Want innovative schools? Start praising what matters.

By AJ Juliani on March 02, 2017

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.

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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