Why, What and How - Important Questions for Innovating Schools

Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why, has great points about beginning initiatives by asking the question ‘WHY?’. I’ve been involved in several large-scale technology initiatives and the ‘why’ of what we’re doing has always been front and center. Having a shared vision is essential to any new educational initiative or innovation.  For your initiative to be successful, however, you must also focus on WHAT you want to achieve and HOW you want to get to desired results. Follow the three steps below to put your initiative on the path to success.

Three Steps to EdTech Success

1. Define the problem
The WHY has to solve a problem in your organization. It isn’t enough to decide that you want to implement a 1:1 computing initiative without knowing what problem it will solve. All stakeholders should be involved in the decision making to take a big problem and make decisions about moving forward. Don’t underestimate the power of a few individuals to undermine the group efforts. Get the word out to everyone in as many ways as possible and invite them to participate. Everyone in the organization – your WHO – must know the vision and be able to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. Define the problem with as much detail as possible. Examples of problems you might want to tackle include declining literacy skills or low graduation rates.
 
2. Develop your outcomes
You also need to look at the outcomes that you expect – the WHAT. What will it look like when your innovation goes viral throughout the organization? Paint a picture of the results that you expect. Rapid prototyping with small-scale projects allows you to try out several strategies and will ultimately give you something tangible for everyone to see. For a 1:1 computing initiative, the WHAT isn’t a device but an outcome for student learning. If your problem is literacy skills and you believe that 1:1 computing will provide students with a collaborative environment for research, writing and publishing, you might want to pilot your solution with a team of teachers at your school and develop a model that others can follow.
 
3. Create a road map and measure your progress                                                                  
Remember the phrase ‘the devil is in the details’. Describe exactly HOW you will arrive at your desired outcomes. A recent news story talked about a school district that was ending their 1:1 computing initiative and looking for a way to recycle the computers. I’m sure that they talked about WHY but I wonder if their WHAT was about a device instead of an outcome? Was the problem in the implementation – the HOW? If everyone does not take certain steps, you may end up with silos of innovation as opposed to wide scale innovation.  People must work within teams and across teams for you to see wide scale adoption of your initiative. A pilot program will allow you to develop a detailed plan and help you to determine the essential elements for success.
 
Measuring your progress along the way is a big part of HOW you will get to the finish line and see the desired results. Project management is key and it is essential that everyone understands their role. Remember that teams will be learning throughout the process. Given this ongoing learning, it’s always good to take the temperature with discussions that will help determine the next steps. It’s okay to fail on a small scale but fail quickly and use your experiences to iterate or even pivot if necessary.
 
As you continue to solve problems for your school or district, start with WHY, define WHAT your outcomes will be, and then decide HOW you’re going to get there. Your innovation will be successful when you get those three things right.

Donna Teuber is the team leader for technology integration in South Carolina’s Richland School District Two, a Project RED Signature District with 1:1 computing in grades 3-12 impacting 21,000 students. Technology leadership has been key to the success of the Richland Two initiative, and Donna has created a Technology Leadership program to provide school administrators with the tools to lead the initiative at their schools, as well as leading the R2 Innovates! innovation incubator which provides teams of teachers with the training and resources that they need to implement innovative practices. 

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