In this recurring blog series, we look at the Culture of Innovation at Eastern Christian School. A major Institutional distinctive that sets EC apart as a global leader in Christian Education is that this is a school community and leadership team that takes calculated risks on new, leading ideas in order to more effectively fulfill the mission and Kingdom Impact of the school.
Tom Dykhouse, Mary Faber, Sandra Bottge, Ruth Kuder, Richard VanYperen, Rudi Gesch
It’s affectionately known as the “most fun meeting of the year” by members of the Eastern Christian Education Council. The annual “Next Big Thing” meeting is the birthplace of institutional advancement. It’s an arena of debate. It has colleagues and friends pitted against each other, as each individual lobbies for potential new programs and projects for Eastern Christian School. But first and foremost, it’s fun!
Once each year, every Education Council team member is charged with bringing a new, unique, big, creative, or outside-of-the-box idea to the team. The goal is to vote on one new idea each year- the “Next Big Thing” that Eastern Christian will implement.
Educational Council Roll Call:
Tom Dykhouse, Head of School
Dick Van Yperen, Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Ruth Kuder, High School Principal
Dan Lazor, Middle School Principal
Mary Faber, Middle School Vice Principal and Dean
Sandra Bottge, Elementary School Principal
While each idea is relatively new to the group (team members get the proposals a week prior to the meeting), the NBT meeting is a far cry from a spontaneous brainstorming session. Every team member in the room has brought one idea to the table – a developed idea. It’s an idea that has already gone through a significant amount of individual scrutiny. It’s been dreamt up, heard about through professional networks, or read about. It’s been tweaked to fit Eastern Christian. It’s been researched, weighed amongst many other potential ideas, and measured by degrees of feasibility of implementation at EC. The goal is to keep each proposal to one sheet of paper, though the complexity of some of the proposals makes that nearly impossible.
Each team member presents their idea to the group along with their report. After all proposals have been heard, each team member is given five votes based on which ideas seem most likely to succeed and on the school’s ability to implement them. Team members can submit all five votes for any one proposal (including their own) or spread them out across multiple potential projects. At the end of the two-hour meeting, the proposal with the most votes wins. The process is intended to allow the best idea to rise to the top – no matter who came up with it. In actuality, while there’s some good-natured lobbying happening, everyone around the room has the same goal in mind: to do what is best for the school community. The winning proposal is brought to the Board of Directors’ Strategy Committee, where it will face one last level of scrutiny before it is implemented.
“The Tyranny of the Blank Proposal”
There’s genius in the simplicity of this annual Next Big Thing meeting. Authors will know this inspirational process well: “The tyranny of the blank page.” When an author knows that she has a regular writing assignment with a deadline due, and there’s that blank page, she’s “always writing” in order to accomplish this task. Writing becomes much less about the singular end product, and much more about the process.
It’s the same with EC’s Next Big Thing meeting: there’s a “Tyranny of the Blank Proposal.” When every member of the Educational Council knows that they will need to bring a legitimate idea to the annual “Next Big Thing” meeting, their antennae are always up. The Educational Leadership of Eastern Christian is always searching for answers: What is new in education? What is best practice? How can we do this better? How can we run things more efficiently? More effectively? How can we improve our programs? Could that work here? What’s our Next Big Thing?
High School Principal, Ruth Kuder, offers her perspective: “Knowing that there will be a forum to develop and discuss them with colleagues helps me to think critically and practically about the Next Big Thing. It helps me consider the educational, financial, and cultural implications. Alignment with mission is an important criteria in the discussion, so that is always the primary consideration.”
Related Read: The Harvard Business Review on “How to Kill Creativity”
For many Christian organizations, and for many schools (particularly those over a century old!) doing things the same way year in and year out becomes modus operandi. That’s not the case at this 123 year old school! This is a school community that lives the adage, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’re always going to get what you’ve always got.” And we’re not satisfied with what is – we desire to always strive for excellence.
And with that, you have a substantial driver of innovation at Eastern Christian School. We are blessed with having a leadership team that is always trying to improve the school. Everyone at Eastern Christian benefits from these programs in one way or another, and looking back, God has indeed used these initiatives to further our mission and reach for His glory!
As the world becomes more connected, complex, and ever-changing, isn’t this the kind of innovative, forward-thinking school where you want your children?
Other “Culture of Innovation” Blog Posts: