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Principled Innovation: The Process of Becoming

Principled Innovation is "how" we approach our work at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. It's our core value that drives us to imagine new concepts, catalyze ideas, and form new solutions, guided by principles that create positive change for humanity. It allows us to consider how the decisions we make and the actions we take affect the lives and learning of other people. Defining what it means to be a "principled innovator" was, in itself, a process of becoming.

A few years ago we asked ourselves the question, "What could it mean for a college of education at a public university to integrate a character education framework into the systems of teacher and leader preparation?" The answer was uncertain, complex and, according to some, impossible. The challenges were quick to emerge. Whose morals? Whose virtues? Whose character? It was a controversial proposal, but one many thought had merit and was worth exploring.

We knew whatever "this" would look like needed to evolve from research and input shared by our faculty, staff, students, and the community. So we spent the first two years in a continuous cycle of listening, writing, revising, repeat. We started with a framework from the Jubilee Centre at the University of Birmingham. We put it in front of our faculty, staff, and students and invited them to share what they appreciated about the framework. What would they preserve? What would they let go of? What would we need to drastically change? What do we need to avoid? What's missing? We heard loud and clear that context matters, and we needed to "ASU-ize" this work.

So, we put some definitions down on paper as a starting point, continued to gather feedback, and let the iterative cycle begin. The process has been intentional, messy, exciting, challenging, purposeful, exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating, uncertain, and most of all, rewarding. The framework has evolved over the years, sometimes so quickly, it has been difficult for our own team to stay up to date on the current version! We like to say we are designing, building and flying the airplane all at the same time. We know this was often confusing for faculty and staff, so we are grateful for the continued support and the critical feedback we have received as this collective vision moved towards something tangible.

There was value in the process. It allowed us to share, experiment, gather feedback, and learn along the way. It pushed our thinking. It helped us to grow as an initiative and as individuals. It gave us the time and space to understand the culture and context in which we were operating, and allowed us to see things from multiple and diverse perspectives. It helped us to identify and acknowledge the fundamental values of our college and the community we serve. It gave us opportunities to practice moral and ethical decision making as we grappled with difficult dilemmas surrounding the work. We had to become systems thinkers, and reflect critically and compassionately about how this framework could affect the lives and learning of our students, our faculty, our staff, and the communities we serve. The process allowed us the time to design a creative solution, while navigating uncertainty and mitigating the intended and unintended consequences of our decisions and actions. The process helped us to "ASU-ize" this work.

In retrospect, we can see now that the process we went through was, itself, an example of what we have defined as principled innovation. The process became the framework. Where we have landed is very different from our starting point. We have arrived at the concept of principled innovation as a core value for our college, through which character development can occur. Click the following link to check out the current version of the Principled Innovation framework.

As much as we would like to say the process of developing the framework is over, the reality is, this isn't the end. Our framework for principled innovation remains a living document. Just like character development, it's a process of becoming. We know that we will continue to learn and grow as we infuse principled innovation into the systems of education. And, as we evolve, the framework will continue to evolve along with us.