Although the hour went by much too swiftly, Suzie Boss, Brett Jacobsen, and I had a great time sharing our thoughts on the topic of Bringing Innovation to School today at NAIS AC 13

The slides are above.  If you are interested, you can click over to read Mike Gwaltney’s notes from the session.

In my remarks, I made reference to my presentation a year ago at NAIS on Innovative Schools, Innovative Students, which you can find here. 

My remarks also drew heavily upon a post I wrote last fall on about the power of peer networking and Steven Johnson’s new book, Future Perfect, which can be found here. 

boss book cover

Highly recommended for our attendees and everyone else interested in this topic is Suzie’s book,  Bringing Innovation to School.

As a part of our session, we invited attendees to answer themselves on sticky notes questions about how they are, or how they would, bring innovation to school– and as promised, I’m happy to share them here:

How might we innovate around…

Learning assessment?

  • Group/self evaluation of public speaking, collaboration, using rubrics and feedback
  • Have students design the assessments and rubrics
  • Build more assessments for learning
  • Include multiple assessors (members of community, parents, etc.)
  • Use of rubrics with the 4 C’s
  • Listen more
  • Project-based assessment
  • Always think about what type of human you’re attempting to graduate first. Then match assessment (and learning) to those desired transformative outcomes

Learning space?

  • Flexible
  • Make every classroom a makerspace
  • Cover walls with Idea Paint
  • Ask: If we had a blank space to create a new middle school, what would it look like?
  • Collaborate with other subject areas and other classrooms in different schools
  • Flexible space with flexible, comfortable furniture
  • Spaces for: 1 student, 3 students to work together, 5-8 as a group, 15-25 as a class, 30+ for group experiments
  • Think “outside” the box. Different types of learning require different spaces
  • Involve students in designing their school spaces; visit as many other schools as possible (from both your and other school “genres”)
  • Flexible space undesignated to particular teachers
  • Space to accommodate interdisciplinary project work
  • Movable furniture, multi-purpose spaces/furniture
  • Let them choose. Support.
  • Listen to children.


  • Model for faculty: learning space use, tech, assessment
  • Distributed leadership with focus on goals
  • Develop your beginner mind
  • Hire people who are excited about your school’s definition of where mission and “innovation” meet
  • Hire for courage
  • Look for transferrable lessons and themes from other sectors’ leaders (nonprofit, social entrepreneurs, corporate world, religion, science, the arts, government, etc.)
  • Include thought leadership in your school’s definition of “leadership”
  • Stimulate your board’s thinking by continually exposing them to the ideas that excite you and your colleagues at other schools (evangelism and exposure are necessary precursor to innovative/generative thinking…which is a necessary precursor to school leadership)
  • Define your ideal outcome and (honestly!) ask, “How would you get us there? With current constraints? If you had a billion dollars?” (I bet the better, more creative answers come from the restraint-focused question). Use that question to frame interviews for prospective faculty and leadership team.

Student learning?

  • Listen to student ideas and implement them often
  • Less hour, more project-based
  • Help students engage in learning through their smart phones
  • No rows of desks
  • Student voice, student choice
  • More project-based learning. Give them their choice within subject parameters. They become the expert and make creative presentations.
  • Community issues as curriculum
  • Model school on “real-life” learning
  • Interest-based grouping; use questions from field to drive inquiry
  • Collaboration; leverage tech; students self-evaluate/group evaluate and reflect
  • Allow students to follow their passions


  • Achieve balance among:
  • The need for classes to meet regularly over the course of the year to build skills
  • The need for long classes for project work
  • The need for students to focus more deeply on fewer classes at a time
  • Flex time; block time in schedule; less traditional schedule
  • Program driving schedule, not schedule driving program
  • Listen to students’ ideas
  • Harness power of learning management sytems and other online tools to provide learning opportunities that don’t “fit” into daily schedule
  • Allow time in the day for students to reflect, process, be reinvigorated for hard thinking
  • Make schedule faculty considered but student focused

Student creativity?

  • Return again and again to big idea stimulus (chance to revisit big ideas)
  • Identify some great schools and visit
  • Listen to students
  • Student-owned learning
  • Ask questions instead of giving answers
  • Focus on process, not product
  • Maker Faires
  • Give them the opportunity to build their own support
  • Give them more—and meaningful—chances to fail