Saturday, August 22, 2015

Innovation Incubator Part I: Jump-Starting Innovation

This is the first of a series of blogs I hope to complete documenting the process of our first Innovation Incubator Team. As we closed our third year of our 1:1 digital evolution, some of us in the district sensed that maybe it was time to shake things up a bit. My personal feeling was that there were certainly great things happening for students in the district, and providing a Chromebook to every student was certainly a catalyst behind much of it. However, our leadership team wanted to see how we might encourage teachers to get to the next level of innovation. 

Why Try To Jump-Start Innovation? 

Let's be honest, even in a technology rich district such as ours, we still see a lot of 17th, 18th, and 19th century teaching strategies. For example......

this is a 1946 typing class......
Queensland Typing Class. Image Credit:

...and this can be seen in just about any 1:1 school in 2015. 

Not a Leyden classroom, but you get the idea. Image Credit:

Oops. I should have included 13th century teaching strategies. This is from 1233 A.D. 

(Love the guy snoozing in the lower right corner.)
Image Credit: Why lectures are dead (or soon will be)
Anyway, Thomas C Murray calls it "The Cemetery Effect," to describe the unsettling similarities between traditional classroom structures and the final resting place of our loved ones. 


Ugh. That stings. 

Don't get me wrong: there are PLENTY of teachers who have moved past the "Cemetery Effect" and are experimenting with all kinds of crazy classroom setups and creative teaching strategies. And a row and column class setup isn't ALWAYS bad. But when that's your "home base," I believe that more often than not, it leads to traditional, teacher-centered, "filling of the pail" delivery. That's what it's designed for. Furthermore, it's not engaging, it's not authentic, and it certainly doesn't look like any real world environment in which adult humans live, work, play, or otherwise do anything productive. 

Now that I've gotten that out of my system, our leadership team began to get together to think how we might push teaching and learning forward, to try to break free of centuries' worth of educational tradition. We wanted to change up our professional  learning opportunities, and provide an opportunity for some teachers to be freed to innovate with some significant institutional support. We might even just throw in some action research for good measure. That's not to say we don't want ALL of our teachers to innovate, and we certainly support everyone as much as possible. However, this project was specifically conceived as a small cross-disciplinary team with the specific mandate to go off the ranch (so to speak), and to share their successes and failures. 

We had no idea where this was going to lead, but we put out a call for applicants at the end of 2014/2015. 

The Application Process:

Our application asked teachers the following questions:
  1. How you have been a risk-taker? Provide an example of how you have encouraged risk taking in your instructional practice and with your students.
  2. What has been your biggest failure? What was your biggest take away from that experience?
  3. How do you stay current with your individual professional learning?
  4. How will you disseminate the results of your work to colleagues?
  5. Which characteristic from the innovator mindset is your strength? Please explain.  An Innovation Mindset: Empathetic, Problem Finder, Risk Taker, Networked, Observant, Creator, Resilient, Reflective.
  6. Which characteristic from the innovator mindset is an area of growth for you? Please explain. An Innovation Mindset: Empathetic, Problem Finder, Risk Taker, Networked, Observant, Creator, Resilient, Reflective.
  7. Why are you excited about this opportunity? Why are you excited about this opportunity? How will this process help you achieve your goals? What type of support do you think you need to be successful?

After gathering our Professional Learning Planning Committee to review our applicants, we realized we had far more high-performing applicants who would thrive in this opportunity than we could handle. That's a nice problem to have. Unfortunately, we had to make some tough decisions in putting together a team that represented both buildings, a variety of disciplines, all levels of experience, and a spectrum of students served. 

At this time, our team consists of eight teachers: 

Amy Stolarsky (English, East Leyden) @Astolarsky
Amy Gorzynski (Business, East Leyden) @MsGorzo
Frank Diebold (Social Studies, West Leyden) @FrankDiebold3
Chris Lange (Social Studies, West Leyden) @ChriLange
Joe Fezzuoglio (PE/Health, West Leyden) @JFezzuoglio
Joe Ruffolo (Science, West Leyden) Leyden Physics
Meghan O'Neill (English, East Leyden) @MEONeil1
Marisa Kapinos (Science, East Leyden) @KapinosELHS

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