Jun 8, 2022

Does Independence Breed Innovation or Insularity?

I have often believed that the great asset of an independent school, college or university is held in their categorical name: independent. In fact, one might expect independent private schools and colleges to drive the most substantial change and emerge with the greatest advances in the education sector. They are independent, beholden to no one except their mission and stakeholders. As I said in our blog yesterday:

An independent school or college is defined by their ability to make their own choices, chose their own mission, and cultivate their own, self-perpetuating board members. In other words, these are organizations that have few limitations, other than those they impose on themselves.

I have come to believe, however, that independence can often be a breeding ground for two different ends of the spectrum. On the one hand, we do witness a small set of institutions that truly define innovation. They create the advances that drive our industry, whether it be in curriculum design, learning research, educational delivery or public purpose. They lead and others follow, sometimes reluctantly.

Experience has also taught me that independence also breeds insularity. Our industry sector – private, independent schools and colleges – often find themselves in a distinct category in their marketplaces. Or, at least they believe they are in a distinct category. They have a tendency to believe that what they do is actually unique to them, innovative to the core, and precious to the market. And, to be completely honest, it is not. Most of what they are doing is similar to many other schools and colleges. This inward thinking often drives resistance to change and, at the very core, a real limitation on their innovation.

I have often believed that independence is the most valuable asset of these organizations. Harnessing it to advance learning in a new world seems to me the task of the moment. Getting out of their own way is the primary challenge for many of these same schools and colleges.

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