Mr. Jones is visibly frustrated.
Slouched at his desk, he stares blankly at his laptop screen hoping for a surge of inspiration. For the past two days he has attempted to teach "ecosystems" to his 5th glade class. Despite his best efforts, something isn't clicking for his students.
He browses through several teaching websites, hoping to develop an engaging lesson for students.
Suddenly, he has an idea. “The students will love this!”
Recognizing the idea is a bit out of the ordinary, Mr. Jones determines it might be wise to get administrative approval. So, he heads to the office, beaming with newfound enthusiasm.
When Mr. Jones enters the principal's office, he immediately sees the building principal - Mrs. Wilson - sitting at her desk.
"Excuse me Mrs. Wilson, I'm so sorry to interrupt. Can I run an idea by you?" asks Mr. Jones.
"I've got a couple minutes..." replies the principal without looking up from her laptop.
"I'm trying to teach my kids ecosystems and they just aren't grasping the concepts. I'd like to take them on a walking field trip to Willow Creek Park."
Willow Creek Park is located half a mile – about a ten-minute walk – from the school. Although field trips are standard, taking students off campus without transportation is rare.
Mr. Jones continues to describe the project, explaining how learning aligns with course standards. He shares how he plans to arrange for a para-educator to assist with supervisions. Also, he promises to return to school within an hour.
"Most importantly, the kids will be so excited!" concludes the Mr. Jones.
Still focused on her laptop, Mrs. Wilson remains quiet for a moment. She then looks up and responds, "You know we don’t normally let kids go off campus. What day were you planning on going?”
“Well ... I was hoping we could go tomorrow,” answers the teacher cautiously.
“Tomorrow?" responds the principal with a chuckle. "You know I don't like surprises!” The principal continues, “Have you talked to the nurse? Something could happen to the students. Have you talked to your team? And you probably need permissions slips...”
As the principal poses a series of questions Mr. Jones' enthusiasm quickly erodes. Whereas he thought his boss would be impressed with his idea, he now realizes he has only caused her more stress.
Mrs. Wilson concludes, "I need to get back to my work."
The teacher smiles and thanks the principal for her time. Dejected, he leaves the office and heads down the hallway.
By the time he reaches his classroom, Mr. Jones decides to scrap the idea.
Sharing new ideas takes courage.
When employees go to supervisors with unconventional proposals, they understand there is a chance their idea could be rejected. And let’s face it – rejection sucks! Whether it’s not getting a job, not getting a second date, or not getting a work idea approved, no one likes being told you’re “not good enough.”
School leaders must recognize the vulnerability that sharing a new idea requires. To the supervisor, it may just be another employee coming with a proposal. But to the employee, pride is on the line. Whether or not the employee is willing to take future risks greatly depends on how the leader handles this interaction.
Unfortunately, many leaders mishandle these situations. When they question every detail – or instantly reject the plan – leaders crush their teachers’ spirit. Rather than respond to proposals with a pessimistic attitude, what if administrators said, "Great idea! I love your thinking! Let's talk through some details..."
School leaders should feel elation when teachers get excited about teaching. Rather than worry about what could go wrong, leaders should help remove project barriers. Furthermore, leaders should look at these situations as opportunities to promote teacher ambition, and encourage others to take similar risks.
Staff bring new ideas to leaders every day. These conversations have two possible outcomes: Staff either leave more excited or less excited about their ideas.
The next time a teacher approaches you with a creative idea for student learning, don't pull a Mrs. Wilson. Instead, congratulate the teacher for creating an incredible learning opportunity for students.