Why not set up your own Innovation Zone?

I’m proposing that some of the teachers I know think seriously about setting up an “Innovation Zone” at their school.

Several state departments of education now have Offices of Innovation (or a variation). Those that I know of include Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan and Oregon.

The basic idea is to do what Gene Wilhoit (former Commissioner of Education in KY and former director of CCSSO) referred to as “wrapping a bubble around” a teacher or a project.

We used this concept at East Jessamine High School where I was principal when we first abandoned the Carnegie Unit a decade ago. Though details have changed, they haven’t adhered to Carnegie Unit “minutes” since! (Why tie learning to time, right?)

The reality of it is, that besides those things that are set in stone from the feds (and some from the state), exemptions can be granted for a wide variety of things. Think about grading policies, curricula, even amount of time necessary to earn a credit (Carnegie Unit). If you are considering performance-based grading, take a look at what is being done with “digital badges”, using Mozilla software.

Many times we think that because something is a department or school ‘policy’ that there is no way around doing it — when actually there is! But it won’t happen if you don’t ask. And when you ask, make sure you have thought through what you are doing, how it will affect things, what a backup plan might look like (you can probably revert to what you were doing before).

My suggestion is that you start with something small, but something truly innovative — something that will probably require permission. Don’t try to do something department-wide, or even school-wide. Just because you are ready to tackle something doesn’t mean everyone else in your department or school is — it doesn’t even mean that anyone is.

I have seen innovative things fail in schools quite often — and there is always much to be learned in failure. When things fail it is often for one of two reasons. One is that everything else in the department or the school must align to it in order for it to succeed, and the other is that the innovation is seen as a threat by others to what they are doing, or their employment in some cases — and that will bring the opponents out of the woodwork to shut it down.

So think about it — what do you really wish you could do with/for your students to help accelerate their learning?

Remember, NETWORK for support. Discuss your ideas on FB or with others in your social media network. Ask for their suggestions, their experiences, what they learned by doing something similar (whether is was a success or “failure”). Of course, feel free to contact me personally as well. Run an idea past me, or ask if I know of others doing something similar.

Finally, it would be very difficult to believe that your innovation would be something that could cause irreparable harm to your students. Besides, that’s why you have a backup plan.
Be courageous for your students! Be an example to them.

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