." 

 I read an amazing book this summer, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything which talks about their research on positive change as part of a new presentation I wrote called 21st Century Influencer for a group of technology directors.

In the book, Dr. Everett Rogers' research on change is discused and discovered that:
"the merit of an idea did not predict its adoption rate."2

This is why it took over 200 years for ship captains to actually starting USING the cure for scurvy that John Lancaster discovered in 1601 (and resulted in the English being called "limeys.")3 It took two hundred years and countless lives because the RIGHT person didn't pick up the cause!

So, in his research Rogers found that those who try early innovations are two types of people:  innovators and "early adopters" (opinion leaders.)  The book describes innovators as:

"tend(ing) to be open to new ideas and smarter than average... but the key to getting the majority of any population to adopt a vital behavior is to find out who these innovators are and avoid them like the plague.  If they embrace your new idea, it will surely die." (emphasis mine)

Any advocate won't do.   

Finding the RIGHT advocates for the practices that actually work is THE bridge to mass dissemination of positive innovation.

So, you can see this chart, I shared at the workshop this summer.  The key to promoting change at your school is to spend a disproportiate amount of time with two types of people:


1) Your people in authority
2) Your opinion leaders.

Now, this is interesting because, I think an opinion leader would vary.  For example, I may be an opinion leader in the edtech community, but at my school I may be the innovator. In fact, I would venture to say that this is the case for many edubloggers.  Our key in helping positive change happen will be in either: tapping into the power of the opinion leaders or BECOMING an opinion leader ourselves.

Sometimes, promoting change means having the humility to let others promote the change.  If you're an "innovator" as defined by Rogers -- you'll kill it by talking about it.  Now, the key is to BECOME an opinion leader ourselves, but this takes time!  It takes time in more ways than you may know!  On page 153 and 154 of Influencer, it outlines three characteristics of opinion leaders:4
  1. Knowledgeable
  2. Trustworthy
  3. Generous with their time
Now, if you want to learn more about this, you'll have to read  the book, but let me ask you who the busiest people are on campus!  Often they are the IT integrators.

Overloading our Potential for Change
By overloading IT, are we making it harder for them to develop the interpersonal relationships that they need to influence change?  By putting so much on their plate that they overpromise and underperform, are we making liars out of them who are just too overloaded to get to everyone and so do not have the trust of those who work with them?  Are we making them so busy as to make them technology killers instead of technology enablers?

Look at the research of 360 district-level tech coordinators cited in Dr. Scott McLeod's Presentation at NECC Overcoming the Challenges to Effective Technology Leadership in which he states some pretty alarming statistics:5
  • 30 percent of survey responders are the sole provider of tech support at their school district. They maintain the networks, provide desktop and software support, train staff, do budgeting and planning. In rural areas, it jumps to 57 percent.
  • Half of those surveyed were in their jobs four years or less. 
 "There's a fairly high amount of mobility and turnover within these positions. When I talk to Superintendents, one of the toughest things they say is how do you hold on to a good tech coordinator," McLeod says.
When he talks about it being partly a systemic problem, he is right.  This is called Structural Ability in Influencer.

Isolating our Potential for Change
And, one other structural ability point from Influencer that struck home with me is about propinquity.
Propinquity is " the property of being close together."

A study was conducted at Bell labs to determine who would collaborate and the best predictor was "the distance between their offices."6

This is precisely why David Loertscher is on to something with his Learning Commons idea:  he tackles this issue of propinquity head on.  Often, we put IT people in a tiny corner -- away from administrators... away from teachers.  By doing that,  

we are blocking the transmittal of innovation that happens naturally as part of informal relationships that occur with people who are located near each other.

David believes that libraries and computer labs need to work closely together -- so what is his solution?  PUT THEM TOGETHER.  His definition of Learning Commons says:

"we discover that two major functions are being accommodated simultaneously in the Commons.  The first is the Open Commons, and the second is the Experimental Learning Center.  Each is controlled by its own calendar of events but coexists in a busy real place while also extending into virtual space... it is a micro R&D center of testing, experimentation, and exhibition connected to a larger network of educational research and practice."7

As you can tell, I think his book,The New Learning Commons: Where Learners Win, is a total MUST read for school administrators, IT integrators, librarians, and computer lab facilitators.

If you put people together THEY WORK TOGETHER!  This is a clear implementation of the 6 method of influence discussed in Influencer called Structural Ability.


When working with change and technology we are dealing with two very disparate things.  Technology, which, when it works well is logical and people, which on our best days, have some logic and a whole lot of other baggage.

Adaptive Change
This is all about people but it is also about POSITIVE change, adaptive change.

Another excellent book, Change the Way You Lead Change: Leadership Strategies that REALLY Work, says:
"The pressures for change are real, but they cannot, and should not, be used as an excuse for careening from one change to another, no matter how sound the new direction seems to be in the abstract.  We do not live in the abstract.  Adaptation to new realities requires change, but not all change will get you there.  What to change, how to change it, when to change it, and what cost are all critically important considerations...

Leaders are responsible for assessing environmental conditions, assessing organizational realities and capabilities, and carefully choosing a change path and am implementation process that is likely to be adapting rather than just disruptive and painful."7

Checklist for Practical Change NOW!
These are things that we all struggle with, so here are some practical thoughts to ask yourself:
  • How close are the people located who need to work together as it relates to technology?
  • Is your IT job description a lose-lose for everyone and do you have a high turnover in that job?
  • Should you consider Learning Commons as you create your strategic plan?
  • Are you harnessing both your authority leaders AND your opinion leaders as it relates to change -- are you spending time with them?
  • How can you become an opinion leader? Are you knowledgeable, trustworthy, and do you spend time helping people?  
  • If you "hate people" can you at least read the perennial How to Win Friends & Influence People for painless ways to understand how you can work with people without being fake! 
  • Be careful of blaming people when you're struggling with change and look at systemic and social structures also - get a copy of Influencer: The Power to Change Anything and learn about change.

Remember that it isn't about the technology- it is about what the technology lets us DO!

It also isn't about change for the sake of change - it is about keeping what works and improving what doesn't!

Most of all... don't just talk about it, take action in ways that produce positive results.

"Workaholics are addicted to activity; superachievers are committed to results. They work towards goals that contribute to their mission.  In their mind's eye they see the end they want and the actions leading to it." Charles A. Garfield, Peak Performers

Resources Used:
 1Hargadon, Andrew, "Creative Efficiency or Efficient Creativity?" (http://andrewhargadon.typepad.com/my_weblog/on_managing_innovation/).

2Everett Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, 3rd ed. (New York: Free Press, 1983).

3Don Berwick, "Disseminating Innovation in Health Care," JAMA(2003): 1969-1975.

4Patterson, Kerry and Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything (USA: McGraw-Hill, 2009): 153-154.

5Robert Kraut and Carmen Egido, and Jolene Galegher, Patterns of Contact and Communication in Scientific Research Collaboration (New York: ACM Press, 1988).

6 Loertscher, David V., Carole Koechlin, and Sandi Zwann. The New Learning Commons. Salt Lake City: Hi Willow Research and Publishing, 2008. Print. 

7Herold, David M. and Donald B. Fedor. Change the Way You Lead Change. 1. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2008. Print. 

------Dedication ---


This post is dedicated to my amazing husband, Kip Davis, on our anniversary (today.)  Without his support and vision for my blogging back when everyone thought blogging was a disease, I wouldn't be Cool Cat Teacher and allowed to share these thoughts that are shut up in my bones and have to come out.  I love you with all my heart, Kip, and am thankful for the 16 start we have on our marraige - I'm still in love with the greatest man on the planet, thank you Kip for being my inspiration and heartbeat and I promise I won't quit until I get that first book published, thank you for doing such a great job with the kids while I was at NECC!


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