There is a lot of talk in education about innovation, but few strategies shared about how to actually innovate at the school level. It remains a theoretical discussion in most educational spaces, shrouded in mystery and often focused on technology years away from today’s classroom.
But innovation doesn’t need to be exotic or unattainable. There are small things that administrators and teachers can do today to change and improve learning for students. Just adapting a few principles can innovate your school today. These 5 strategies are a great way to start innovating.
The most innovative thing that schools can do is to empower students to take control of their own learning. There are amazing things happening with technology and personalized learning, but you don’t even need to get that fancy. Empowering students just means you are giving the leaner control over some part of their learning. Students already control their learning, so when you make them aware of it and give the choice that drives their engagement and connection, the outcomes can be incredible. Just get out of the way and watch the innovation happen. Here are some simple ways to increase student empowerment at your school or in your classroom.
· Student-driven projects
· Individualized learning goals
· Student leadership opportunities
This list may seem obvious and simple, but it can lead to extraordinary outcomes like student podcasts, student community projects, or student mentorship programs. These are just a few examples of innovation that have happened at schools through the power of student empowerment.
Most schools already engage in teacher collaboration so it might not seem very innovative. However, school innovation can be unlocked by effective teacher collaboration. Teachers are the engine of the school. When they are empowered to really serve students and they learn how to collaborate, their ideas and action can lead to school innovation.
All of the other ideas on this list can happen through teacher collaboration. Think about it, there are a lot more teachers on a campus than there are administrators. When they get excited about something, they have the manpower, connections with students, and opportunity to make it happen. The research shows that bottom-up innovation is always more innovative than top-down.
The best thing schools can do is set up teacher collaboration for success. There are models that allow teachers to be more innovative. They can benefit from frameworks that promote creativity and help them plan and strategize around serving students. There are a few models for this. I am biased through my own experiences toward Design Thinking PLCs. There is some information on this blog regarding this model. I recently released a book Design Thinking PLCs- available in paperback, Kindle, and Audible!
Schools can get stuck in a rut because they have always done the same thing. Students know what to expect and teachers have been in the same routine for years. While there are advantages to routine, it can feel like you are stuck in the movie Groundhog Day, living the same day over and over.
Offering new and unique programs can breathe life into a school. They offer new ways to learn or the opportunity to explore exciting content. New programs can be anything from introducing new career pathways, new units within a class, or even after school opportunities. These can be academic and non-academic.
I have been involved with transforming entire schools around a unique focus, but I have also seen amazing innovation start small. Staring a guitar or gaming club can have an impact on student engagement and involvement and doesn’t require a lot of resources.
Find out what students want or need and figure out how to make it happen for them. This can make school exciting again by offering something new and different.
Schools can adopt specific frameworks that will allow for a collective drive toward innovation. These are models that promote ideas and action that lead to new outcomes. Frameworks harness the brainpower and talents of all of the stakeholders toward a specific need, mission, or vision.
Because of the advances in industry and the outside world, there are more frameworks than ever that schools can adopt. Some of the frameworks you can use at your school include:
· Project-based Learning
· Design Thinking
· Learning Science
· Personalized Learning
· Linked Learning
· Experiential Learning
· Agile Based Learning Environment
If you decide to go this route, do your homework. It cannot be a surface-level commitment. A lot of schools say they are using these frameworks, with very little to show for it. Think through how you will implement the framework at you school with students, teachers, and parents. More about innovation frameworks can be found here. These frameworks can make a difference, but you must actually use them the right way.
Interdisciplinary Skill Sets
Schools that create a set of skills are able to support learning in a connected way. The idea is that the school has selected a context that shares a number of skills that are taught across the school. The tighter the context, the easier it is to communicate the importance of the skill sets to teachers and students. These skills are taught across all subject matter and across all grade levels. These skill sets help define teaching and learning at schools that adopt them. Schools can have career-focused skill sets or a broader skills focus, but it has to be meaningful to the students. Shared skill sets can
· Improve content engagement and learning
· Increase teacher collaboration
· Create connections for students across the school day
· Provide the why for student learning
· Connect learning to real-world application
· Allow for skills transfer from classroom to classroom.
I have written more about interdisciplinary skill sets at schools on my blog if you would like more information.
Whichever techniques you decide to tackle- innovation is possible at your school site. Through innovation you can increase student engagement, improve student learning, and make things exciting at your site. You don’t have to wait for new robotic inventions, you can get innovative today!
If you would like help innovating your school site or district, NewSchool Innovation is here to help. Check out our website for more information.