Yesterday I came across a story about Tracy Musser, a bus driver in Penn Manor school district. I couldn’t help but smile as I read about Tracy (who never liked to read in school, but now is a big reader) transforming her bus into a mobile library for students to check out books based on interest. Here is part of the story:

Musser, who drives No. 274 for Penn Manor, has transformed the bus into a library with bins capable of carrying up to 200 books. She loans them to Central Manor students in kindergarten through grade six, no questions asked. Nearly three-quarters of the 60 youngsters who ride her bus participate, and the program has been so successful, Musser is hoping to expand it to all Penn Manor students.

Musser started the lending library in the fall, inspired by Central Manor’s “Comet Cash” program, which rewards students for doing good things in school. She thought: Why not reward kids for reading books on their own?

“In school, kids often are told what to read, and they may not like the subject,” Musser said. “If I can get them to try out a book that they want to read, that interests them, that’s great.”

The removable book bins are secured under the front two seats of the school bus. Kids can only look through them before or after the bus run, and no one may leave his or her seat when the bus is moving.

What struck me about this story was how innovative Musser was in the idea and the execution. She was creating a new and better learning experience for students, during a time where she had some influence as a bus driver.

She didn’t look for excuses of why this couldn’t be done. Instead, she didn’t let anything stop her from making this idea work.

Innovation can happen anywhere, at any time, if the conditions are set. At Penn Manor, a district that is not too far from my own, they’ve set up a culture where innovative ideas are allowed, supported, and praised.

That’s a big difference.

You don’t have to be a tech coach, or innovation specialist, or administrator, or even a teacher to be the one with innovative ideas.

Everyone has a voice. Everyone has a chance to make ideas work. Everyone, including students have a chance to move the learning forward.

What We Praise Is What We Get

Role of creative leader not to have all the ideas

Have you heard of Albert Bandura’s social-cognitive learning theory?

Bandura’s theory noted that our behavior is changed when we see a person take a specific action and be rewarded for that action. In the future, we are more likely to take that same action. This is vicarious learning in which we learn through imitation rather than through direct reinforcement.

Bandura then followed this observation up with studies and research to support (or refute) social-cognitive learning theory. The observation created theory was then supported based on research and studies conducted.

When we praise others for innovative work, more innovative work will follow.

Want to know how I came across this story about Penn Manor? Because this isn’t the first time they’ve shared how innovation is praised at their school.

A few years ago Penn Manor made a splash about going 1:1 with an open source laptop initiative.

Every student in grades 7 through 12 receives a laptop computer running the Linux operating system, as well as dozens of open source learning programs. With 2,500 1:1 laptops in grades 7 through 12, and 1,500 Linux laptops in its elementary schools, Penn Manor supports the largest open source learning program in Pennsylvania.

Free and open source software has saved Penn Manor more than $1 million in technology acquisition costs over the past few years.

Then their students made the news as their student tech team was praised for their innovative work and approach:

Key to the program’s success is a unique student technology apprenticeship program, an honors-level, independent study course where student technologists work alongside the district IT Team on repairs, software setup and instructional tutorials. The Penn Manor Student Technology Team has been nationally recognized, and was recently featured in the Red Hat Films documentary, The Power of Open in Education.

So, was I surprised when I saw this story come out of Penn Manor? Nope. I was just happy and wanted to share it with as many people as possible. Innovation is praised in this district from all stakeholders and everyone involved in education.

What Innovative Schools

But, it did give me a wake up call.

I immediately got to work on creating a district blog for my new district. Six months into the job I’ve forgotten one of the most important learning and leadership lessons.

Praise what matters. Share the process and the product. Tell stories about the innovative work that is happening in our schools.

More innovation will follow when we continue to praise and share what is working right now.

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Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Jessica Warbington says:

    Hello!
    This was such a powerful post. It is amazing to read about the impact that innovation and praise can have on students’ academic environment. I enjoyed reading Ms. Musser’s story and learning of her innovative strategy to promote a love for reading on her bus. Providing students the opportunity to choose books of their interest and the time they need to read them is so important in inspiring them to develop a love for reading. With Ms. Musser’s bus library, the learning begins the moment students enter the bus.
    When you stated “Praise what matters. Share the process and the product. ” It made me reflect on the importance of encouraging education stakeholders to not only share innovative ideas but to also praise others for their ideas. Our education system and our students are continuously changing and growing. We must continue to share our strategies and inspire learning with one another. Sharing the process of the strategy is beneficial because it informs others of the benefits and possible challenges of implementation.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Yes Jessica, let’s focus on sharing the process! As the world changes, our kids change, and teaching and learning changes — yet the one thing that has to stay consistent is our attitude about sharing.

  • Margie Sorley says:

    Hi AJ,

    Your articles are a good source of reflective thinking for me. Now, if I could just get a handle on Genius Hour with my students

    I heartly agree with this inclusive attitude that any member of your school or district can be a positive change agent. At our school the person with the biggest impact was the custodian, because he was not judgemental but had high expectations for all the kids. When kids received a high 5 or fist bump from him for doing a good job or something it was a big deal. Then, if they were reminded not to leave trash at breakfast because it made Mr. Jordan’s job harder they were quick to act.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Hi Margie, thanks for this story about Mr. Jordan. It is amazing the difference we can make by having those high expectations. Thanks for sharing!

  • I needed to hear your message this morning! Thank you! I am about to lead my reluctant peers on lesson about coding in our makerspace.

  • Lucinda says:

    At our school every teacher is reading The Innovators Mindset. I love the comment one made in our PLC, how can you not be innovative if you are putting your students at the centre of learning? This has stuck with me. Giving teachers voice, working in a coherent and collaborative way, encouraging them to innovate and truly risk take has seen a huge shift from compliance to super star teachers implementing amazing learning experiences and a range of exciting pedagogies.

  • Two points stuck with me:
    “Innovation can happen anywhere, at any time, if the conditions are set. ”
    “Praise what matters.”
    As a leader, we need to shift from “What gets monitored, gets done.” to what gets praised and supported grows. It is hard to do in the minutiae of everyday issues that pop up, but most effective. This applies to every setting. Learning doesn’t stop outside of the classroom.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • Kirsten Dolan says:

    Bandura cannot be referenced enough in my opinion when I think about why and how I work best. I wish my administration would refresh their understanding on his social-cognitive learning theory and the power of observation. Teaching can be an isolating experience but there are moments of innovation happening every day that should be shared! I agree with you that this is how to encourage more innovative work. I did not get into teaching for a tangible reward but rather I am motivated by the “process and the product” involved in science teaching and learning. A little praise goes a long way, especially if it creates a culture rather than just a “pocket of innovation” as you referenced in an earlier post. Thank you for your insight!

  • Fatima Ali says:

    Hi AJ,
    Yes AJ…it is indeed true that the world moves with positive reinforcement! We are just like our students dependent upon motivation. Our progress depends upon motivation.
    I think positive reinforcement provides us with this motivation factor that is so indispensable for innovation. Thus, in order to promote innovation in education, we need to reward individuals like Tracy Musser who think “out of the box.” Indeed students’ learning experience can be enriched by utilizing their time on the school bus efficiently. The key here is to analyze the problem and to think of plausible creative solutions that work!

  • Shannon says:

    What a great read! I recently read that it’s easier to criticize than compliment, therefore most often, critical feedback is given. The positive comments are often what are missing, but they are ones that keep us going. Last week, I received a simple compliment from my principal thanking me for always working with my students whenever she walked by my classroom. It took two seconds on her part, but made my entire week. Thank you for sharing and taking the time to praise what matters.

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