Innovating with purpose
Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the spring 2023 issue of ASU Thrive magazine. Written by Cristy Guleserian, the director of Principled Innovation at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College where she works collaboratively with faculty, staff, students and community partners to integrate MLFTC’s core value of Principled Innovation into culture, curriculum and practice.
When using Principled Innovation, ASU’s newest design aspiration, we start with a basic question about any prospective change or course of action: We can, but should we?
Principled Innovation is a practice that offers reflective approach to change that centers the well-being of humanity, communities and society as a whole. It is a framework for ethical decision-making that can be embraced by individuals, organizations and systems. It informs simple, everyday decisions and complex actions at all levels.
At the heart of Principled Innovation are four dimensions of character: moral, civic, intellectual and performance. When individuals practice Principled Innovation, their actions exhibit the empathy, honesty and humility inherent in moral character; the desire to serve others that is part of civic character; the truth-seeking impulse of intellectual character; and the problem-solving commitment of performance character.
Systems change can be messy. Principled Innovation offers practical techniques for perspective-taking and thinking through the possible consequences of even the most intricate systemic actions. It creates a kind of intellectual and ethical muscle memory that helps individuals, teams and institutions seek out and listen to input from multiple perspectives.
It helps us ask ourselves the tough questions and consider the intended and unintended consequences of our decisions and actions, and whether they fulfill our charter commitments to equity, inclusiveness and taking responsibility for the well-being and success of the communities we serve.
Developing a character framework
The impetus to develop a character-based framework for decision-making originated in the need, articulated by Dean Carole Basile, for Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College to respond to a variety of challenges facing colleges of education and, more broadly, education systems. Even as our college’s enrollment was rising, we saw the shortage of educators in Arizona and the United States getting more acute.
Too many schools in too many communities were not meeting the needs of all their learners. We were graduating people into a profession and a system that was enduring a long-term crisis.
And, because innovating in education involves making the kinds of decisions that will affect the lives and learning of students, educators, families and communities, it was imperative for us to forge a way of making decisions worthy of the trust and confidence of the people affected by them.
Values and ethics always drive individual and organizational decision-making. But those values are not always transparent. We wanted to create a clear, intentional process for how character could inform decision-making in education, including our own decisions.
So we started a conversation about character at our college. Not surprisingly, challenging questions and important arguments were quick to emerge. Whose morals? Whose virtues? Whose character?
We spent the first two years in a collaborative and iterative cycle of listening, writing and revising. And then we did it again. And again.
We started with a framework from the Jubilee Centre at the University of Birmingham. We heard loud and clear that context matters, and we needed to “ASU-ize” this work. In other words, we needed to tie our notions of character — what it is and why it matters — to ASU’s defining characteristic of innovation.
Our faculty, staff and students shared a view of character not as virtues they perceived to be dogmatic but as assets required to achieve purpose. They moved from a notion of character education as prescriptions learners passively receive to a process learners actively pursue through practice and action.
As we adapted the process to fit the needs of our stakeholders and everyone involved, we began to create and codify a process.
Principled Innovation drove the process of redesigning one of the core activities of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College: our teacher-preparation programs. We had an initial starting state of a program that was successful with professional experiences celebrated nationally and locally. Despite this, it was not fulfilling the college’s larger mission as well as it could. Graduates reported areas in which they felt underprepared.
We also faced the question: How could we improve at preparing teachers who stayed in and flourished in the profession?
Conscious application of Principled Innovation practices led to a comprehensive, widely participatory review of teacher-preparation programs. Stakeholders reviewed curricula, teaching methods, professional experiences (e.g., internships and residencies), organizational structure and operational processes — all with a focus on positive change that would improve the learning outcomes and experiences for both ASU students and the preschool–12th grade learners they serve.
A process for meaningful, complex innovation
The work of formally codifying and evolving Principled Innovation has been intentional, messy, exciting, challenging, purposeful, exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating, uncertain and, most of all, rewarding.
It helped us to identify and acknowledge the fundamental values of our college and the communities we serve.
Principled Innovation gave us opportunities to practice moral and ethical decision-making in a very intentional way as we grappled with difficult dilemmas.
Where we have landed is very different from our starting point.
At Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Principled Innovation is now our core value, and ASU has adopted Principled Innovation as the ninth design aspiration, through which character development can occur.
This is not the end — Principled Innovation remains a living process. We will continue to learn and grow throughout all of ASU and beyond.
Get familiar with Principled Innovation
• Learn more at pi.education.asu.edu.
• Explore additional resources at pi.education.asu.edu/resources.
• See the nine design aspirations at president.asu.edu.