Why Innovation Often Starts With “Don’t You Dare…”

By AJ Juliani, 6 comments

I’ve seen this short commercial on TV a few times, and when I’m watching it I can’t help but smile and think about all of the students and teachers out there who are going against the grain and trying to do something different and unique. It’s titled, “Don’t You Dare…”

It had me thinking about the “Don’t you dare’s” that we see in our classrooms and schools today. Every time a teacher, school leader, student, or anyone in the learning community dares to step out from the system and challenge the status quo, we see the creativity, imagination, and genius come alive that makes us all human.

Every time a student stops “playing the game of school” and starts creating their own learning path, we see them dare to be different.

Every time a teacher goes off the scripted curriculum and takes her students on a learning adventure we see them dare to inspire.

Every time a school leader focuses on the whole child more than a test score we see them dare to have the hard conversations.

“Don’t You Dare” Is Often An Opportunity To Innovate

In my time as a teacher, staff developer, and administrator I’ve heard quite a few “Don’t you dare’s” either directly or implied. Quite often these came from administrators, sometimes they came from colleagues, and even a few came from parents. It is in these moments when our beliefs and principles are challenged. Do we continue to play the game, as many of our students do as they go through school, or do we show them (and the world) that there are still people willing to innovate and dare greatly?

I realize that there are plenty of rules, regulations, and policies that make complete sense. They have been put in place to make school a safer, more welcoming, and steady home for our students. This post is not about those areas, but more about the unwritten rules that we are urged to follow and comply to as teachers, leaders, and students.

Chris Lehmann, Principal of The Science Leadership Academy, wrote about this in his post “Unspoken Rules”:

The overwhelming majority of schools have a student handbook, codes of conduct, etc… but often, those are only the stated policies, and often, the unstated policies are as much what govern the school as anything else.

And while it’s my contention that we don’t want to create schools where every last behavior / idea / action is regulated by some 400 page handbook of student and teacher behavior, we also want to be aware of — and reflective about — the unspoken rules and practices of our schools. When we are, we create more intentional schools where the ideas and systems that power our communities are transparent and understood.

What are the unspoken and unwritten rules that may be stifling creative work in your school? Are you talking about them or bringing them to the surface?

I think about the policies and beliefs that kept my great Aunt Barbara out of school. My Aunt Barbara was one of my biggest influences in life and certainly one of my biggest inspirations. She had an intellectual disability and was not kept in school past 1st grade. Then she went on to live a life filled with purpose and passion. She taught me the science behind building sturdy lego buildings, introduced me to storytelling and free play, and helped thousands of kids during her life. Yet, I wonder what she could have done given today’s opportunities.

Thankfully, a group of people stood up against the injustice towards the intellectually disabled and advocated for inclusion in our schools. They dared to go against the beliefs that were pervasive at the time and rallied for equity when their’s was not a popular viewpoint.

Don't You Dare

It Is Our Choice

According to researchers in a 1988 study, 1 we have the choice of four responses to these types of situations: Exit, Voice, Loyalty, and Neglect. 

  • We can exit the situation, leaving what we believe to be an unchangeable system behind in search of something new and better.
  • We can voice our opinion. Offer solutions or new ways of thinking to solve the problem or change beliefs and structures.
  • We can demonstrate loyalty. Turn a blind eye to the situation and put our beliefs to the side. Staying in the situation regardless of what we think or truly believe.
  • We can neglect our duties, responsibilities, and begin to back away from the situation. Neglect does not always mean to stop, but often to do just enough to get by in the situation.

Only one of those choices allows for innovation. Only one calls for us to dare greatly and problem-solve with purpose. Only one empowers the kind of movement that can change the rules, flip the situation, and inspire.

Voice, as it turns out, is also the only choice that can leave you feeling vulnerable.  But, as author Dr. Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation, and change.”

Let’s tell the stories of those that have dared greatly. Let’s challenge each other to stand up against unwritten rules that may squash equity. And let’s take a chance on ourselves to share our opinion, offer a different voice, and get in the arena and try.

Dare Greatly via Dr. Brene Brown

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  1. This particular study was referenced in Adam Grant’s fantastic book, Originals, and can be found in it’s entire by clicking this link. Also, I’ll have a full post on Originals soon, as I think it should be read by every teacher and school leader.