Tag Archives: innovation leader

A New Adventure in Innovation

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Last night I had the opportunity to speak on an alumni panel to answer questions and offer advice to a group of education students who are graduating from Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College next month. Sitting in front of them, I appreciated the chance to pause and think about my own educational and professional journey since I graduated.

I have had the privilege to learn and experience so much these past few years! Each year has been different (check out this infographic) and offered its own opportunities for adventure and growth.

As I recounted to the students how I chose my master’s program in International Training and Education because I wanted to go deeper into global education and international work, I realized how much those experiences have shaped me. It was during that program that I started my own consulting business, began managing social media and websites for education clients, first traveled to Africa and then returned to help oversee the use of technology as a tool for collaboration and community building across 30 West African nations. I also started this website and launched a second one for my capstone, offering tools and research to support early childhood educators in “going global” and then taught a graduate class on technology for global learning.

That work informed my next steps in looking for a full-time position back in Philadelphia. I knew I wanted to bring together my passions for using ed tech as a tool for meaningful learning, including a strong focus on global partnerships and collaboration, and working with young children and their teachers to think critically about teaching and learning. I found the perfect mix of those passions in my job as a Lower School Technology Coordinator at Episcopal Academy.

At Episcopal, I have had the opportunity to do such exciting work with a group of amazing and dedicated faculty. They were willing to take risks over and over again, as I suggested new project ideas and ways of infusing technology into the curriculum. This work has included everything from partnering each Pre-K to 2nd grade class with a global partner in another country, to trying Google Glass in the classroom, to connecting with park rangers, paleontologists, and app developers via Skype. Faculty opened up their classrooms so I could observe their expert ways of working with students, the warm, Responsive Classroom approaches they used to build community, and the unique perspectives they bring to each area of content (and related tech integration) they teach. I had the chance to design a coding curriculum and implement a digital citizenship curriculum with their students and help create the I.D.E.A. Studio, an amazing space for Pre-K to 5th grade students to practice design thinking, work as tinkerers and makers, and use their imaginations to invent and create!

With the support of the school, I was able to further my knowledge of design thinking, making and tinkering, instructional coaching, and ed tech by attending professional development experiences like Constructing Modern Knowledge, FUSE, Google Edu Think Tanks, and the Teaching, Learning and Coaching Institute. I had the chance to present at NAIS, SXSWedu, and a variety of other conferences and also design and facilitate #EAInnovates each summer (sign-up for July 2016!).

I have grown so much through these experiences. I have become a better presenter, designer, coach, facilitator, teacher, maker, and lifelong learner. In reflecting on all of these experiences, I also know that I have so much more that I want to learn, as well as work that I want to do to make schooling and students’ educational experiences the rich, relevant, engaging, global, student-centered ones that I want for all children.

Throughout these years, my PLN has supported me and pushed me to keep growing. I want to thank all of the educators, designers, makers, and innovators across the globe who have shared resources, encouraged me to take risks and try new things, helped me lean into the challenges, and been amazing sources of inspiration! This network of friends and colleagues are the spark behind my current innovation project that I hope to release in alpha form soon.

And now, I am excited to announce that I will be starting a new adventure in innovation in the coming school year! I will be moving into a new position at the Agnes Irwin School as the Director of Middle and Upper School STEAM Innovation. I am thrilled to have this opportunity to grow in new ways and challenge myself to work with older students, in a new school context. I am looking forward to diving into new projects and collaborating on the new Innovation Team there, partnering with two other Directors of Innovation (Lower School and MS/US Humanities) next year as we work with faculty as catalysts, coaches, and collaborators.

If you’re someone who has stepped into one of these new innovation roles I would love to hear what advice you have for starting a new adventure like this!  

 

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Takeaways from Attending #SXSWedu

Scaling Innovation SXSWedu Session – Sketched by Dan Ryder

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend SXSWedu in Austin. As I sifted through my tweets and notes from the conference, I tried to look for themes and key takeaways that came up throughout my various sessions.

In general, I attended workshops, panels, and sessions focusing on innovation and specific approaches to teaching and learning (e.g., Design Thinking, PBL, maker). Here are the recurring ideas that could have a truly meaningful impact on our schools if we put them into practice:

School must BE the “real-world”

So often, we talk of preparing students for the “real-world” that they will enter after graduating high school or at least higher education. At SXSWedu, many of the discussions instead centered on the idea of students engaging in real-world problem solving and projects while they are in school.

Students are not just imagining becoming engineers and entrepreneurs nor simply learning skills that will help them to do that work one day/someday, they have become them in many schools. This shift from “playing” a maker to being one in “real-life” is a dramatic change for many educators, administrators, and school systems yet the power of being able to take an idea or a product from something that is conceived in your head to one that is available to the public is immense.

By inviting students and teachers to engage in innovative ways of teaching and learning (e.g., design thinking, making, and global collaboration), schools can become another piece of every child’s real-world experience. For example, as Amanda Kruysman said, “DT is a way to solve problems for real users & you can look to your home community for those problems.” In fact, the Design Thinking in the Humanities panel eloquently demonstrated with concrete examples from their classrooms how valuable (and feasible) it is to bring the real-world into the classroom and invite students to engage in human-centered problem-solving that not always, but many times, has far-reaching and tangible real-world results.

Stop Accepting Space Constraints

There was one important ingredient to facilitating these real-world school experiences that was raised repeatedly at SXSWedu – agile spaces. As Steelcase demonstrated with their crowdsourced poll, everyone learns and thinks differently:

So having rigid, single-use spaces that cannot shift to accommodate different learners or learning activities will inherently leave some students behind. I ran into this first-hand when trying to setup the room for our core conversation on Scaling Innovation, which was arranged in concentric circles and was not conducive to small group work.

One of the Buck Institute for Education PBL sessions I attended also addressed this issue. We spent a lot of time discussing transformational learning experiences which almost always involved addressing real-world problems. To facilitate those types of learning experiences attendees came to the conclusion that schools need spaces that support active, hands-on work, hacking, play, collaboration, and a wide variety of learner interactions. Another session focusing on holistic design also discussed making schools more flexible and agile to respond to students’ needs. In small groups, we problematized the idea of traditional roles and spaces, imagining all teachers as learning coaches and every space as a place for discovery and collaboration (e.g. Learning Stairs). Schools were re-imagined to have “neighborhoods” with centralized resources and spaces that could be responsive to change over time. Ultimately, though…

Innovation Leaders can Help 

To help the people involved in schooling change their behaviors, schools need support and guidance. One way to achieve this is to ask for help by appointing one or more educators in your school who can serve as Innovation Leaders. Lindsey Own and I led a core conversation on this topic at SXSWedu.

Our hope was to give people a process (resources here) that they could bring back to their schools and organizations to explore the question of how to scale innovation and also help everyone walk out with some concrete takeaways (i.e., challenges to scaling innovation and a job description for an Innovation Leader).

Innovation Challenges

We began by asking everyone to map what innovation currently looks like at their schools, thinking about whether it is centered around specific people/hubs and how it flows (or doesn’t) within the school. From these maps, we invited groups to pull out challenges they saw (e.g., silos, a lack of resources) and after organizing by these themes, groups worked together to dive deeper into why these challenges might exist. Using the 5 Why’s exercise and small group discussions, attendees were able to get to the root of the issues and discover what would be needed to help overcome these challenges.

The groups were then able to chart what mindsets, professional/personal qualities, experience, and team needs an Innovation Leader would require to overcome that specific challenge. Combining all of their responses together, we could see clear themes that align with with many of the ideas of other SXSWedu sessions. For example, having varied experience (e.g., working at a startup or in a specific industry) and empathy are key outcomes of the real-world experiences students should be able to have in schools and being flexible and a risk-taker are helpful when trying to re-envision learning spaces and think differently about traditional school setups. .

Final Thoughts

One of the reasons educators attend conferences like SXSWedu is to come together and hear inspiring stories and learn from amazing speakers. These stories give us hope that every student and each classroom can become a place for students to have those “wow” factor experiences that can be life changing for both students and teachers.

Just look at the stories shared by Emily Pilloton about her work in If You Build It or with nine year old girls who have learned welding and an assortment of other equally impressive, tangible skills! You’ll notice how the homework she assigned everyone is also connected to my SXSWedu takeaways and does not involve a single worksheet.

And I think Mimi Ito, in her closing, might have shared the key that we are all looking for when we come to these conferences – connected learning. She encouraged everyone to help students find a #learninghero:

Isn’t that exactly what we, as attendees, are searching for?

While I learned a lot in the different sessions I attended, the most meaningful part of SXSWedu was connecting with my tribe, the #dtk12chat colleagues and friends (Thank You!!) I knew from Twitter (but mostly never face-to-face) and the new people I connected with who are passionate about innovating and using technologies to create and connect students globally. These connections and the natural exchange of ideas, resources, and support that come with them, are the key to my own growth and learning. I think it is the hidden, unnamed link we all share as innovation leaders.

The attendees in our session did not seem to notice that their very presence in the session speaks to a powerful component of an Innovation Leader. She or he is always looking for connections and new learning heroes who can “infect them with passion and expertise” and inspire them to connect school experiences to students’ own passions and interests. In order to help students capitalize on connected learning, bringing in local and global real-world problems and reimagine what classrooms can and should look like, we need Innovation Leaders who are connected, leaders who are always looking to add one more learning hero to their network.

One of the biggest challenges raised in our Scaling Innovation session was silos, within schools and between them, but maybe we are not so siloed, we just have to help each other and our colleagues find their tribe and understand how to nurture and build upon the creative synergy that results from being part of a virtual neighborhood of learning heroes.