Tag Archives: innovation

Innovation Reality Check

I love this image created by David Carruthers during #IMMOOC because I truly subscribe to Global Teacher mindedness.

Using technology and social media to reach beyond our classroom walls is both a passion and an obsession of mine. It is also the very anchor of student Digital Leadership. But this week has really given me pause to think about not only the importance of global connectedness, but also the nature of Innovation.

I co-moderate a book club at my school and my students always want to not just read books but do something to promote a love of reading. We have been talking about sharing our love of children’s books and the students really wanted to reach out to the local daycare or local elementary school to read to the kids. Unfortunately, there seem to be lots of road blocks preventing this from happening.

That’s when I suggested that perhaps I could speak to Lorna Pitcher, from Children of Hope Uganda to see if there we could create something that would help promote the love of learning at their Uganda school and learn English. When I spoke to Lorna I was somewhat shocked at their reality:

  • the school is approximately 40 minutes away from electricity (let alone wifi)
  • the roof of their school blew away in a storm last week and they are trying to fix it so students can attend school again
  • currently, students cannot write any state exams to graduate because they need more lightening rods for their government to accept them as a school
  • they have been seeking a VCR so the students can watch some of the educational tapes that had been donated
  • shipping costs are astronomical so we would have to consider soft-cover books only for our initiative

As I scoured my house for VCR’s and set about brainstorming how we might use one of the very old iPads (which hasn’t been signed out in well over a year because it can’t be updated) in creative ways to reduce the amount of physical things we need to ship, I thought about Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, BreakoutEDU (and digital), the collaborative power of G-Suite, the ready access of Wifi at our school, and our ability to research, create, inquire, and connect with others by sharing a simple link.

What does innovation look like to the Barlonyo School? They are already doing much with so very little! They are making items to sell that go back to their communities and are making strides towards self-sustainability.

Will sending them a solar-powered speaker, a VCR, and an iPad loaded with our stories and apps that they can access without wifi and a trunk filled with books be new and better for them?  I would say, yes.

I can’t wait to hear about how excited the children are when they hear the voices of my students as they turn the pages of their new books through a solar-powered speaker. I can’t wait for my students to start creating and fundraising for this group of children who will very quickly become near and dear to them. Already they are thinking about their own privilege.

As much as we say innovation is not about technology, what we are able to do for and with our students when we use tech can be transformational.

I will be sure to update you on our project as we move forward.

Opportunities for Innovation in Traditional Classes


Last week on Twitter, there was a conversation about whether innovation was necessary in some traditional subject areas based on this criteria identified by George Couros in The Innovator’s Mindset.

I have been thinking a great deal about this because of my own experiences this week. My daughter is really enjoying her Ancient Civilization course. She really likes her teacher and she finds the ancient world; its history, culture and tradition fascinating. There is nothing new about the content in the class, so arguably, a teacher could, for the most part deliver the same content to students because that content does not change.  Is this a reason not to look for opportunities to innovate?

For her culminating activity, Sydney (grade 11) had to create a 3-panel poster board showcasing her research for her chosen topic. There was a choice of topic, but not of the way students could demonstrate their learning about the topic. On presentation day, each of the poster boards were to be displayed, and students walked around to learn about each other’s projects.

These are some of my questions:

-We had to go out and purchase a 3-panel board ($10) and then go back to print colour copies because we have run out of ink. We are often mindful of inequity when it comes to digital access, but wouldn’t a student in a single-parent or low-income family have difficulty getting out, purchasing, and assembling these items?

-The writing which was included needed to be in paragraph form–Sydney knows that her peers won’t read it when they come around, but that ultimately this writing is a requirement for the teacher. Isn’t there a better way to engage students to read the content? How can there be a more authentic audience?

-My daughter is good at creating things on the computer, but does not necessarily feel confident when it comes to “crafty” things (she comes by that honestly). She painted the board, but when she got to school she saw some students’ boards were magnificent.  Despite the fact that she felt she did a good job with the research, she felt embarrassed that the board didn’t really showcase how hard she had worked and the content she had researched because it didn’t look as beautiful as the others. On the other hand, some students who spent an inordinate amount of time decorating the board, did not have the required content and did not do well.  Wouldn’t providing choice allow students to demonstrate their understanding in a way that complements their strengths?

A few Alternatives

Inquiry-based learning

Inquiry-based learning is a student-centered approach which works well in content-heavy, traditional courses. Students engage in research about a topic, pose their own questions, refine their questions and may choose the manner in which to best present the information. This is done using a constant feedback loop and instruction is given as needed. A starting question might be, “Where do we see the influence of the Ancient (Mayan, Greek, Egyptian, etc…) on modern day_______ (Literature, politics, architecture, culture, etc…)?” In this way, even if two students choose the Mayan civilization, their projects would be completely different from one another and they can see how the ancient world has had an impact on them.

I used Getting Started with Inquiry as a springboard when I facilitated professional learning around inquiry, but there are lots of resources out there that help teachers move to this model. The difference in this approach is that students take ownership of their learning.

Choice board

Even when teachers don’t use an inquiry-based learning model, a choice board is a good alternative which allows students to select the way in which they would like to demonstrate their learning.  Typically, there is a Free Choice in which students can propose an alternative assignment. What is great about this is it provides students with ideas, while allowing flexibility. Below is an example from a Science class shared with me by Ryan Imgrund.

With this framework, the teacher really helps students ensure they are making a choice which will be sufficiently challenging for them, and also helps to support the research. Most importantly, students can then reflect on whether or not they had made the right choice (metacognition), which allows for growth and learning.

Interestingly, my daughter found a Youtube channel by a teacher, Mr. Nicky, who creates parodies for Ancient History songs. She shared it with her class. This could have easily been a choice for students; it would have been hard work, but also a fun and creative way to demonstrate learning.

Breakout EDU & Breakout EDU Digital

I am a huge fan of Breakout EDU and I’ve written about it before. It’s great to see more and more teachers  bringing these into classes for students to play–they LOVE it!   I am currently co-creating a Breakout EDU digital game with Kim Pollishuke, for an upcoming TVO webinar, and it reminded me how very valuable (and rather simple) it would be for students to create a BreakOut game (digital or physical) as a culminating activity.  So much of the critical thinking happens during the creation of the game. Creating a game would show how students are able to apply what they’ve learned in a course and students can play each other’s games to learn about other topics . It would be challenging, but deep learning often is; and the games can be used for exam review, shared widely with other classes, and used in the future for teaching and learning, so there is an inherent authentic audience. Justin Birckbichler and Mari Venturino have a resource page that would help with ideas for how to present the clues, but students would have to have a good knowledge of content in order to create a good game. To me, this is an ideal way for students to move beyond the memorization of facts.

Other ideas

Check out Nicholas Provenzano’s plan to use Snapchat with the classic novel, Huckleberry Finn here.

There are some good suggestions in this post by Alice Keeler, “Easy ways to Upgrade your lesson from 1900 to 2017”. (Math focus)

As you can see from this post, I think there are opportunities for Innovation in ANY classroom in ANY subject.  Searching for new and better ways to deliver traditional content and to have students understand it, are necessary in today’s classroom.  Yes, at its heart it is good pedagogy–that’s how you know it’s not just new and flashy and shallow. Looking for BETTER ways to invoke deep learning is what I think we need to move towards.

Would love your feedback! How are you looking for opportunities to innovate in courses that are traditionally very content-heavy? What resources do you find helpful?

A Narrative Reel

I just happened to have a conversation with a student yesterday who went to Centro Scuola (an overseas summer school program with the York Catholic District School Board) which reminded me of one of my former students who had done that and who is now in California working in Film.  I popped over to send him a hello message on Facebook and saw this “Narrative Cinematography Reel” by his Facebook friend, Howard Wan.  I have never met Howard before, but I was intrigued by this concept (which is apparently a thing in the film industry) and my teacher brain couldn’t help but think of how we could use this idea as a metacognitive reflection in grade 8, a diagnostic in grade 9 and a culminating activity in grade 12; a different kind of Digital Portfolio.

Because I’m on a committee to help with our PA Day coming soon, I’ve been thinking of innovation and in particular this definition which I’ve taken from George Couro’s Innovator’s Mindset (pgs 19-20):

Innovation is a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” (a change of something that already exists).

Technology can be crucial in the development of innovation, but innovation is less about tools and more about how we use those tools.

What to do with all of the files

Yesterday, I worked with grade 9 students to show them how to organize their Google Drive (we use Google Apps for Education).  Many of them had used their Google Drive for grade 7 & 8 and asked what they were going to do with their “Elementary” file folder.  The answer yesterday was nothing.  But today, when I saw Howard’s Narrative Reel, I got to thinking…

How can we do better?

Rarely do we have the opportunity to truly know a student when they come to us in grade 9. We often rely on an All About Me activity or something like that which truthfully becomes a bit stale when we are asking kids to do this year after year. In fact, I remember one group of students reflecting on how they wished teachers would just talk to each other so they wouldn’t have to keep “introducing themselves” to teachers in the same way every year.

With the increase in what students can now save digitally they can easily compile the “best of” and like Howard Wan’s Narrative reel, create a digital reel of highlights of their elementary years using actual artifacts from their Google Drive.  That way, a grade 9 teacher can not only get a sense of a student’s interests, but so too get insight as to a child’s strengths and needs based on their past work and experiences.

What about Grade 12?

In Ontario, as part of the English Curriculum, there is a Media Strand whereby the creation of media products is an expectation. Wouldn’t creating a Narrative Reel for highlighting their high school achievements make a useful and meaningful media product they could use to add to an About Me page or Digital Portfolio and that they could take with them to the world of work or post-secondary?  By grade 12, students would have been exposed (hopefully) to a variety of digital storytelling tools so they could choose the best tool to tell their story.

What are some other ideas you have for tweaking an existing project or assignment to make it more meaningful or authentic for your learners?



How might we measure Innovative Practice?

innovative practice

Monitoring and measurement are things that I know I am supposed to do in my role as Literacy Consultant, but it is something I find the most difficult to do.

In a recent collaborative inquiry with teachers on inquiry-based learning, my colleague Sonia Racco and I tried to come up with a pre and post tool that was formatted similar to OSSLT questions.  One question asked students to create a question, the next asked them to summarize the main idea, and the third asked them to make a connection.  We used a graphic text.  And when we set out to do this, it seemed reasonable enough…

And yet, by the end of the inquiry, teachers had really moved in their understanding of inquiry-based learning and had tried it out in their own classrooms.  They brought student questions to the table and when we looked at them together, teachers and students were asking good questions, were engaged in critical thinking, and were genuinely interested in learning.  Students also created some really neat artefacts of their learning which we shared at one of our sessions.

And we decided that giving the post-diagnostic in the format we had given the pre-diagnostic did not make sense.  Because what mattered to us was the fact that teachers and students were engaged in a learner-centered process of learning and felt more comfortable with the stages of inquiry-based learning.

Measure Innovation

And so I struggle with the idea of assessing innovative practice.  If we are using standardized test measurements to determine “success” of a school community in 2016, are we missing the point entirely?  What are some more powerful measures of success? How can we convince parents that these measures are more valuable than report card marks and test scores?  How can we convince other stakeholders?

I go back to my What Ifs from another #InnovatorsMindset Blog Hop and can’t help but think that we do have the tools and the creativity to make a shift in practice here.

What if, we used technology tools such as Explain everything or iMovie (insert any other similar tool here) to capture the learning reflections and thinking of students and shared these as artifacts with the wider community?

What if instead of a Fraser Report, the true report of a successful school could be told through the voice of a student?  And not just a student on a Council, but a student in grade 9 applied or grade 12 open?  A dis-engaged grade 7 student?

What if the school climate exit cards could be captured in video reflections and garnered as much credence as the formulaic exit cards Districts are currently collecting?  Can school climate be measured by how happy kids are? how interested they are in their learning? How effectively they can read, write, represent, create, think critically?

I already see video reflections being used as a means to capture learning and reflection at several levels.  I see George Couros modelling this during in his work with teachers and administrators.  (Check out #LDSBCollaborate and the video reflections there) . I see Jen Hegna, Director of Information and Learning Technology for Byron Public Schools in Minnesota use video reflections to capture the learning experiences of teachers and students in her District to create a Board report summarizing a 1:1 iPad initiative.  I see the 21st Century learning branch of Ontario creating a resource for what technology-enabled learning looks like in classrooms across the province (of which I am honoured to be a part).  I see principals such as Doug Timm creating video newsletters for his parent community.   And I see it in classrooms whereby children beginning in Kindergarten are explaining their thinking and learning and this learning is being shared with parents to change the conversation around, “What did you do in school today?”.

Rethinking our assessment practices is not impossible; it just requires a shift in what we value as a true gauge of what innovation and learning looks like.

Check out these other blogs on the topic.  What I love about them is how each have approached the topic so differently!

Leigh Cassell

Donna Fry

Tina Zita

Mark Carbone

Amit Mehrotra

Stacey Wallwin

Lisa Noble

What are your ideas about how we might assess innovative practice?  Add your blog URL to the OSSEMOOC Blog Hop or feel free to comment here.



What if…

What if

What if we believed that everything that we had to make great schools was already within our organization, and we just needed to develop and share it? (Couros 117).

This is the first What If, in George Couro’s list in the Innovator’s Mindset and is the one that keeps me up at night, because believing this is true and actually moving to action are two very different things.

Primarily, I think that a completely under-utilized resource; that which could move our schools from good to great and which can easily begin tomorrow is the inclusion of student voice.  And I’m not talking about exit surveys or the occasional opportunity for students to contribute to the school community in clubs or assemblies.  I’m talking about providing students with opportunities for autonomy and self-direction; to provide them with leadership in their learning.

What if…Student voice meant that students co-learned with teachers?

What if this was embedded in professional learning?  Christy Cate, a member of our Innovator’s Mindset Voxer group shared how kids got involved in a professional learning opportunity completely by accident, but because it was such a powerful learning experience they repeated it the following year.  In my own District,  we’ve seen a school organize a Student Ed Tech Day in which each class in the school came down and learned from students in grades 3-8.

We have also made a point of including student ignites at our Ed Tech Event and Ed Camp.  The teachers are often amazed by the passion, poise, and depth of the student presentations.  In the case of our EdCamp, one of our students, Aidan Aird even led a learning session about incorporating STEM.

And just yesterday, the 21C team in my District hosted a Student Ed Tech day in which students and teachers learned and planned together for an entire day, with the opportunity to continue conversations via a virtual class.  Students from the neighbouring high school came and led student teams, but also helped to plan and facilitate some of the sessions.  Everywhere you turned, students and teachers were learning from each other.  It was incredibly powerful and inspiring!

What if including students in professional learning was the norm, not the exception?  If we know that such experiences can be so powerful, what is stopping us from doing this tomorrow?

What if…Student voice also meant

that students could take the curriculum expectations, direct the way in which they learned those expectations, and “grade” their own abilities with the constant feedback of their teacher?   This weekend I spoke to Jonathan So about how grade 6 students in his class are doing just that as he explained how his class has gone gradeless.

We know that grades shut down learning? We have the means to change this?

Why don’t we?

As George Couros suggests, “In a place where every learner is encouraged to reach his or her dreams, these “what ifs” can become reality.”  What are we afraid of?

As always, I love reading the other posts in our blog hop!  Add your What Ifs to the comments, on Twitter, or submit your own blog post or read others on the OSSEMOOC site. We’ve got 16 of them so far! Check a few of them out below.

Katie Martin

Mark Carbone

Peter Cameron

Stacey Wallwin

Donna Fry

Tina Zita

Lisa Noble

Darren Lukenbil

Patrick Miller

Leigh Cassell

Reimagining School


A few years ago I was invited into a classroom where students were asked to reimagine school for a project in their Business class.  They had some interesting ideas including a portfolio that would accompany them from year to year, student ed-tech teams to support teachers and students to integrate technology effectively, and a committee to bring student ideas to the forefront.  That was then and I can happily report that all of these things are happening in some shape or form at my District today.  But what I found interesting, was that their suggestions were not as radical a re-imagining as I had expected.

In fact when, for the purposes of this blog-hop post for our Innovator’s Mindset Book Club,  I asked my daughters and my nephew what they thought, they didn’t really have much to contribute either.  Could it be that they are so fixed on their reality of what “school” is that they can’t even imagine anything different?

Tools of the Future

Here is my moonshot thinking as of this moment in time around what I would do if I was creating a school from scratch.

Physical Learning Spaces

When I was at the FETC summit, Tom Murray spoke to the Cemetary effect.  I hadn’t really thought of that before, but since then, I can’t help but get the image of the cemetary out of my head.  In my school reimagining physical learning spaces would be a priority.  The building itself would have tall windows so lots of light could get in.  The atrium would have real plants, flowers, and a garden maintained by classes.  Classrooms would have moveable furniture that would allow a teacher to configure the classroom differently based on what was happening in the class.  Chairs would be comfortable.  Each classroom would have a reading nook with bean bag chairs as well as a lab with a sink for hands on experiments,  an area for Chromebooks or laptops and a “recording studio” with green screen off to the side for classes to sign out when needed.  There would be study carols for indivdual work and work pods with whiteboard desks for collaborating.

Structures & Timetable

We typically have elementary and secondary schools.  I would love to have a K-12 school where authentic mentorship opportunities could arise for older students, and younger students could benefit from the time and modelling of the older students.  And if a 7 year old wants to join a class that is technically not at “grade level”, I would encourage that to happen.

We also know that teens do better with a later start-time, so the start times would be earlier for the young children and later for the teens.

Collaborative Culture

Working with your peers is essential to the sharing of good ideas.  Currently teachers workrooms are distinct rooms and so opportunities to have cross-discipline conversations are minimal.  In some schools, teachers even eat lunch in their Departments.  I would have a great big open space for teachers to work and plan.

We would creatively timetable so that there was at least two hours a week within the school day for teachers to come together to learn together, ask questions together, and plan together.

Essential Questions, Inquiry, Design Thinking

Because information is so readily available today, instruction would be centered around essential questions and big ideas in the curriculum in a very student-centered classroom.  Students would engage in inquiry-based learning and design thinking pursuing areas of interest  Rich learning tasks will give students the opportunity to pose their own problems and have choice and voice.  Students in this school environment don’t just aspire to be leaders, they are BEING leaders by solving real authentic problems in the context of school.  STEAM & Makerspaces would be a part of every child’s experience.

Technology Enabled

My ideal school would be 1:1 (this after some very convincing conversations via our Innovator’s Mindset Voxer group).  Equity of access should not be an issue.  This is not to say that there won’t be opportunities for collaboration and creativity that do not centre in any way around technology, just that if students need to use it, they can.

A Culture of Yes

I really agree with Couro’s point in Chapter 4 of the Innovator’s Mindset that saying yes when it comes to the best interests of our learners creates a culture of of trust. Along this vein, I heard Pam Moran  at FETC speak about how she said yes to creating a Treehouse in the cafeteria; she listened to the kids and helped to make it happen.   They use a YELP framework which I really like:

Get to YES

Engage Team  

Leverage Resources  


When I look at this list, I wonder how many of these things are actually possible to do right now, with very little additional resources?

Check out what these other Ontario Educators have to say about what their school would look like:

Paul McGuire

Amit Mehrotra

Patrick Miller

Donna Miller Fry

Leigh Cassell

Stacey Wallwin

Tina Zita

Mark Carbone

And feel free to add your own post here!


What does Innovation Mean to You?


(image via Tina Zita)

We decided to do a blog hop as per Tina Zita’s suggestion, as a sort of Minds On before we gather for our first online discussion of George Couros’, Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity.  We are all beginning with the concept of innovation and what it means to us.

Couros references Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, who says,

“Innovation is the process by which we change the world…It’s the practical application of ideas and technologies to make new and better things” (19).   

Couros then adds that “innovation isn’t about tools or things, but more about how we use those things” (20).

Both those ideas really resonate with me.

Innovation to me looks like…

To me, this kind of innovation happened on January 28th with EdCamp Global.  The idea of an EdCamp which has up to now been for and about educators, was shaken up and turned inside out when the audience AND oftentimes facilitators were students from around the world.  In one of the sessions called, “The Games We Play,” Fran Siracusa organized teachers from Spain, Italy, France, the US, and a good friend of mine from Ontario, Rob Cannone, in an interactive session led primarily by the students.  This was not only empowering for the teachers involved, but for the students who basically took the reigns of their own learning.  Check out the padlet here with all of the students explaining how to play their favourite game.

Yes, technology such as Padlet, Google Hangouts, Kahoot were being used but these were all secondary to the value of the connections, the leadership of the students, the communication skills they practiced, and the valuable learning about other cultures and the games they play.  It was an experience that those kids will remember when they reflect back on their grade 5 & 6 year, and even now, another connection between those classes is being planned.

Kudos to the dedicated and forward-thinking organizers, for their innovative vision, and for the teachers who took a leap of faith and really showcased an innovative mindset by providing “optimal learning experiences for their students” (20).

In my own professional learning journey, I took a leap this summer and joined a Voxer group.  For those of you that have never heard of it, it is a walkie-talkie app that allows for the sharing of links, images, but most especially, the ability to share ideas through dialogue.  I’m sure Voxer was never intended to be a tool for education, and yet there are lots of educator Voxer groups created out of a common interest.  One principal, Greg Bagby shared that he uses Voxer as a way for his teachers to communicate with each other during bus dismissal because they don’t have walkie talkies for each of their staff members.  This has solved so many practical issues for them. To me, this is yet another example of innovation.

I have created a Voxer group to complement our Innovator’s Mindset Book Club.

Join me if you enjoy talking out loud to people about a passage that resonates or like to have a conversation with someone or share an idea prompted by what you’ve read.  Or if you are just getting used to Twitter and don’t know that you are ready for a Twitter chat. Or perhaps you are just interested in moving outside of your comfort zone to learn something new?

We will begin with your own ideas about what innovation means to you, and talk about the book as we read it. We will share images, quotes, anecdotes, resources, and stories.  Download the app and contact jencasatodd@gmail.com to be added to the group.

What does Innovation Mean to You?

I am excited to read about what my peers say innovation means to them and I love that they are all so different!

Why not hop on over to their blogs and check them out:

Tina Zita

Leigh Cassell

Stacey Wallwin

Donna Fry

Paul McGuire

Patrick Miller

Mark Carbone

There are more here Read the other posts or submit your own answer to the question via your own blog post.  And don’t forget to check out our first online discussion on February 9th at 8 pm.


Innovative Change: FETC Executive Leadership Summit 2016

Last week I had the privilege of attending an Executive Leadership Summit organized by Jennifer Womble and hosted by Tom Murray and Eric Sheninger, along with George Couros who played an integral role in the learning over the two days.   The summit itself is an invitation-only event which occurs prior to the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando, Florida.  It is designed to bring thought leaders from across the US and other countries together to talk Education: this year’s theme: Innovating Education for the Future.  Because I was accepted to the summit and subsequently to the conference, I chose to take a personal leave to attend;  I’m certainly glad I did.

As is the case with connected learning today, many people from my District and province (Ontario) followed the #fetcexe hashtag to learn virtually which I highly recommend you do even now!  My reflection here represents a consolidation of the big ideas and my own learning from this incredible event.


Building a Culture of Innovation–George Couros

Big idea: Everything you need to innovate and transform learning can be found in your own District, you just need to tap into it.

To me, an effective keynote is one that inspires, entertains, but ultimately is thought-provoking and challenges thinking.  Despite having seen Couros speak several times (he spent time at our District last Spring), he never fails to make me laugh, cry,  and push my thinking. He expertly weaves his own experiences while sharing examples of innovation and transformation which he sees in his work with schools.  The first day, George set up the “why” with his keynote on Building a Culture of Innovation and then on the second day, he set up the “how” very effectively by having us engage in guided conversation based on some his prompts & examples. His keynote served as the foundation for many of the conversations and subsequent presentations throughout the summit.

He also had us engage in an activity around competitive collaboration which I am totally stealing and using in my next Professional learning session!

Couros had me thinking about:

  • a few of the ways we can make the good work happening in pockets in our District go viral
  • the dramatic impact on actions and decisions at every level that would happen if everything we did began with student learning at the centre
  • how technology can be tranformational in the hands of a good teacher
  • ways to build collaboration and connections within our organization
  • how the 8 things to look for in today’s classroom can provide a user-friendly framework for innovative change

Here is a copy of the guiding questions  with accompanying resources he provided which will serve useful for our own conversations back home in the coming weeks and months.

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 5.36.30 PM

Reimagining Learning Spaces–Pam Moran and Ira Socol

Big Idea: Do you change the learning experience or the learning space first?  Like the chicken & the egg:  Does it matter if you end up with a chicken?  

Pam Moran, Superintendent and Ira Socal, Director for Innovation & Ed Technology, Albemarle County PS spoke about Creating an Innovative School Culture by focusing on these elements: Invention (curiosities questions ideas that fuel creative rapid prototyping),  Innovation (scaling creativity as prototypes across the system), Strategic (moving creativity into systems-thinking), and Operational (embedding creative solutions into expected practice).

They used a YELP framework:


Get to YES

Engage Team  

Leverage Resources  


From transforming distinctive offices for Central Staff, to reimagining libraries and hallways, Albermarle believe that different spaces for learners can be transformative for learning.  They even built a Treehouse in the Cafeteria!  Most of us agreed that having a Superintendent as open to the diverse ideas posed by students is remarkable and goes a long way towards making change.  Their presentation can be found here.

Leading Change with Less–Dwight Carter

Big Idea: Instead of doing something brand new, do something better.–Rastor Joel Kovacs

Carter focused a great deal on the ways in which relationships impact his role as principal, a nice complement to the ideas posed by Couros earlier in the day.  He says, “You can’t grow them until you know them.”  His talk focused primarily on How to Lead Change with Less:

  • Be Compassionate-Relationships Matter
  • Communicate Concretely/Succinctly
  • Reexamine Your Vision
  • Think Different (Innovate/Reinvent)
  • Collaborate at all levels

Carter shared  a few of the innovative ideas being implemented at his school including the fact that every senior at his school asks someone to give them their diploma, as well as the fact that the student body is organized into houses (yes, like in Harry Potter) for building community.   His idea that, “the teaching cycle is not complete until students learn,” also really resonated.

IT Panel Discussion

Big Idea:  IT works in the service of student learning

It was awesome to hear IT Directors speak about the fact that they serve learners first! Some of the choices often made by IT Departments don’t necessarily subscribe to that!  Equity of access for students once they go home has always been a concern for me and so I was really interested in hearing about the many partnerships school Districts are making with business and community partners to increase opportunities for access to wifi outside of school.  Here are  some examples.

Future Ready Schools–Tom Murray

Big Idea: Is your school or District Future Ready?

Murray, a champion for the Future Ready movement in the U.S. showcased many examples of how schools are embracing innovative ideas and changing learning environments for kids.  He spoke of the cemetary effect by projecting an image of a cemetery, juxtaposed with a classroom: it was quite eerie.  His presentation showcased some of the innovative ways schools are transforming learning environments for students, including this example from Elizabeth Forward High School.

In particular, I really appreciated learning about the Future Ready Schools initiative and the links to the resources and Framework; an incredible resource for any District in any country.  Check it out here.

Here is a link to all of the resources from the summit.

If you are a leader in your school or District, I urge you to apply to next year’s Executive Leadership Summit @FETC.  If it’s anything like this year’s experience, it will be a great investment of your time.

As for the rest of the FETC conference, I learned lots, but most importantly connected with so many amazing educators; many of whom I’ve known only virtually.  That’s what it’s all about though, isn’t it?


A local innovation project: St. Jerome’s SPLICE week

As much as I was impressed by the innovation I saw at ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia, there is a local project that I’d like to highlight in my District that is just as powerful as some of initiatives I saw showcased there.

Ingredients for Success

  • 1 highly motivated Intermediate teacher-team willing to try something completely different
  • 1 administrator supporting the initiative and removing barriers that might impede success
  • 1 collaborative peer group exploring ePortfolio and the All About Me Portfolio
  • 2 dashes of inspiration (Bishop Strachan‘s similar initiative & George Couros’ presentation @YCDSB talking about Innovation week at Parkland School Division in Alberta)
  • 1 bunch of  grade 7/8 students using their creativity and passion as inspiration

Bake for 1 full week.  Result is an amazing learning opportunity for students!

Marisa Benakis and Brad Blucher, two intermediate teachers at St. Jerome Catholic Elementary School decided to drop everything in order to create a unique learning experience for their intermediate students.  In order to do this, they needed and got support from their Intermediate team and administrator, Michele Reume who gave them the go-ahead to eliminate all other subject periods.  This meant that the whole school day for one full week would be entirely devoted to this self-directed learning opportunity.  I’m not sure what SPLICE stands for exactly, but the learning initiative was awesome!

Goals of SPLICE (as articulated in the student handout)

  • To learn more about a topic that interests you
  • To push your creativity and innovative thinking skills
  • To reflect upon yourself as a learner and the learning process
  • To communicate your learning and experiences to others

Students could research or create absoultely anything of their choice and could work independently or up to groups of three.  Most importantly, they had to capture the process in a reflection and share the learning with their peers.

These are just a few of the presentations I was privileged to see:

  • A student created an All About Me scrapbook and showcased the process in film
  • A group of students built a marshmallow launcher (after unsuccessfully trying to create a potato launcher)
  • A student painted a canvas and created an accompanying short story

Many more projects can be seen in this storify.


One of the questions that is a burning one for educators is, how can you possibly assess or evaluate a project like this?  Well, Benakis and Blucher addressed this in two ways.  Firstly, students were evaluated on the quality of their oral presentation.  And though you might be wondering, what if a student isn’t strong orally,  I can assure you that when a student is presenting a project that is meaningful and personal to them, this is a non-issue.

There is also an explicit focus on Assessment AS Learning through these guided questions:

  • What did you learn about yourself as a creator?
  • What was difficult? What was interesting?
  • What would you do differently?

When we chatted later, we agreed that if we really wanted to go into the Curriculum to evaluate the project, we would likely find lots of curriculum connections.

Connections to the Individual Program Pathways, All About Me Portfolio

Both Benakis and Blucher are involved in a District  pilot exploring ways in which to implement the Creating Pathways to Success Policy Document; more specifically helping students address these four areas:  Who Am I? What do I want to Become? What are my Opportunities? What is my plan for achieving my goals?

Ed Career Poster smaller

Many other teachers in that collaborative pilot, led by Michelle Bulger, Ines DiTullio, and Patricia Zaroski are providing students with unique opportunities to explore these questions.

Interested in hosting your own Innovation or SPLICE week?

Contact @marisabenny or @blucherclass  They are so passionate about the project and its success, they would be willing to assist anyone who is interested in trying it!

Jesse McLean, @jmclean77 , of the Parkland Public School District in Alberta, generously shares his resources here.  He too is excited for schools to realize the benefits of an Innovation week project.




Learning with George Couros