All Articles Education #ASCD15: A journey to disruptive innovation

#ASCD15: A journey to disruptive innovation

4 min read


Leading disruptive innovation — the theme of this year’s annual ASCD conference – is a provocative topic. And while the end result — innovation — has an intriguing vibe, the road to get there is paved, in part, with more-conservative ideas such as discipline, safety and partnership.

So much innovation was on display during the conference — from using Twitter as a leadership tool to crowdsourcing for ideas — that it might have been easy to miss all the work leaders put in along the way to make change happen in their schools and communities.

But distinguished feature speaker Andy Hargreaves of Boston College reminded us that disruptive innovations such as “uplifting leadership” are not based on a set of standards, but a narrative or journey. And the journey may include failures, which speaker and author Sarah Lewis said are gifts in the pursuit of creative innovation.

Many presenters addressed the serious work of leading disruptive innovation and so we focus here on a few lessons for the 21st-century educational leader.


Innovation is everywhere. Innovative ideas are many. So how do you choose where to put your energy, and how do you ensure that the effort doesn’t burn bright too early and fade too soon?

Hargreaves recommends a disciplined approach, calling on leaders to start small. “Schools with too much innovation don’t know where to turn,” he said.

Speakers in other sessions covering topics such as connected K-12 leadership, crowdsourcing for innovation and schoolwide Twitter adoption echoed Hargreaves’ emphasis on a measured approach to innovation.


Sarah Lewis spoke about the need for a safe, private domain as part of a formula for creative innovation, calling on educators to find ways to make the classroom embody a safe place for students, and reminding them: “We suppress innovation when faced with high stakes for being wrong.”

Joe Mazza, in his session on connected K-12 leadership, agreed. “As leaders, we need to open the doors and create safe spaces that breed innovation, not stifle it,” he said.

The Big Hunt for Ideas — an initiative in Minnetonka Public Schools in Minnesota, offers an example of educational leaders developing a private space for educators to share their ideas. The district hosts an annual online crowdsourcing event in which educators pitch new ideas.

Eric Schneider, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, described it as a “private idea incubation network for educators.”


Innovation sometimes can feel like a lonely pursuit, but it is not a journey one can embark upon alone, Lewis said.

A session on schoolwide Twitter adoption stood out as one that offered a picture of how disruptive innovation — in this case microblogging — can build partnerships among school leaders, educators, parents, students and the community.

Joe Manko with Liberty Elementary School in Baltimore, Md., uses Twitter to create a timeline of the school year. The feed scrolls across a screen in the office, where parents, and others, can see real-time updates about what’s happening in classrooms throughout the school.

Manko also uses Twitter to give positive, informal feedback during classroom observations. This practice helps spotlight practices you want to see in your school and helps other educators connect, expanding their professional learning networks, he said.

With so much more to share from this year’s show, it’s difficult to find a stopping point, but we’ll end with a quote from Hargreaves: “We become teachers because of the teachers who teach us.”

Read more SmartBrief Education coverage of #ASCD15:

Melissa Greenwood is SmartBrief’s senior education editor, with responsibility for the content in a variety of SmartBrief’s education e-news briefs. She also manages content for SmartBlog on Education and related social media channels.