NW Snapshot

Northwest, october 2017


"...a nervous unrest about becoming stagnant..."

This snippet comes from a doctoral study conducted by Neal Capone in 2016 on Christian school sustainability. It came from an interview with a successful Christian school leader, part of the qualitative evidence supporting the finding that innovation is key to the success of a Christian school.   In presenting the findings of this study in various venues, I have become increasingly intrigued with and convinced that innovation is a major factor in building and maintaining great schools.  

As I have just recently come from the ranks of practicing school administrators, the challenges and benefits of innovative thinking are fresh in my mind. I'd like to share with you some of what I learned as an inspiration, a cautionary tale, and a strong encouragement to value and practice innovative thinking. Although you and your team may have frequent conversations on this topic, perhaps, as I found, pressing daily needs rise to the top of agendas, making it hard to find dedicated time to think innovatively. Perhaps these thoughts can stimulate a future conversation (or even many!)  

Lessons I Learned about Innovative Leadership

  1. Be innovative in response to actual needs. We can lead through many changes, but if we are addressing real (felt) needs, people will be more open and willing to embrace the change(s).
  2. Let key stakeholders weigh in on the practical aspects of the change, but remember that you, along with the board, set the vision spiritually and philosophically. If you have discerned a need for change, then communicate with clarity and conviction that there will be change. For example, if you believe there should be a major change in the grading system, then commit to the change while inviting your stakeholders to consider the many options available and determine what might be best for your school.
  3. Establish a timeline for implementing change that accounts for the range of learning curves-too slow, and people will become impatient; too fast, and people become frustrated. Find the happy medium where you build momentum without losing those who have already bought in and are eager to move.
  4. Educate through the change-what do people need to be able to know and do to be successful? Do what you need to do to provide it.
  5. Recognize the value of a "pilot program"-using that phrase helps people understand that, as with anything new, some aspects will be great and some won't. Pilot programs are inherently open for massaging, and calling them that helps lower people's stress threshold by giving them a chance to provide feedback that will be used for adapting and adjusting as needed.  

Those are just a few ideas to prime your thinking on this topic. Ecclesiastes 7:10 tells us not to ask, "Why were the old days better than these?" I believe that there are times when God gives us a divine discontent with the way things are—that "nervous unrest" mentioned earlier—so that we will lift our eyes to the horizon to see what lies ahead. The story of Joshua teaches us that leading major change requires courage and strength. God promises us what He promised Joshua: He will never leave us or forsake us. What constitutes the Promised Land for your school? Collectively, let's keep pressing toward it to become the kinds of excellent institutions that provide an outstanding education to the glory of God.

Have you heard of PIVOT: New Directions for Christian Education? Check out this resource that tackles tough education questions—it will provide good food for innovative thought!

Debi Miller (for the Northwest Team)
Regional Director