In healthy environments, collaboration outweighs competition. A very smart friend of ours, Victor Hwang, alongside Greg Horowitt studied innovation ecosystems & noticed that they are like rainforests: rich in diversity. It is the collaboration between different players in the ecosystem that helps the most adaptable ideas grow up and out of the forest. This type of collaboration takes mutual respect and a mindset that supports growth. This mindset can be summarized in these key “Rules of the Rainforest:”

Let’s unpack this a bit. What do these rules look like in practice? First of all, it is important to note that innovation doesn’t have to mean new to the world. If the idea is new to you or your organization, it can still be innovative.

We wanted to highlight some innovative examples from our learning ecosystem. These individuals, and the organizations they champion, practice these rules in pursuit of more equitable and culturally-relevant learning.

Break rules & dream – Elyse Burden, co-founder of Real WorId Scholars breaks rules every day, just ask her. Who says students can’t run their own classroom businesses? She allows herself to dream of a better future and inspires students to do the same by empowering those around her to “trust your dopeness.”

Open doors & listen – Listening empathically fosters respect and a safe space to learn and grow. Julie Kasper, School Coordinator for Refugee Resettlement in Tucson, AZ, has created a safe space where refugee youth, their families, and their teachers can come together to listen and learn from each other.

Trust & be trusted – DaNel Hogan, creator of The STEMAZing Project, has laid a foundation for trust by creating an environment of mutual respect among teachers across Tucson. DaNel values each person’s unique experiences and contributions. Most recently, by empowering STEM Teacher Leaders to trust one another and their own leadership ability – meaningful collaboration has flourished.

Experiment & iterate together – Embracing the uncertainty of experimentation and iteration can be scary. Debbie Colodner, Director of Conservation, Education and Science at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, dives right in. Debbie and her team engage staff, patrons and the community in participatory processes that test ideas and gather feedback to determine the museum’s direction.

Seek fairness, not advantage – Christine Ortiz, co-founder of Equity by Design, seeks to illuminate racism and offer tools to design for more inclusive, equitable systems. Christine and her team question existing paradigms and facilitate thoughtful and deliberate action.

Err, fail & persist – Practicing growth mindset is not easy. But, Priscilla Fischback, 7th grade science teacher at Apollo Middle School, picks up new tools & strategies for working with her students and coworkers, even if it means risking failure. When something doesn’t work, or outright fails, she adapts and keeps going, leading from where she is.

Pay it forward – How can we put the public back in public education? Josh Schachter, founder of CommunityShare, created a platform that allows us to answer that question with an action. Bridging the divide between the classroom and the community, CommunityShare supports teachers in connecting with community partners to bring learning to life, shift perspectives, and transform public education.

Mindset shift and collaboration take time and energy. So, as you plan for 2018, how might you make the Rules of the Rainforest a part of your daily practice?

About the Author: Carly Croman is the Director of Engagement at LeadLocal. You can follow her on Twitter @carly_croman

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