Category: Ideas

Innovation, Adaptation, and Change


Our students maneuver the world in ways that are astonishing.  Rapid innovation that allows them to access, share, store, and manipulate information with increasing speed has been almost dizzying for digital immigrants who must be intentional about adapting these changes to the learning environment.  Electronic modes of communication have evolved from the time of Samuel Morse and Alexander Graham Bell to now with individual and group texting for students who prefer to text rather than talk; Morse would probably be happier about this than Bell.  Further, increased bandwidth has allowed the evolution of video conversations to multiple people participating from a distance with near-in-person communication; imagine what Bell would have thought about this!

In education, we organize educational material in course management systems with increasing bells and whistles and even adapt the learning environment by engaging students in classes with thoughtful use of the technology they carry to access the world.  Increasing access to information and the cost of higher education have resulted in many of our students coming to SUNY Plattsburgh with a significant number of college credits they earned through dual enrollment programs; some of the courses were taken online.

We are challenged with the need to innovate, adapt, and change as many students come to us with increasing technological skills and with curricular needs that may fit into a three-year model rather than a four-year model.  We must remain intentional about adapting ways students access the world into our pedagogy.  We also must be aware of gaps that result from overuse of technology and help our students develop good interpersonal skills that occur face-to-face, especially when it comes to managing conflict.

All of this provides context for a few questions that can be framed in our shared values:

Excellence in Teaching

  • Given our commitment to academic quality, what ways must we innovate, adapt and change to meet the educational needs of our current students?
  • As more students come to college with greater numbers of general education credits, how do we adapt our traditional curricular models to ensure students leave with what we value in a college education given our commitment to liberal arts?
  • What are the best approaches for supporting students who have not had the privilege of AP courses, especially those who need some remedial support, graduate from college in four years?


  • How do we build stronger bridges between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs to collaborate in a whole-person approach to students’ development?
  • What are the best approaches to strengthening face-to-face communication skills across the curriculum?

Inclusion/Culturally Responsive

  • With increasing numbers of racially diverse students who enrich the academic learning environment, how do we as individuals and members of a complex system need to adapt to improve communication, pedagogy, and an overall supportive campus culture/climate/community?
  • With appreciation for cultural differences in family involvement, what are the best ways to improve communication with families of our students?

Our ability to innovate, adapt, and change will chart a successful course for our future and the future for our students.  Exploring creative approaches together is exciting and focuses our energies in the right places.



First image (September 27, 2016). Retrieved on April 23, 2017 from:

Second image (March 11, 2009). Retrieved on April 23, 2017 from:

Beyond Groupthink


The pursuit of innovation and deeper answers requires a mix of approaches that allows groups to access new ways of thinking. I’ve shared information in the past from Tim Hurson about brainstorming in groups, a process he says is usually “brain drizzle.” His approach to deeper thinking was shared in a previous blog entitled, A Penny for Your Thoughts. I encourage you to read that blog again or for the first time if you are new to our community within the past two years.

Our most creative and transformative answers in groups, from Tim Hurson’s perspective, come when we exhaust initial ideas and are encouraged to go deeper in our thinking. This avoids acceptance of an early idea that groupthink may be quick to accept; the innovative answer is deeper and takes more effort, especially when there may be a few people in the room who are not comfortable speaking.

Susan Cain addressed getting to new ways of thinking in her book, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. She said, “introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation.” She shared examples where group process was undeniably powerful in the creative process, but there was emphasis on individual process too. One example she gave was how the computer operating system Linux was developed. This was an open-source process where many individuals contributed to its development from the quiet of their homes. She hypothesized that the operating system would not be as complex and innovative had all of the individuals been brought together in one place with a goal of developing the system. I suspect Tim Hurson’s approach to thinking deeper within groups gets to some of the individual, more solitary process because it moves beyond the typical cognitive gyrations of groupthink and into the deeper recesses of individuals’ minds. How can we best honor group and individual processes to discover innovative approaches and answers? There is a flexibility of patience that is needed to allow this to happen.

Discovering innovative answers happens best when there is trust and a willingness to be vulnerable in a group.  What can each of us do to deepen trust?   This necessary ingredient to healthy growth provides a basis to maneuver various levels of conflict.  Patrick Lencioni’s addressed this in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In a speech about this book, he emphasized the importance of vulnerability-based trust within groups. He said, “Without vulnerability-based trust, conflict becomes politics. With [vulnerability-based] trust, conflict is nothing but the pursuit of truth or the best possible answer.” A trusting environment that allows for healthy conflict around issues is essential for doing the work that leads to finding better answers.

I am excited about the evolution of our collective efforts and our ability to come together in trusting environments, where all voices are valued, to find the best possible way to serve our students, our EHHS community, and the college.

Bonus: “The hard truth is, bad meetings almost always lead to bad decisions, which is the best recipe for mediocrity.” Patrick Lencioni

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a would that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown Publishers.

Hurson, T. (2007). Think Better: An innovator’s guide to productive thinking. New York: McGraw Hill.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Image (February 2, 2015). Retrieved January 26, 2017 from:

creative thinking (1)


“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’
‘I dare say you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”  Lewis Carroll

What improvements need to occur to strengthen current programs and attract students to our college?  What new programs do we need to create, especially given that many of the programs in our division are at or above maximum capacity?  What is the best way to do the thinking that will answer these questions?  Do you have some ideas that seem impossible?

There were several interesting articles in the media recently.  One was entitled, “McDonald’s new menu item hints at new strategy” by Dan Moskowitz.  He said, “McDonald’s is slowly moving toward becoming a coffee shop. This might sound ludicrous to those who grew up while eating burgers and fries at McDonald’s, but any company that wants to succeed will implement initiatives that match industry trends or find itself dying a slow and painful death.” This almost seems like an impossible thought, but with current health trends, the author said the future is not in burgers and fries; of course, McDonalds will always sell hamburgers and fries.  There also are many conversations across the county about the future of colleges/universities.  What changes will we need to make to our curriculum (our menu) and what programs do we need to develop to meet the needs of our future students and the needs of society?

I used the Lewis Carroll quote and the McDonald’s article to make the point about the importance of having a creative vision to ensure a strong future.  I have discussed the type of thinking in previous blogs that will help provide answers.   I remind you of Tim Hurson’s (2007) concept of “reproductive thinking” and “productive thinking” from my 2011 blog entitled, “A Penny for Your Thoughts”:

Reproductive thinking is seen when a question is asked and the conditioned response answers are given.  These are answers that may have been used in the past, ones that people grab onto quickly because they are comfortable or familiar (they worked in the past).  Unfortunately, while the problem may seemingly be “solved,” the familiar solution leads to the end of thinking and better approaches are never discovered.

Productive thinking comes after all of the conditioned response answers are given.  Tim writes about breaking deep-thinking sessions into thirds when seeking solutions to problems.  The first third usually contains reproductive thinking, the second third might have some good ideas in it, but the final third is where you find the gold.  Creative, out-of-the-box thinking only comes after reproductive thinking is out of the way.  Tim once said, “The questions from which you learn the most are the ones you don’t know the answers to.”

Tim Hurson also advocates using a process for proposing ideas, even if they seem impossible, without making any positive or negative judgments about them as they are being proposed; judgments shut down creative thinking.  Critical thinking about what gets proposed comes later.  Tim sent me his newest book last week that will be published this July.  He and his co-author, Tim Dunne, addressed the process of developing ideas by saying, “…don’t take the first right answer.  Wait until you’ve been able to generate lots of answers and then decide which one[s] might be the most useful” (p. 13).  I think it would be fascinating for everyone in various programs in our Division and for groups in the college to go through this process.

The answers to our future around program improvement and around the development of new programs and services are within everyone who works at and attends our college.  Margaret Wheatley said, “We need each other’s best thinking and most courageous experiments if we are to create a future worth wanting” (p. 99).  She also said, “…we can’t design anything that works without the involvement of all those it affects” (p. 110).   Some of our best thinking and answers have already been revealed in action plans that accompany the new Campus Plan, but there is more gold to be mined.  What questions did we not ask in when developing the Campus Plan and action plans that need answers?

Be assured, some things will not change drastically in the future.  Another interesting article I read recently was entitled, “Future economy: Many will lose jobs to computers” by John Shinal.  He said:

The jobs that will persist in the future include those that either take advantage of uniquely-human traits – such as manual dexterity, creativity and emotional intelligence – or that improve the lives of other humans directly in a face-to-face setting.

For example, dentists, nutritionists, athletic trainers, podiatrists, elementary school teachers and occupational, recreational and mental health therapists all have a less than 1 percent chance of being replaced by computer software, say Frey and Osborne (2013; click here for the paper; see the appendix).

We clearly have many professions within our Division that capitalize on improving people’s lives in face-to-face settings.  It seems imperative that we be the best at what we do in preparing students for helping professions; thus, there is always room for improvement.  The better we do our jobs, the better our graduates will be at providing service to others; our mission of preparing students for academic, professional and personal success will be achieved.

It is important to think creatively and to understand the most productive process for getting results from creative thinking.  It also is important to understand those things that will not change due to the necessity of face-to-face interactions, but can still be improved.  As we do this work together, the power of positive relationships cannot be underestimated in the overall context of creating a powerful, positive future.  In the spirit of Margaret Wheatley, as we look to the future, I know it is the strength of our relationships and the number, variety, and strength of our connections that will create a motivating and meaningful present.

Bonus: Click here to watch Tim Hurson’s Ted Talk entitled, “The shock of the possible

Shared Values Highlighted in this blog: Broad-mindedness and Creativity

Carroll, L. (1865). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. London: MacMillan Publishing Co.

Frey, C.B. & Osborne, M. (2013). The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization?  Oxford, UK: Academic Publication.

Hurson, T. (2007). Think Better: An innovator’s guide to productive thinking. New York: McGraw Hill.

Hurson, T., & Donne, T. (July 2014). Never be closing: How to sell better without screwing your clients, your colleagues, or yourself. Taylor Fleming Portfolio/Penguin Group USA.

Image (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2014 from:

Moskowitz, D. (2014, March 21). McDonald’s new menu item hints at new strategy. USA Today. Retrieved from:

Shinal, J. (2014, March 21). Future economy: Many will lose jobs to computers. USA Today. Retrieved from:

Wheatley, M.J. (2005). Finding our way: Leadership for and uncertain time. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.


We began the semester with a community gathering where we examined four topics that included self-growth/reflective practice, focusing, listening, and gratitude.  When talking about reflective practice, the following statement from Osterman and  Kottkamp (1993) was shared:  “Reflective practice, while often confused with reflection, is neither a solitary nor a relaxed meditative process. To the contrary, reflective practice is a challenging, demanding, and often trying process that is most successful as a collaborative effort” (p. 2).

The last part of the community gathering was devoted to collaborative, reflective practice by looking at information from last spring.  We reviewed the comments we generated about who are students are today and reviewed statements from undergraduate and graduate students about what engages their learning.  Then, we worked in small groups to integrate our thinking about these points and to develop some activities/approaches that honor this information.  

Comments from groups:

  • Co-construction of projects or rubrics – this involves students from the beginning to help determine objectives and outcomes. 
  • Have students write goals.  Place goal on a sticky note and put that on a poster.  Over the semester, monitor progress.  When the goal is achieved, take the note down and put up a new one that is developed in consolation with the instructor. 
  • Two minutes breaks:  After 20 minutes in the classroom, take a two minute break.  Teach them how to use different energizers.  This is good to model for our students who will be working with children/students in the field. 
  • Collaborative work including on-line discussion groups where students respond to each other.
  • Use project-based learning and having students developing their own evaluation tools. 
  • Work with students in a way that is flexible.
  • Self-reflective journaling and small group work. 
  • The professor could check in after each class to see how the class went rather than waiting for the end of the semester.  When questioned about the vulnerability around doing this, the group leader said she would rather self-correct, get it right and teach better; it’s not a personal thing.  It’s better to get the feedback throughout rather than waiting for complaining at the end of the semester.  If you wait, students feel like you are not aware of what is going on with them.   Many of our professions require our students to be aware of others and what is going on with them.  If we are not doing this in the classroom, then they don’t see how someone with institutional power can focus on someone with less power and help them.
  • Need to set clear expectations at the beginning of the semester.  Syllabus should be clear.  Make it clear how you want to be addressed.   
  • Need to set up a safe environment so the students feel we are accessible.  Students need to feel free to communicate with us.  Even the seating arrangement of the class can make a difference. 
  • It is important to build a sense of community in the classroom so the students feel comfortable with taking more risks academically and dispositionally.  Example was having students write part of their identity, how they got to where they are or using personal literacy projects where students trace back where they have been and how they arrived at where they are today.
  • The importance of playing games and being silly was presented.  When students get uncomfortable, it is important to ask why. 
  • It is important for students to have many ways to demonstrate what they know.  Open-ended questions with lots of time for sharing are important.   

Examining our work together from last year and adding more to it this year honors reflective practice.  I deeply appreciate who we are as a community and the ability we have to focus our energy on making a difference in others’ lives.  As we do this, our lives and the life of our community are enriched.  I believe in what we can do together!



Osterman, K.F., & Kottkamp, R.B. (1993).  Reflective practice for educators: Improving schooling through professional development. Newbury Park, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Last week, I spoke to a class in the M.S. Leadership program about leadership.  One of the students commented about leaders “coming up with new ideas.”  I responded by saying that the leader should not be expected to come up with all of the new ideas.  I also said that it is not very effective for leaders to impose their ideas on people because others need to be involved in the creative process.  When an idea is developed by a group, possibly with the leader as one of the group members, then there is greater energy to move the idea forward.  

 I discussed developing ideas as a group in my blog entitled Treading Water.  Coming together to think about how we can improve what we do is critical to our survival.  Steven Johnson (“best-selling author of six books on the intersection of science, technology and personal experience”) spoke on TED Talks last summer about where good ideas come from.  This 17 minute video underscores the importance of people working together to generate new ideas.  I hope you find this interesting and find ways in which you can come together to create a future that is bright for our students and for us.  It will take the diverse thoughts of everyone at the table to do this.

Treading Water

Many people over our lifetime have challenged our thinking and have invited us to think in new ways.  They helped clarify our vision for possible futures and often taught us to make a bigger difference in the lives of others. 

Someone I invited into my life to challenge my thinking is Tim Hurson.  I met Tim through social media and have since had the pleasure of communicating with him in numerous ways.  Tim is an author and an international speaker who, in part, helps companies and groups work more productively.  Here is Tim’s biography:  

I showed Tim the EHHS top ten list of shared values.  He liked the list, but suggested that “creativity” might be placed a little higher in the ranking (Check out the Shared Values post and people’s comments if you have not done so yet).  I am fascinated by Tim’s observation. 

During the EHHS Divisional meeting at the beginning of the semester, I had a number of quotes playing on a slide show with the faces of the authors.  The quote from Tim was, “When the current is strong, treading water doesn’t even keep you in the same place.”  I felt this quote addressed our current budget situation and addressed the rapidly changing territory around standards that several programs are facing.

Tim is the author of Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking.  I appreciate the power behind a number of approaches from this book when helping groups find better solutions to problems.  One example centers on generating new ideas.  Tim says that most of the time, “brainstorming is brain drizzle.”  In his book, he presents the concept of “reproductive thinking” and “productive thinking.”  

Reproductive thinking is seen when a question is asked and the conditioned response answers are given.  These are answers that may have been used in the past, ones that people grab onto quickly because they are comfortable or familiar (they worked in the past).  Unfortunately, while the problem may seemingly be “solved,” the familiar solution leads to the end of thinking and better approaches are never discovered. 

Productive thinking comes after all of the conditioned response answers are given.  Tim writes about breaking deep-thinking sessions into thirds when seeking solutions to problems.  The first third usually contains reproductive thinking, the second third might have some good ideas in it, but the final third is where you find the gold.  Creative, out-of-the-box thinking only comes after reproductive thinking is out of the way.  Tim once said, “The questions from which you learn the most are the ones you don’t know the answers to.”  This statement invites you into the final third of the thinking process where neurons have to sweat. 

We have a number of exciting challenges before us, some without clear answers.  For example the budget problem doesn’t have a clear answer and reproductive thinking will not solve the problem.  If you were at the College’s Town Meeting last week, you heard me talk about new programs in our division that range from certificate programs to graduate degree programs.  I am aware of six, in addition to the new Curriculum & Instruction program that is ready to go to the Faculty Senate, that are in various stages of development.  This is one way in which we will not tread water.  There also are several programs in which the curriculum is being revised.  This is another response to not treading water.  There are many other ways of not treading water by diving into creative, productive thinking.  The faculty has the power to do this.

Over the next month, I have been asked to facilitate some program meetings to examine the way we do things and to see if there is a better way.  I will be using some of Tim’s techniques during the meetings.  He asked me to let him know how it goes and given the great group of people I work with (that’s you!), I already know the report will be good. 

I am open to new ideas and am excited to hear about those you find in the final third of the thinking process.  Work with each other in new ways to imagine creative programming and engaging teaching approaches.  Our commitment to life-long learning and to finding new ways of moving forward will serve as an important model for our students.   

The current is strong and treading water will result in falling behind.  I know, however, that together we can imagine new solutions that will propel us into a strong and bright future.  One of the drop boxes for new ideas is between my ears, or share ideas in the comment section below for all to wrestle with.

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