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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Think (and Meet People) Outside Your Box: Taking Education Beyond Your Comfort Zone

Diane Demee-Benoit

Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia

I'm a firm believer that new ideas and innovations result from networking with people outside of your normal social and professional circles. I've found they offer new ways of envisioning the possibilities. Educators too often overlook the power of networking. We tend to frequent the same conferences (technology advocates go to NECC, principals go to NAESP or NASSP, staff developers go to NSDC, and so on). We network and hang out with people who think like us, year in and year out.

Once you start networking, you will be exposed to new ideas that will push you outside the box. However, taking an idea and shaping it into something that will work in a classroom or a school, and will be sustainable over time -- with changes in funding, leadership, policies, and so on -- is the challenge for many of the innovative school programs that spring up, and later wither because of change in leadership, direction, or whatever.

To reinvent schools for the twenty-first century, we need to take an entrepreneurial approach. I recently read "To Build Up Innovation, Break Down Your Networks" in Fast Company magazine. It offers some food for thought about change, opportunity, leadership, and strategies for school change. The author, Chris Trimble, is on the faculty of the Business School at Dartmouth College, with expertise in strategic innovation.

Here are some snippets from the article, which I found intriguing. Read the article and let me know what you think:

"Creating new networks is the only way for an organization to push innovation past the idea stage."

"Entrepreneurs believe in the power of networking. Many are very good at it. They become good because they recognize that most people with interesting notions usually only have one piece of a puzzle. Often unexpected combinations of ideas, or chance meetings of people with complimentary perspectives, ignite genuine breakthroughs."

"Too many innovation initiatives run amok because we celebrate ideas too much and understand execution too little."

"While enriching existing networks accelerates idea generation, breaking existing networks is often required to convert vision to reality... Breaking networks is the only way to prepare an organization to take innovation efforts beyond mere ideas."

"Managers are trained to operate through formal organizational structures, policies, and processes. This is effective for making a proven business ever more efficient, but not for driving innovation."

Diane Demee-Benoit

Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia
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Chris O'Neal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Diane, Great point - and nice post. I agree wholeheartedly, and would extend that suggestion to readings that most of us browse as well. A friend, who is an accountant, suggested that I read The World is Flat, even though it's technically not an "education book." It has huge implications for our schools and the impact our current classrooms has on the future. I suggest all educators read it - it certainly opened my eyes to new ways of thinking. In addition to networking outside our normal circles, reading magazines and books outside our typical focus areas is another great way to expand our minds and help complete the puzzle. Thanks for another great suggestion. Chris O.
Lucy Gray's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I love meeting other teachers, attending conferences, and gleaning ideas from all sort of resources. RSS and news aggregators have helped me to do some of this as has email by just making people more accessible. That said, after about fifteen years in education, networking has just become fluid for me, in person and online... it's not something that I consciously do, but it's just a part of the way I operate. I think it takes time for people to become natural networkers. I know that I really felt uncomfortable with the idea of making contacts when I was a newbie teacher! That said, have you seen LinkedIn? It's a networking site that lots of people seem to be joining. I heard it described recently as MySpace for business people!
Matt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Weblogs have been very valuable to me as I have initiated my teaching career. All to often those with more experience, and tenure, are selected to attend the educational conferences that come through town; leaving the newer teachers to make sense of second-hand information. Weblogs have enabled me to meet and learn directly from teachers and education professionals from around the world... for free.
Josh's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I think it's funny that those people who do not network well mistaken networking for the "good ole boy" system. "Too many innovation initiatives run amok because we celebrate ideas too much and understand execution too little." I love this quote from the article. I see it too often where our school gets a great idea, only to be replaced by another great idea the next year. Its always so sad that the first idea never even gets a chance to be tested because we're moving on before we have reliable information as to whether its good or not.
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too believe that educators need to network outside their immediate circle. What one district or even a state does is so different from another that it is clear to see that there is no cookie cutter way to teach children. With all the resources on line and educators willing to share ideas more of us need to leave the staff lounge behind and look beyond the door to our classrooms.

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