One year ago, Harvard Business Review’s cover story was entitled Accelerate! and stated:

“Companies used to reconsider their strategies only rarely. Today any company that isn’t rethinking its direction at least every few years — as well as constantly adjusting to changing contexts and then quickly making significant operational changes is putting itself at risk.”

Does the same apply for schools? New positions such as Chief Innovation Officer suggest that many school districts are taking note. Millwaukee, Detroit and Chicago have all hired CIOs in the last two years. The Community Consolidated School District 59 in Illinois says the purpose of their CIO is:

“To provide visionary leadership and support school leaders as they help students learn how to collaborate, communicate, think critically and solve problems.

What can education learn from business researchers who have studied innovation? HBR’s John Kotter suggests dual operating systems: a traditional hierarchy (to manage daily functions) and a network (to be constantly forward thinking and preparing for change). The color coding on the chart below helps to see how the network does not follow traditional hierarchy structure but is made up of a variety of its team members.




Kotter also gleans eight principles he calls “accelerators” that enable the strategy network to function:



These are all centered around a single big opportunity. He says:

“This is absolutely critical to heightening the organization’s awareness that it needs continual strategic adjustments and that they should always be aligned with the biggest opportunity in sight. Urgency starts at the top of the hierarchy, and it is important that executives keep acknowledging and reinforcing it so that people will wake up every morning determined to find some action they can take in their day to move toward that opportunity. Sufficient urgency around a strategically rational and emotionally exciting opportunity is the bedrock upon which all else is built.”

What is education’s single big opportunity? The biggest opportunity in sight?

How about transforming schools so that learning happens through solving the complex problems that face our planet? Sign me up.

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