Anyone who has attempted to engage in significant innovation while retaining responsibility to maintain the current system knows well the dilemma of supporting the status quo while also supporting new and sometimes competing practices and approaches. Unfortunately, too often the ongoing pressures and demands of the current system lead to diminished time, energy and support to innovation. As a result, compromises are made, support begins to ebb and innovation is lost or integrated into the current system in ways that make it unrecognizable and ineffective.
Our current transformation efforts offer great examples of this dilemma. We have learners and families depending on us to meet their needs as best we can in the current system while we are striving to build, implement and sustain a new, more effective environment for learning. Until this new environment is ready to support full conversion of the system, both worlds need our leadership and support.
A recent column in Education Week by Ted Kolderie (November 9, 2011) offers a helpful metaphor and strategy for us to consider. He describes the strategy as maintaining a “split screen” approach. He suggests that we think of our work as managing in two arenas, the traditional system and the innovation effort. From a state perspective, he suggests the creation of “demonstration zones” not unlike the “innovation zone” concept applied to CESA #1. From an achievement information or impact perspective he suggests broadening the definition of achievement (across a broader array of indicators, such as engagement and independent learning) rather than solely focusing on a vertical definition (higher test scores).
From a local educational leadership perspective this strategy might take the form of protecting and nurturing innovation or transformation, not unlike an incubator, for new practices and then gradually shifting the sizes of the split screen in a way that gives more space and attention to the innovation strategy while still managing the legacy system until it is no longer needed or requires a small portion of leadership attention and energy.
Dr. Kolderie offers an intriguing idea that already has some roots in our world, but we can extend his thinking to help us deploy strategies that support our efforts to transform while maintaining responsibilities to the current system. Over time, this approach can help us to make the transition from innovation as the small screen in the split to becoming the dominant screen while the current educational system gradually recedes into smaller and smaller screen space.