Innovation; It's a Ground Game

Some folks blog about what they see, others about their passions, and still others yet about what they are doing in their schools and classrooms but for me it’s about putting down on paper my thoughts when a confluence of ideas meet like the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegany rivers in Pittsburgh.

Like those swirling waters around Pittsburgh, this post started whirling in my head back in the fall shortly after a local university president visited Ravenscroft and shared with my Head of School words that hit home, “running a school is much like a ground game in football.” I’ve pondered those words since that time and how they apply to innovation and change initiatives in schools.

Fast forward to this past weekend where the Packers won the Super Bowl by using defense to create opportunities to score and then to yesterday afternoon where I had a, shall we say, robust conversation with a colleague who could not understand why we cannot go “faster” with technology implementations across the campus – “I thought you could just flip the switch, you’re the CTO” -- and I’ve arrived at the conclusion that innovation and change in schools is truly like a football game.


For starters, sparking interest in change is about creating opportunities; much like the Packers and their defense. Defenses spend the majority of a game guessing what the offense will do and try to match up against it so they are “in sync” with what comes next in the hopes of creating an opportunity for a stop or turnover – both of which change the flow of the game. Creating a growth mindset in individuals is no different because change is a process not an event. If you pick the right time you can ultimately change the flow of the game.

Second, effective teams typically have a solid ground game to balance out the big pass plays. This means they keep heading down field, sometimes going forward and sometimes being sacked for a loss.  But by using an effective ground game one opens the opportunity for going for a big gain down field. Change is no different in that you have to have a plan that incorporates both short gains and big plays – timing of both initiatives is paramount to success.

Lastly, constituents in schools are no different than fans of a team. Even though they might support “the team” because they believe in the institution sometimes they will boo the individual players or head coach when the team doesn’t appear to be making progress or are not “going for the big play” all the time.  What they may not realize is that a team is made up of individuals, all having different beliefs in what will help the team win and sometimes those beliefs conflict. The Head Coach has the responsibility to cull together those personalities, set they plays, and decide upon what opportunities in each game on which to capitalize to achieve success – sometimes that results in a win and sometimes a loss – but to the most passionate of fans, those that want to win every game, sometimes it’s just not enough.

Ultimately, I believe change is good for an institution. However, what I’ve learned is that initiatives involving innovative ideas or changes in process or procedure is just like a ground game; you run plays to gain a few yards forward, you get sacked and go a few yards back, and sometimes you take the shot at a big play down field and regardless of whether you win or lose you can’t please all the teams’ fans.

So what’s your game plan?