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:


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Photo of Nate McClennen

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 ( 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

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

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

Photo of Nate McClennen

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.

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