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Sunday / July 23

Become a Talent Finder and Unleash the Native Genius in Your School

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve been spotting genius all school year. That time your inbox chimed with a student’s 14th or 15th comic strip submission, months after the lesson was complete. Or the teacher you might call a “word ninja” owing to her ability to transform your basic draft into beautiful prose within a matter of minutes. Now, the question is – how might these casual observations turn into an opportunity to be deliberate about putting genius to work?

Multiplier leaders are so curious about what makes others smart that they are constantly (and deliberately) hunting for native genius – that thing a person does, not only exceptionally well, but also absolutely naturally. Aptly called “Talent Finders,” these leaders believe that once you’ve identified someone’s genius, you can help them put it to work (whether you’re their boss or not). Finding someone’s genius is a key to unlocking discretionary effort and propels people to go beyond what is required and be exceptional. Often, native genius is so instinctive for people that they can’t see it for themselves, and this lack of awareness prevents them from using their capability more fully. What a powerful gift you can give to that comic crazy student (and next year’s teacher, so he can put genius to work), who might just become the next Charles Schultz or Scott Adams.

It’s Time To “In-Source,” Not “Out-Source” (on “Not Sourcing”)

When a Principal operates as a Talent Finder, she envisions the organization as a sea of “native genius” rather than an org chart of positions. Approaching a school’s toughest problems with this mindset allows her to get more done with fewer resources, by turning to “in-sourcing” rather than “out-sourcing” (or just “not-sourcing”). Imagine you’re the first public middle school identified to implement a district-funded 1:1 iPad program to your nearly 1000 students. You not only have the opportunity to set the district standard, but have to do it with limited funds and all eyes on you! Sounds daunting, doesn’t it? Now, imagine your district sits in the heart of Silicon Valley, where technology is an expectation.

Erik Burmeister was tapped to lead this initiative, as principal of Hillview Middle School. He and his team were determined to press beyond a simple solution, with a device serving as a portable word processor or Internet search device, which was the common implementation pathway at the time. They knew getting the devices into student’s hands wasn’t the challenge; instead, the challenge was about finding a way to get all teachers using the device as a transformational learning tool. Erik and his newly created technology team saw professional development as the lynch-pin to a successful implementation. They asked: How might we create professional development in a way that meets individual teacher needs, but also ensures consistent and reliable use of new instructional tools?

They quickly realized the answers were already in the building, deciding to forgo the out-sourcing of professional development. Instead, they turned to a strategy of identifying, labeling, and putting native genius to work for every teacher; in a sense, “in-sourcing” the job and creating a 24-7 professional development outfit where the experts were literally in the classroom right next door. The support came from people teachers knew and trusted, which allowed them to take greater risks and be more vulnerable in the learning process.

Mining the genius of the Hillview staff not only resulted in greater learning across the board, but also in the identification of universal tech tools. Staff were encouraged to share their best thinking; powerful ideas and agreement surfaced quickly, allowing teacher technology leaders to create training and develop fluency with tools. Hillview Middle School remains a clear example of how discovering and utilizing teachers’ native genius provides dividends for the organization; and perhaps more importantly, meaning for the talented teachers putting their genius to work at its highest point of contribution. What if this summer’s planning started with creating a “genius map” for your school and continued forward finding rich opportunities to put their genius to work?

Tapping Students’ Native Genius

As you might expect, this practice of putting genius to work extends beyond the faculty and staff. Imagine what can happen when you put the genius of students to work. A special project team within Bartholomew County Consolidated School Corporation (BCSC) in Columbus, Indiana experienced the return on native genius, first hand. With the introduction of school choice legislation, they were faced with a new reality – competition for students. Local industry leaders challenged the district to solve the problem, and attract the families of prospective employees, as well as retain current families. A first step was to create a marketing brochure so compelling that families wouldn’t give a neighboring community a second thought. But, in a cash strapped and resource constrained environment they wondered how they could tackle the problem.

District leaders quickly recognized that their best marketing resource wasn’t a hired gun, but instead it was their students. They immediately turned to their Project Based Learning (PBL) magnet school, an obvious choice to tap into the student talent. The freshman English class was the perfect opportunity to lay down the challenge: “How might you communicate our district’s story to prospective students and parents?”

Teams of freshman, armed with nothing but their school experiences, and subtle guidance from their teacher, went on to create the first BCSC marketing brochure, receiving accolades from community members and industry leaders. Some even wondered which marketing firm was commissioned to develop the brochure. The freshmen rose to the challenge, not only learning and growing in their academic capability, but in creating a publication quality brochure that was distributed to realtors and industry partners. Recognizing there was untapped intelligence in the award-winning journalism program at one of their high schools, they revisited this talented group for the next year’s brochure. Once again, the final product went beyond the expectations of community and industry leaders.

How fully are you utilizing the native genius of your school community to solve tough challenges and grow capability? Talent Finders look for talent everywhere and in everyone; then they study that talent to uncover and unlock the untapped potential that lies within, unleashing an army of genius.  When you believe that everyone is brilliant at something, it becomes easy to capitalize on their strengths and take things to the next level. As you head out for the summer, now is the perfect time to be deliberate about uncovering native genius, so you can put it to work solving the most pressing issues of the upcoming school year – doubling your staff for free.

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Written by

Elise Foster, co-author of The Multiplier Effect and Multipliers Master Practitioner, is a leadership coach who enables leaders to unlock the full potential of their people. She brings her systems engineering mindset to bear as she invites leaders to bring out the best in everyone around them. She works with leaders to help become even better Multipliers, by closing the gap between their aspirations and reality.

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