Innovation as school culture

Based on the reflection and collective dialogue with teachers and students at Lizdeika Highschool, in Radviliškis Lithuania, I am thanking the Lithuanian team of teachers, vice principal, and principal, that made our learning there possible and for their innovation context. I was invited together with teachers and students from Turkey, Italy, Portugal, and Romania to work and observe learning activities as part of a KA2 “Emotions and Robotics” EU-financed project.

Dr. Linda Hill defined innovation “as something both new and useful”. For education purposes, this definition could be approached as “ new ways that support teachers and students’ learning relation”.  Innovation, as school organization culture, is the leading work of creating the necessary conditions for:

1 Collaboration

2. Discovery-based learning 

3. Integrative Decision making

These are some of the acupuncture points ( what I call turning points potentiality) based on the reflection work with students and teachers in the Lizdeika high school, that can support the everyday school process. 

Building on strengths

When we build on strengths at school level, we remind ourselves schools are not something abstract. In place-based learning, we do the learning in our community context, bothering our hands around local community problems and challenges, the social economic stories are part of our school innovation work. I noticed being in Lizdeika high school, that the town stories were very much embedded in the school’s everyday life and visible (we keep close stories and alive, we collectively move forward). Around challenges, we have the opportunities to develop strengths. This small city in the Baltic area has been founded 500 years ago yet one of the teachers shows me the number 4, the number of how many times it almost disappeared, 2 fires and 2 plagues. You can sense the resilience of the place on students and teachers. Here is the concept of building resilience we work with in programs with teachers and students. “ The capacity of the system to absorb disturbance and reorganize so as to retain essentially the same function, structure, and feedback” ( Walker & Sault, 2012). In other words, capacity to build on strength, to unlearn and relearn. Melanie Goodchild brings this wonderful image of what resilience feels and looks like: “in the original language it is Sibiskaagad you might say resilience is the river flowing flexibly through the land.” (Melanie Goodchild Building on strengths school innovation culture is to notice, the twist and turns of the learning process of students and teachers, just the like the river.

“Something new, something old, something borrowed, and something blue”

In her book Phenomon Learning from Finland, Kirsti Lonka uses this metaphor to express that with innovation work there is a combination of traditions, new ways, and new perspectives, integrating multidisciplinary and leaving space for the unexpected, for the element of surprise. I want to bring attention to the blue because it is not that easy to pinpoint the blue in our innovation. Blue is the trust that there is a little bit of magic ( the unplanned) element. You do your work, every day the best you can and you then completely let go of outcomes there has to be trust and train the mind to look for the “whispers”, as the world of much information can become noisy (Hubl, 2020). Having symbolism as part of everyday life in school helps us remain curious and available for integrative approaches essential for 21st-century teaching with leadership. In this school, we had hidden or in plan sights everywhere owls together with Lizdeika pagan prophet painting at the entrance of the auditorium. We would call this training to look for everyday little insights and access wisdom from the earliest ages. 

Lizdeika, the prophet that both is the source inspiration for the foundation of Vilnius, as well as the name of the highschool

Co-regulation and image of the one fit

What I noticed in Radviliškis, a town with a population of less than 20000,  really wonderful sports facilities at a 5 min walking distance, inside and outside. The school of 600 students had an outside sports arena, nature recreational area, and 2 large inside sports facilities. This builds a fit population (in terms of Bildung an image of the country nation strong) yet I am paying notice/attention to the regulation of the population and for students. In the evening as I hang out in a neighborhood on my apartment balcony I see kids and young adults playing basketball till evening, really professional and really paying attention enjoying what they are doing. The Swimming facility in the city center was at Olympic standards and available to people all over the region. Sports need to be free or very low costs, sports for education and learning innovation purposes need to be accessible to everyone, and should be done in school or school-related instead of the family responsible related zone, as that would mean they are for the ones that might afford them, not equal access for all. 

Maturity of the teachers

In Estonia and Latvia, teachers I met mentioned there is a systemic problem: teachers’ age is high, and they said that is a weak point, the job of a teacher needs to be attractive to young ones so they can retire when the time comes instead of prolonging staying in schools for lack of teachers. I hear the same story yet with a twist in Lithuania, “ teachers are mature” in their words. I wrote in this article about the Fullan teachers’ capitals ( social, professional, and decision-making) maturity of the teachers is this transversal quality through all 3 types of teachers’ capitals. It brings I can notice a certain trust and relaxation equally. We should not be afraid to use the concept of relaxation when it comes to teachers’ innovation, relaxation is not something extra like we do breathing practices or sports because we are stressed all day at work, maturity is a certain relaxation that “ there is not a moving target on your work” as a pressure, that you can “relax and enjoy work” that is maturity. In her research and book “The Rise: creativity, the gift of failure and the search for mastery”, prof. Sarah Lewis expresses this idea: if you feel the pressure of having too much to demonstrate, too much too loose, and too narrow straightforward professional or academic path, it is very difficult to tap into “maturity” and hence innovate. 

Taking breaks capacity

Although we might have pressures, long programs, or challenges, for innovation as school culture, it is important to notice the capacity to take breaks. Which means the mind and body resting, although there is a busy schedule. I noticed being in Lizdeika high school both teachers and students, shared this capacity to just break and rest for some moments. Their programs were intensive, teachers were working beyond their normal schedule and yet you can notice their capacity for short moments of “ now I break”. In breaks we train the mind to clear the gutter, to stop any possible rumination about the challenges or objectives to come, and just pause. This is a wonderful valuable opportunity to practice stretching the mind’s capacity. We not only promote a school culture of well-being and wellness with such simple small actions, we also strengthen the capacity to take informed decisions, we get access to new perspectives and points of view, and approach problems and challenges with this creativity potential. Culturally wise it is something some of us are more inclined to than others, yet for innovation culture, it is essential ( Dr Linda Hill Collective Genius) to make space for taking breaks.  

The more we focus on assessment results ( like grades, and performing standards exams) the less innovation in school culture.

Assessment culture

Here is something for which we need more data, yet I think it is valuable for everyday reflection. The more we focus on assessment results ( like grades, and performing standards exams) the less innovation in school culture. In other words, when having innovation a school organisation culture, “good” results in exams happen because of the learning processes, the minute we do the processes for the sake of “good” exam results we lost the purpose. In her book and research, Dr. Peppa Grange talks about performing vs performance. Most of the researchers that were asked “How come Finland did so well in Pisa starting 2004”  said they actually do not know (Salberg 2011, Lonka 2019). Nobody aimed or planned to do well in PISA ( OECD benchmarking) “It just happened”. 

School as a labyrinth

Someone says to oneself as we explore the school space for learning: “This school is a labyrinth”. Our schools are like universities on a reduced scale, as students and teachers move through the place there is constant mapping, rewiring of the brain connections, and remapping. School as 21st-century learning space ergonomics can be adapted to many different budgets. As Dr. Linda Hill says “Budgets are some kind of limits and it is important for innovation to have some limits”, it invites people to stay within a certain reality check and bring creativity with their solutions. In this high school, all corridors had the purpose/role of a comfortable living room, with sofa places, students and teachers relaxed in those areas and rest for some moments. The school was diverse as possible, with different classes completely different infrastructure, new and old borrowed, and “blue”, it fit well together, and it offered the mind the opportunity to remap every day as you move from one class to another from one activity or lesson to another.

Wisdom from the students

A multicultural approach reflection from participating students in the one week of learning together, as I had a short encounter with members from each country’s team asking them 3 questions: 1. What surprised you during this week? 2. What challenged your well-being and maybe hindered your learning? and 3. What helped you learn/move through the week? 

When it came to surprising elements, they were as diverse as possible from an inner perspective of one adapting to a new place to the geography surrounding us, the easiness of the other countries’ team in communicating, and “chattiness”. The elements of challenging well-being and learning, and once more it confirmed that it is our own perspectives and intentionalities, not something outside of us challenging us, some said perceiving a higher level of skills in performing activities of the other teams, and some identified that a challenge was being farther away from the other students during after agenda time, as others said it is hard to pinpoint challenges because they were in a state of curiosity and when you are curious you are open to all that comes, to everything and anything. There was complete multicultural consensus for the 3rd question relating to what helped my learning: THE TEAM. From as many different perspectives, being that my own country team was close and cooperative, to knowing the other hosting team before arriving, to the easiness of working in the multicultural team on the different activities, to actually being with the whole group with all the teams for one full day.

Reflection practice for every day “making innovative school culture possible”: 1. How do we foster team culture in our schools, in our classes,? 2. How am I open to team working; 3. Can we tap into and support acceleration of learning as teams for students?

The amazing group of teachers and students, “we are all students, we are all teachers”, multiculturality a good context to practice this principle, EMOROBO teachers& students, May 2023


On Innovation as organisational culture

 Dr. Linda Hill Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation (2014)

On Innovation and school ergonomics 

Prof. Kirsti Lonka, Phenomenon Learning from Finland, 2019

On Assessment and hindering innovation- performing vs performance

Dr. Pippa Grange Fear Less: How to Win at Life Without Losing Yourself

School presentation as well as the fascinating cultural context of the city 

More in the “Emotions and Robotics” project 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related posts

Imagination as “curriculum”- building up context competencies

As part of my Humphrey Fellowship during the 2023/2024 academic year, I am “imaging” a University of Teachers: a model for lifelong teacher training that …

Read More →

Innovation as school culture

Based on the reflection and collective dialogue with teachers and students at Lizdeika Highschool, in Radviliškis Lithuania, I am thanking the Lithuanian team of teachers, …

Read More →

Coaching STEAM- the art of wellbeing

STEAM- as New ways of learning, allowing learning relations to be visible; different levels of emotions will be possible dwelling (pondering), enchantment, and caring. “Sell …

Read More →

Wellbeing and climate change – Teaching and learning as “ radical nature”

Hygiology is the science of preserving health, and care to preserve; the act of keeping from destruction, decay, or any ill. The state of being …

Read More →

Integrative Practices- how we step and show up in the classroom matters!

We are living in the nature, without the nature we don’t have our culture.” Heli Aikio, teacher, Sámi musician artist By Integrative Practices, as part …

Read More →

“Future proof” spaces

This article is more than any, an invitation for you to practice imagination and imaginary, almost as using VR/AR to step into, and build or …

Read More →
Scroll to Top