Bringing innovation to school – 5

Chapter 4 – Seeding Innovation

A central message throughout Suzie Boss’ book, Bringing innovation to schools, is to encourage school leaders to figure out how to provide students with the training ground they need to build essential 21st century skills, practice problem solving, research, collaboration and other essential fluencies. Rather than wait for good ideas and innovations to happen, as if by magic, what can leaders do to “seed” innovation?:

  • What policies and practices would multiply innovative efforts to happen at the grassroots level (i.e. within the school or, better, in the classroom)?
  • What new innovations could blossom from these efforts?
  • What if research and development into new innovations were cultivated from within the school house?
  • How can we invite teachers and students to participate in this process?
  • How can schools help sponsor innovative projects proposed by teachers and students through the allocation of seed money for the initiatives?

One recommendation is for school leaders to encourage action research throughout the school building, especially in the classroom. This research would help address the need to develop the “training ground” mentioned above. The key lies in appropriately framing the probing questions that will drive the action research agenda. For example, Boss suggests we can start by posing questions such as:

  • How can we teach children to problem solve using principle of engineering?
  • How can we leverage high-interest activities, such as gaming, to connect with students who are at risk of being disengaged from school?
  • How can we use class sets of digital devices to expand learning opportunities for all  students?
  • How can we reimagine the school library as a media center and collaborative work space?
  • How can we design school spaces and furnishings to foster student collaboration, research, and other activities necessary for project-based learning?

She reminds us that in order to promote ownership of any innovation agenda, teachers have to be involved in the process. They need to know that they are active participants, and valued for their effort, time and insight.

I appreciated the call to reimagine the role of school administrator as part of the innovation process:

If the teacher is the entrepreneur, then the school leaders should take the role of  venture capitalist to provide support and resources. The teacher needs to do the homework, to be able to say why an idea is worth investing in. Then it is up to [the administrator] to find resources. – C. Ratliff, Albemarle County Public Schools

This is different from the administrator telling the teacher what to do, and then maybe offering some funds to help. It doesn’t negate the need for the administrator to review the proposal for measurability and impact to see if an idea will make a difference, just as a venture capitalist would review a proposal for consideration. It does, however, prioritize the teacher’s role and impact in the pro-innovation process. It sends a message that we want their ideas and want to see them succeed.

To seed (fund) such innovations, we should plan for:

  • Support – Is there a plan to support the action research needed to foster innovation and improvement in classroom teaching?
  • Allies – Who else can assist in the innovation process? Are there other people resources to draw upon? What about retired folk in your community? What skills can they share?
  • Selection – Given limited resources, is the selection process for financial resources clear? Are the judging criteria shared in advance? Is the process streamlined and time efficient so that teachers can focus their efforts in the classroom rather than on the application process?
  • Impact – How will impact be measured? Be sure to consider quantitative as well as qualitative measures of impact.
  • Results – What process will be in place to ensure you learn from failures and from successes? How will good ideas be shared and replicated?

Boss includes the advice to start small and manage the risk. “Learning what not to do again is as important as taking good ideas to scale.”

Clearly, if school leaders want to, they can challenge the comfort level of their teaching colleagues in order to transform a school culture to one of innovation as part of learning.


Source: Boss, S. (2012) Bringing innovation to schools: Empowering students to thrive in a changing world. Solution Tree.


Bringing Innovation to School – 1

I have been working my way through a very good book on bringing innovation to school by Suzie Boss and wanted to share some initial notes and observations here.

A central idea in the book is that there is a gap between saying we must encourage innovation and teaching students how to actually generate and execute original ideas.

A number of questions must be considered as we think about this gap:

  • What new set of skills and fresh ways of thinking are needed?
  • How can these be taught?
  • How do we provide opportunities to practice these new skills with appropriate support?
  • How can we scaffold the learning experience so that students learn to persist even through setbacks?
  • How can we help students discover their passions through this process?

Success in addressing this gap depends on knowing how to frame problems, generate ideas, test solutions, and learn through the experience. This is part of the design experience and requires a balance of individual effort and productive teamwork; of passion and persistence; of providing opportunities for students to engage questions and issues they care about.

What do we need to offer to our students? – If we can address this gap and bring innovation to school, we provide the necessary “training ground” students need to practice problem solving, research, collaboration and other essential fluencies, such as media literacy.

Essential is the commitment that innovation is both powerful and teachable; that focusing on innovation across the curriculum provides a means for teachers to help build essential 21st century skills in their students; and that teaching thought over content is a meaningful endeavour.

Source: Boss, S. (2012) Bringing innovation to schools: Empowering students to thrive in a changing world. Solution Tree.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Learning Target?


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I asked the question here why more teachers don’t share their learning targets with their students.

It would seem to me that we can encourage student responsibility for their learning by sharing what we want them to learn in our classes. We can further extend this learning for students if we share with them how they will know when they have learned it deeply.

Students can hit any target they know about and that stands still for them – Rick Stiggins

To be clear, a learning target is not an instructional objective. Each serves a different purpose.

An instructional objective is meant to guide instruction during a lesson or across a series of lessons. It is derived from provincial/state content standards and represents a key step that teachers will take to help students learn the component knowledge and skills that make up the standard. As such, instructional objectives are not designed for the student, but are written from the teacher’s perspective. The student will be able to …

On the other hand…

A learning target guides learning, providing focus for what the students will come to know deeply during the lesson. It is written from the students’ perspective and offers a student-friendly description in language that they understand of what they should come to learn or do during the lesson. As such, learning targets become a tool that helps students take charge of their own learning.

A well-developed learning target unpacks a “lesson-sized” amount of learning. It represents a portion, or “chunk”, of a particular content standard that the students can master during the lesson. A learning target serves as a “look-for” that guides students to knowing what to learn, how deeply to learn it, and exactly how to demonstrate the new learning.

If students know what to look for and can aim their sights (direct their energy) on a learning target, they can take ownership for their learning. By doing this, teachers grant their students the opportunity for mastery through autonomy and provide a sense of purpose. This represents essentials components of the motivation map that can drive student engagement and empowerment for their learning.


Where to begin when personalizing learning

As readers of this blog may know, I have a great interest in personalizing the learning experience for students.

I find that in its simplest form, personalizing is offering students choice and challenging them to think in creative ways that are meaningful and rewarding to them. I have been practicing this for a while in my own classroom, and have witnessed a high degree of student engagement in classroom learning tasks as a result.

Lately, though, my thoughts have turned to scaling a model of personalizing learning for an entire school.

Where do you begin if you want to implement personalized learning for an entire school or school system?

I find that “The Honeycomb Approach to Personalized Learning” makes good sense in that it keeps the student learning experience central to all considerations during the planning process.

Honeycomb approach to personalized learningsource: The Institute @CESA#1

This approach developed by The Institute @ CESA#1, rightly notes that our attempts to implement personalized learning for an entire building isn’t necessarily a linear planning approach. It will get “messy.” Instead, we need to remember that all planning begins with the learner at the core of all thinking (and not new schedules, technology devices or even ‘trendy furniture’ as primary considerations.), and the honeycomb allows us to do this. This helps us focus our thinking on three factors (the cells in blue):

Learner Profiles – Comprehensive, data-rich learner profiles convey how a student learns best and are used to plan a customized learning environment and instructional strategies.

Customized Learning Paths – Students help create unique learning paths based on their individual strengths and interests. Content, pace and feedback are calibrated for each learner and needs are addressed as they occur rather than having to remediate later.

Proficiency-based Progress – All students are expected to demonstrate mastery of rigorous, comprehensive standards. Progress is based on what students have learned, not how much time they have spent in school.

From these starting points, necessary decisions can then be made about suitable teaching strategies and engaging classroom learning experiences (the cells in orange), the expectations for the different roles and relationships of both students and teachers (the cells in green), and the appropriate structures and policies to support the personalized learning practice (the cells in purple), with each decision assessed for its potential impact on the core components.

There are a number of advantages in using the honeycomb approach when planning for personalized learning. Of those mentioned here, I think the flexibility of the this approach offers an “organic” opportunity to help develop teacher capacity for instructional effectiveness in meeting every students’ learning needs:

The core components and surrounding cells can guide professional learning activities for individual educators and teams; they are also useful in supporting collegial coaching and feedback.

As the work gains momentum, schools and teams use the honeycomb as a guide for determining where to build out and scale their work as they move forward. For example, they might chose to add opportunities for Customized Learning Paths or Learner Independence as well as expand their work to other classrooms.

This article provides a concise introduction on how the honeycomb approach can work. Be sure to follow-through on the links, too, to get a wider appreciation on the application of each component.

All in all, I believe that personalizing the learning experience will engage students more in their learning, equip students with the necessary knowledge and skills based on their needs and abilities, and empower students as they move forward in their learning career. This truly is Vibrant Learning for me.


Dr. J. Rickbaugh. Finding your sweet spot: The honeycomb approach to personalized learning.

The Institute @ CESA#1. Personalized learning.