Innovation Time for Teachers

Start a school routine of innovation & creativity by giving teachers time to practice.

Photo of Margaret Powers
20 11

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    A debate I've been having recently is whether teachers have to first experience and get "on board" with the ideas of innovation happening in the school environment and its benefits for student learning or whether students first need to be exposed to and supported in developing the skills needed to innovate? 

    I think it's probably a chicken or egg type dilemma and the best approach might be a yes, and ... yes, get teachers on board and support students in developing those skills. Yet realistically, we might have to just choose one to get started. 

    I think a powerful option could be - start by giving teachers time to practice being innovative and creative at school, during work time, in a supportive, fail-forward environment.  

    Who: Teachers (with administrative support)

    What: Give teachers time, at least one day a month (or at least one faculty meeting), to work together in various teams to engage in creative and innovative thinking. Some of the day could be spent learning tools and mindsets, such as design thinking, bias towards action, empathy interviews and part of the day would be spent practicing those ideas and getting feedback. 

    When: I think it's important to use time teachers have already set aside for schoolwork so using professional days and faculty meetings seems like the best place to start. If those aren't feasible, a school could explore early morning breakfast meetings or Saturdays, but I think some kind of extra layer of motivation would be needed to make the experience (and time away from home) meaningful. Part of my thinking behind this is that this work is laying the foundation for what will be done with students and modeling that innovative thinking can (and should!) happen during school. 

    Where: Innovation Time would happen at school, hopefully in a mix of makerspaces, innovation labs, classrooms, and other spaces that encourage hands-on discovery, exploration and failure, and testing ideas in real learning spaces. 

    Why: I think this idea could be powerful in both celebrating and motivating innovation because it would dedicate time and resources to the work, demonstrating to teachers that the school considers it worth the investment and a valuable use of their time and energy. The work that is done during this time could be evaluated using a system similar to what Brett suggested in "Innovation Meters" and maybe teachers could earn badges to recognize their skill development and project work, which could then be shown off to students (again modeling their value and importance) and celebrated by administrators. This time could also be used to create, get feedback on, and iterate innovative lesson plans teachers can start using right away and projects they can implement the following school year. If their work during Innovation Time is documented throughout the year using digital storytelling, it could become a great way for the school to highlight its innovative work and draw attention, as well as future collaborators and provide a prompt for teachers to review and reflect on their learning. 


    Great initial prototype by Jess: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1b0koyqOyoznmq-OP1mQTcga8PDC29tCTjocDGA-NsUQ/edit?usp=sharing

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Photo of Nate McClennen
Team

I can definitely try this out at our organization. A couple of thoughts/questions:
1. Is the innovation center concept focus around developing skills to increase comfort with maker type work or is it a center that houses a design thinking group to work through interesting educational challenges and come up with prototypes (or both)?
2. Margaret - could you also please put me on the innovation hub team? I see some really interesting connections between these two ideas.
3. For inspiration, check out the R&D lab at the American School of Bombay (http://asbfindings.org/redstudio/). They have some great prototyping on innovation in schools. I wonder if one could create a virtual set of hubs (using similar technology to Teachers Guild) where each hub is an innovation center within a school? Thus you have a hybrid model with on-site and virtual.

Photo of Margaret Powers
Team

Hi Nate,

I think the primary use of the center would be more design thinking work and addressing educational challenges but I'm sure some of that would involve maker work and part of the challenges could also be how might we help teachers and students gain skills and mindsets that enable them to be makers.

You're officially on the Innovation Hub team as well! :)

Thanks for the link to ASB. I've followed a bit of their work but need to review it more closely. I think having a hybrid model would be great and would allow the network to reach a much wider/global audience and be more inclusive while also sustaining momentum when people can't make the time to get to a hub, even if it's nearby.

Photo of Nate McClennen
Team

Great. That was my sense as well - I worry that sometimes schools/teachers/admin equate innovation with fab labs and as you suggest, we need teachers well versed in design thinking as concept to solve challenges. I wonder if the network has ongoing virtual projects that are being piloted at various sites and a second component that is designed to build innovation centers in schools. ASB's model is based on Kotter's work around a dual-operating model - see book review at http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7434.html

Photo of Nate McClennen
Team

So if the hybrid approach is both virtual and on-site - we would need a structure to support ongoing contact points at each site. Perhaps there are pulse innovation times, kind of like a twitter chat, where we are maximizing the number of participants at any one time. Somehow, we have to turn the concept from begin "extra" to "vital" for teachers.

Photo of Donna Teuber
Team

I would love to join this team and share some prototyping work that I'm doing. We've been prototyping with our innovation teams. My annual digital leadership series starts next week and I'm going to begin the design thinking process with them and have them work in small teams to prototype a personalized learning solution at their schools. I've been puzzling over how to get people to take action and think the prototyping will make it more real for them.

Photo of Jessica Lura
Team

Rough possible prototype: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1b0koyqOyoznmq-OP1mQTcga8PDC29tCTjocDGA-NsUQ/edit?usp=sharing

Photo of Nate McClennen
Team

Happy to join this group - it would be great to build this concept into the center of all schools.

Photo of Margaret Powers
Team

Thanks Nate! I'd love to hear your thoughts about how to start doing this in schools. Is it something you could prototype at your school?

Photo of Charles Shryock, IV
Team

For what it's worth, during the "sub plan hack" that I'm proposing, I think it would be wonderful if teachers used the time to pursue their own projects too.

Photo of Niranjan Vasireddy
Team

How might we make this fun?
Is it possible to flip the classroom upside down. i.e. Teachers become Students and Students become teachers. This could help in a few ways.
 1. As the concept is for teachers to be students, it is may be ok for them to fail.
2. One can have kids give out rewards for the best project, new ideas, new skills, great presentation etc.
3. Teachers and students can better get to live out each other through the others shoes.
4. Lets not call it practice time - call it Flip the Class time.
5. Sharing - At the end of the silly time - Teachers can share how they intend to incorporate this in the next quarter/month.

In this process, I was also thinking that may be only some students get to be teachers, and some students get to team up with the new student buddies and collective do the projects. - Just a thought.

Photo of Nate McClennen
Team

I think that in addition to a monthly day working on this, there needs to be some continued push on a weekly basis. In a perfect scenario without budget constraints, a teacher could replace one class to be on an internal innovation team where the team works through the design learning process...perhaps one team per year or one team per semester. I find that our teachers are full of ideas, but never have time to do the deep dive that is required to make it happen. To take this one step further, let's have every school have an innovation center that manages this process and documents results.

Photo of Mark Carlucci
Team

A very interesting idea. By giving teachers a time to practice and fail forward, we can overcome some of the anxiety of failing in front of our students. Which is something I find to be a big concern.

I really like the idea of badges. It is something I have been looking at for the last year or so. Simple rewards, like badges, can be a great motivator.

I recall learning my multiplication tables in grade three. We would do Mad "Two" Minutes through various multipliers. Each time you reached your target you got a sticker on the progress chart. That was so motivating. I would practice like crazy, just to see another sticker on the wall.
I have though about trying to use this in my classroom, but have never thought about using it with staff. I think that is a great idea.

Photo of Margaret Powers
Team

Places like Digital Promise are offering badges as micro-credentials: http://www.digitalpromise.org/initiatives/educator-micro-credentials

What kinds of badges do you think could help this idea succeed?

Photo of Mark Carlucci
Team

That is an interesting website, something I will be keeping my eye on.
I think that being able to share the badges is important. There are several places where you can share them digitally, through social media sites and some are site specific. But those require everyone to be on the same site, friends on the site, etc. The most effective badge might be something physical, something everyone can see.
That makes me think something physical would be great. Maybe use a button maker to make them and display them on a corkboard in your classroom, occasionally picking some to wear. Or maybe little trophies for the wall. Something small but fun.
I think working them out like the achievement systems popular in many video games would be a great way to go. Badges, or achievements if you like, could be given for things you have to do, like showing up to meetings. You "unlock" your achievements as you attend, and the more you attend the more you get. There can be tasks to achieve, like contribute to the discussion 1, 5, 20, then 50 times. Special achievements can be made for those tasks you might not do otherwise, maybe reading a certain book.

Photo of Moss Pike
Team

Great idea; I'd love to do something like this with my community! I know of one school in the area, The Archer School for Girls (http://www.archer.org/), that puts its faculty through various trainings in their design lab: they learn to use the laser cutter, design tools, etc. to work on a project set for them. They're given a block that they cut and etch, and when finished, they have a personalized token. Plus, they know what can be done in the design lab.

I've been thinking about the question you raise quite a bit and tend to think that faculty needs the experience of innovation, before the buy-in can be created (but we need open minds, too!). If we "cultivate what we celebrate," as James shared (link below), how might we celebrate this kind of innovative approach in order to build cultures that value it (i.e., the buy-in)? Regular innovation time may help us to do this, and I'd love to continue the conversation on how we can make it happen.

Photo of Margaret Powers
Team

Yes! I think Marymount does that as well and it's one of the ideas that has stuck with me after visiting schools that have a embedded culture of making and innovation. I'm hoping to offer time, probably in the evenings but possibly also before school, for teachers to come to our new Ideation Space to learn/play with the tools and make something for themselves as an entry-point to get comfortable with both the space and the mindsets needed to be innovative in their classrooms. I'm hoping that can be a stepping stone to the school-wide Innovation Time discussed above.

Photo of Alexandrea Alphonso
Team

"Never Fail to Fail" is an unspoken mantra at Google :) You mentioned "...with administrative support". Would love to dive into that more. What would support or buy in from an administrative stand point look like? What would be the challenges in getting school wide support? How can we overcome those challenges?

Photo of Moss Pike
Team

Seconded; great point, Alexandrea! I want to see an admin team model failure and risk-taking to faculty. How might we encourage them and make it visible within the community?

Photo of Margaret Powers
Team

@Alexandrea Great points! The admin piece would be huge in this idea and I think would involve admin making the decision to dedicate the time to this work and explicit communications to faculty about the importance of this work, their support of it, and enthusiasm for it. I think admin would also need to be engaged and present at each of the Innovation Time sessions and provide funding for teachers to purchase new resources or tools that they need to run with ideas that come out of that work. I think perseverance would be key as well as modeling to get school-wide support.

@Moss I think for an admin team to really model this work, they would need to engage in the same work first, maybe once a week during the summer and document that to show to faculty when they come back to school. Then, having shown that they have tried it and given time/support to it, they could also continue to participate/model in Innovation Time during the school year.

Photo of Old Friend
Team

This sounds wonderful. Having teachers start by participating in a great innovation experience would help us to truly understand the experience we want to create.