Tag Archive for innovation

Co-curricular Innovation Council

We have launched a “Co-curricular Innovation Council” so that co-curricular program leaders can more easily consult with each other, work together on common projects, and build stronger partnerships with classroom teachers. The committee includes directors of the global education, urban studies, outdoor education, teaching and learning, athletics, robotics, community service, Knight Scholars, and instructional technology programs. These program directors have historically directed their programs mostly by themselves or in partnership with one or two other people. This committee creates a systematic way for program leaders to request feedback from each other and launch projects together.

As co-curricular programs have evolved from mere “activities” to fully-fledged experiential learning environments, it has become more important to coordinate these programs and build stronger connections between co-curricular programs and classroom teaching. Students often refer to outdoor trips, robotics projects, or urban planning presentations as their most memorable learning experiences. Why should they experience dramatically different teaching styles between classrooms with and without four walls?

Organizing program directors together allows us to strengthen what we have in common: a focus on 21st century content domains (global citizenship, environmental stewardship, technology, etc.) and skills (communication, collaboration, creativity, etc.). Facilitating ways from program directors to work more closely with classroom teachers creates potential for more experiential learning opportunities within classroom instruction. Our classroom teachers have been creating terrific experiential learning opportunities for years. Now they get more potential partners and conceptual support for their project work.

Director of Technology and Learning Innovation

I have changed my title to “director of technology and learning innovation.” Tech staff members are sometimes seen as just working with computers. My new title is intended to make it apparent to the school community that I also work on projects that involve technology tangentially or not at all. These have included leading global trips, revising curriculum mapping standards, and modeling collaboration fourth and fifth grade, among others.

What is in a title? An accurate job title helps clarify one’s role in the institution, especially to new employees, parents, and people outside of the school. While I generally abhor long titles, I felt that I had expanded sufficiently beyond a traditional technology director role to warrant the change.

I particularly want to emphasize learning innovation when presenting myself in order to strengthen partnerships with my many colleagues at school who are currently working hard to investigate and adopt new models of teaching and learning. I hope that this will lead to greater collaboration with colleagues on learning innovation projects throughout the school.

The God Complex

Tim Harford, economics writer, explores the hubris of experts and the role of experimentation in innovation and problem solving (by way of Gary Gruber). How might one work to encourage experimentation and open-mindedness in a school?

Experiential Programs in the Core

An earlier post examined experiential instruction that thrives within co-curricular programs. What about the core classroom program of the school, in which students spend most of each day? What potential exists for teachers to include aspects of experiential programs within discipline-based classes?

At Head-Royce School, some experiential programs have found willing partners within discipline-based classes. Robotics is a full credit class within the science department. Statistics classes examine social behaviors within the school. Sustainability is a common theme.

How did Head-Royce successfully integrate elements of experiential programs within discipline-based classes? Several factors work together to make this a friendly climate for experiential learning.

Structural integration
The technology integration specialist is also the history department chair. The network administrator also teaches gardening to elementary students. Most program specialists — club advisors, coaches, and program directors — are also discipline-based teachers. They integrate experiential activities into their own classes, and serve as role models for colleagues who wish to do the same. They do not need to act as an external lever for change because they are already on the inside.

A culture of innovation and reflective practice
The school has for years identified a specific innovation theme in teaching practice annually. These special initiatives build up over time, causing a gradual trend toward greater innovation throughout the program. Recently, the curriculum committee undertook to better understand 21st century learning — what it meant and what were the implications for their school. This led to the adoption of 10 principles of innovative teaching practice.

Teachers are expected to explore at least three of the 10 principles of innovative teaching practice. They report back to the curriculum committee via department chairs on the progress they have made.

Visionary Leadership
The head of school regularly encourages and expects teachers and staff to innovate in specific areas, such as teaching computer science throughout the instructional program. He took the administrative team to the Stanford Design School to empower them to adopt new teaching practices and structures.

Is this enough?
Despite these superb examples of experiential education in discipline-based classes, the Head-Royce program is still easily recognized as a traditional, discipline-based, content-centered instructional program. Other schools, especially in the public sector, have gone much further in including experiential learning in the core instructional program. A future post will examine public school change initiatives that could work effectively at independent schools.

Photo courtesy of Catlin Gabel School


Entrepreneurship and Schools

Should schools become more entrepreneurial? One person with whom I had a conversation the other day thinks so. Do you have special programs or events at your school? Spin them off so that they must be financially self-sufficient, forcing them to adapt to survive. Do you have untapped resources that you could leverage to raise revenue? Do you offer summer school or a summer teacher institute? How often do your buildings lay idle? What is your merchandise store like?

On the one hand, these ideas appeal to me for how they embrace the initiative of individuals. However, several distinguishing features of schools make me wonder how effective a business-style entrepreneurial approach would be in a school. For one, schools are culturally sensitive — they place greater value on relationships and humanity than your typical corporation. Second, schools serve students, so if an experiment within the school’s “core business” goes awry, students experience the drop in quality. Third, schools do not tend to hire for entrepreneurial wisdom. Whereas a business might cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit from top to bottom, how many individuals in a school are prepared to take strategic risks?

Maybe the answer is to start from the periphery of the school and proceed one step at a time. Perhaps the call is to ask schools to broaden their idea of how a school could operate. Let experiment — with sharing content, outsourcing our school merchandise, or starting a rich summer program — and then keep what works and discard what does not, but with an attitude that allows for failure rather than allowing it to retard innovation. If that goes well, then perhaps a day will come to shake up some of the assumptions that define the core program.