Educational leaders: How they innovate in education settings

Juliet D'cruz

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How they innovate in education settings

The world of education is continually developing. There are always new ways to teach subjects or manage students of all ages in educational settings. Technology too advances, providing opportunities for educators to utilize these new developments to benefit their students or make their work more efficient and effective. With research into educational theories and practices continually ongoing, there are decisions to be made as to which theories will be implemented in educational settings and what innovations will be used. These decisions are generally made by the educational leaders of the setting or district as they strive to find ways that allow their students to flourish and achieve.

What are educational leaders?

Educational leaders occupy a variety of different roles, depending on the settings they work in. They might be school principals, having worked their way up from teacher, or a superintendent overseeing schools across a district. In higher education, they can be college professors, a dean of faculty or students, or college presidents. They might take on an advisory role as an academic consultant or work in organizations as a curriculum designer. Educational leaders do not necessarily work in typical educational settings. Some might become corporate trainers, working in a variety of industries, or they might combine their educational leadership skills with other knowledge to become a director of education in a medical or technological setting. What links these roles is that they require individuals driven to improve the educational experience for their students, have a clear vision of what improvements are needed and use data-driven strategic planning to work toward their goals.

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Becoming an educational leader

For those interested in education, becoming an educational leader is a logical career path. As there is always a need for educational leaders, there is good job security and competitive salaries. Most of all, it means that you will be in a job that will make a difference to your students, helping them reach their full potential and be happy and fulfilled in their studies, while also creating an environment where your staff will be able to work safely and effectively. The precise route to becoming an educational leader will depend on the role you are aiming for but, generally, experience in education is required. Many work first as teachers.

You are likely to also need additional qualifications, with a Master of Education (M.Ed.) or a Doctorate in Education (Ed. D) being popular choices. These can be studied at universities across the country. However, if you do not want to give up your existing employment while you study, attending university in person can be impractical. Fortunately, there is now the option of high-quality online degrees that provide a more flexible option. One place worth looking at for those considering educational leadership career pathways is Marymount University. With an M.Ed. and Ed.D designed with working professionals in mind that can be studied online, this can be an effective and practical way of gaining the qualifications you need to help you on your way to an educational leadership role.

Through their vision, guidance and leadership, educational leaders can innovate in their educational settings, making the changes needed to adapt to an ever-changing world and helping to boost their students no matter their age, background or abilities.

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Listening carefully

Educational leaders will know many other educational professionals as well as many users of education and their families. One way educational leaders can innovate is through considering how they can best make use of this valuable resource. When driving changes, innovative educational leaders should listen to the voices of others involved; namely, the students and teachers, and perhaps also parents if this is appropriate for the educational setting. Educational leaders, therefore, need to develop a culture where students and teachers feel able to give feedback and suggestions. This can be done anonymously to allow the ultimate freedom of expression. And when innovations take place, they should happen without unfairly increasing the workload of the teacher.

A culture of innovation

Educational leaders can access studies and theories from experts all over the world that they can then put into practice in their educational setting. But they should not ignore the experts they work with—the people who know the students and their culture better than anyone. As an educational leader, you can create a culture where teachers can feel confident experimenting and trying out new ideas on different aspects of classroom management and curriculum delivery.

You should also make sure those teachers have the chance to reflect and provide feedback on their experiences with new ideas and allow them to report to other staff so they can take these new ideas and develop them further.

While you can encourage a culture where teachers are able to experiment, it should be remembered that not all experiments are successful. With teachers under pressure to deliver good results all the time, it is hardly surprising that some will prefer to stick to tried and tested methods rather than experiment with something new. Part of creating a culture of innovation is the acceptance that some failure is accepted if it is part of a drive to innovation. As an educational leader, it is your role to consider how much time should be permitted for experiments and new ideas and how much should continue along a more established pathway, and then guide the staff at your setting to meet this.

Technological innovation

The technology used in the classrooms of today is a world away from that used by today’s teachers in their own studies and has created many changes in the world of education. Uses for tech can include making lessons more interactive, easing the workload of the teacher, facilitating communication between the teachers and parents and supporting students with special educational needs, to name but a few. Educational leaders need to keep up to date with technical innovations and consider which of these might be brought into their educational setting. They will also need to consider how they can be used to maximize the benefits.

Through introducing new technology into their educational settings, educational leaders innovate the learning and management of the setting. But there is no need for educational leaders to stop there. They do not need to only react to new technology; they can also be proactive in the design and implementation of further technological advancements. Education can drive technological advancement, and educational leaders are well-placed to be part of that drive. They can give feedback to tech companies on the benefits and shortcomings of the existing technical equipment, websites and programs. They can also give suggestions on where they see tech going next, or tech they would like to see in the classroom. By providing such suggestions, educational leaders can influence the tech companies. And tech companies would do well to listen. After all, when they do create new educational technology, the educational leaders will be a significant part of their customer base.

Look beyond your setting

Educational research is continually ongoing. Across the world every day there are new studies and theories in development. And teachers walk into classrooms with new ideas to try out or develop every day. Through looking beyond their own educational setting, educational leaders can be at the forefront of the latest developments. 

Subscribe to and read educational blogs and articles that will keep you informed on the latest developments or that provide a platform for educators to outline their theories or report progress on a new method they are trialing. Networking is useful too. This can be carried out online or in person. Make the effort to attend conferences or form networks in your local area. Through listening to other educational leaders, you can learn about the innovations in their settings and consider how you might implement them in your workplace.

Networking is not only a chance for you to learn from other educational leaders. It is also a chance for you to tell others about the innovative practices happening in your setting. Through networking, an educational leader is not only an innovator in their own setting but can influence practices beyond it, perhaps even across the world. Educational blogs and publications are often on the lookout for new writers, and through writing a post or article about innovation in your setting, you can help the ideas spread.

Budget for innovation

In schools, colleges, universities and other educational settings, there are continual financial demands. One of the responsibilities of the educational leaders in these settings is to consider how to allocate the budget and decide where the money is best spent. To drive forward innovation, an educational leader will need to devote a significant part of their budget to that. This might take the form of investing in new technology. It could also be used to implement training in a particular new educational practice. It might even be used for research and development as you encourage experiments and new ideas in your workplace. Trying to balance the finances so all areas are adequately covered is certainly a juggling act, but money spent on innovation will be well spent when you see the results of higher achievements, more fulfilled staff and greater student wellbeing.

Budgeting for innovation is not just to do with money. There is also the matter of time. Educators will require time to research the latest technological developments and learn how they are used. Trialing a new idea in the classroom is only one part of the innovation. There will also be the time needed to reflect on the implications and consider how to develop them further. This too can be a juggling act, but as with the financial investment, the investment in time will be repaid as the educational setting develops and improves.

Good leadership

Innovations in an educational setting can come from different directions. They may come from the ideas developed by teachers in the classrooms or from the students’ suggestions. Some might arise from meetings with teachers and educational leaders from other settings or from reading articles. However, guidance is needed to bring these innovations to a place where they can make a difference throughout the educational setting and beyond.

It should go without saying that educational leaders need to be competent leaders. They will need to have the communication skills to keep their staff and students informed of changes and how they are to be implemented. They need to be able to create a culture where staff and students are confident in offering their own suggestions, Changes are not always easily accepted, and so the educational leader will at times need to be diplomatic to avoid experienced teachers taking the innovations as criticism of their existing work.

Above all, they need to be visionaries with a clear view of the education they wish to offer and a thorough, evidenced-based plan of how it can be delivered. 

Becoming an educational leader

Becoming an educational leader is a worthwhile career direction. It is a job that can make a real difference and can carry high levels of job satisfaction. If you are someone with ideas of the direction you think education can go and have the leadership skills to see your vision realized, it is well worth considering becoming an educational leader.

Through experience, particularly in leadership areas such as an assistant principal and gaining additional qualifications either in person or through a high-quality online provider, you will be ready to seek out an educational leadership position. And once you have achieved that, you will be in place to bring new ideas and innovation to your educational setting.