Greasing the Wheels of Innovation

In my last post, I shared some of what I learned in the Launching Innovation in Schools EdX MOOC. In that first unit, there was a description about how school leaders can help to accelerate the cycle of experiment and experience for teachers:

  1. Project 365 #96: 060411 The View From Below

    Pete. The View From Below. 2011. Public Domain license via Accessed April 7, 2017.

    Provide resources for research and development. Resources could be in the form of time, access to expertise, coaching, etc.

  2. Create conditions for team learning that get teachers to collaborate and learn from one another. This could be by utilizing protocols for looking at student work, participating in instructional rounds, etc.
  3. Ensure that there are opportunities for systemic institutional learning through teacher-led PD, more time for sharing innovative practices at meetings, etc.
  4. Develop a shared vision and common instructional language

Thus, in order to start to create a safe environment for teachers to share ideas and take risks, I wanted to share resources and begin to put processes in place.

Sharing Resources

IDEA #1: A Newsletter

Since I read a lot of blogs and come across a lot of ideas for how to integrate technology in the classroom, I often want to share these ideas with colleagues. Sometimes I email them but I don’t want to be a nuisance to people so I thought that maybe a newsletter could help.

I remembered how at ISTE 2016 I attended a session entitled: Flip Your PD: Digital Tools to Support Anytime, Anywhere Learning. Holly Gillam and Melissa Pickens shared how they use MailChimp to share ideas before faculty meetings or as follow-up to PD sessions. It made information look more interesting than in an email so I gave that a go but managing what I wanted to share lead to having too many lists to manage.

More recently I was listening to a podcast (unfortunately, I no longer know which one) that introduced me to Scott Monty’s newsletter. He regularly writes about current events and trends related to a specific list of topics. I really liked this idea providing up-to-date information about a stable list of topics and wondered if/ how I could use it at school.

I learned about the Revue newsletter creator that allows you to save links as you come across them and later assign them to specific newsletters using their Chrome Extension or iOS app. This seemed perfect! Just before March Break I used this tool to publish the first issue of my newsletter to share ideas that teachers might want to consider and linked them back to what we have stated in our ICT philosophy. I received positive reviews and published my second issue just this week.

IDEA #2: A Website

I not only want to share new possibilities with teachers but I also want to document and celebrate what is already happening in classes to support our policy and philosophy documents. At the last Face-to-Face session for Cohort21, Lisa Bettencourt shared how she was planning to create a website to visually share ideas. Ever since we developed our Technology Standards, my Integrator colleague and I have thought that we should provide links to what they could look like at different grades. A Pinterest-like website sounds like a great way to do this and is on my ToDo list!

Design Thinking Process

As referenced in previous posts, I really like the Design Thinking process – it keeps work focused in the end-user and encourages creativity. I have attempted to utilize a design thinking process with two groups I am working with.

PROCESS #1: ePortfolios

I am currently working with Primary Faculty on utilizing ePortfolios in the classroom. This has been a purposefully slow process that was begun back in June 2016. Here’s how we have utilized Design Thinking so far:

  1. Empathize/ Learn from people – last June we shared our ideas and concerns regarding digital portfolios. Throughout this school year we have been trying different platforms. Actually trying these before passing “final” judgement has been invaluable! We have shared our learning, likes and dislikes with one another at a few meetings.
  2. Find patterns – we have gathered initial feedback from teachers about what they like and what they don’t like as much about the platform they are using and continue to do so. We should also gather some student feedback…
  3. Design Principles – as we continue to learn and share, we are also narrowing our ideas around how and why we should use digital portfolios. Although we are still in the process of learning and gathering feedback, we are also trying to come to agreement about what we believe about portfolios and the criteria we should use when we make decisions about which platforms to use next year. Some thoughts shared at this week’s faculty meeting can be seen in this slideshow.
  4. Make Tangible – we will not be ready to make our proposals for at least another month but the journey to getting there is quite interesting!
  5. Iterate relentlessly – although I’d sometimes like to say that whatever we decide is the best route to go next year will mean that this job is done, I know that it will require constant reflection and revision to ensure that what we are doing is in the best interest of students and their learning as well as helping teachers.

Determining level of consensus.

PROCESS #2: Parent Support

I am currently working with a Information Technology Advisory Committee on supporting parents with technology. This has been another opportunity to work through a design-thinking process.

  1. Empathize/ Learn from people – We wanted to know “How might we build a partnership with parents to help boys develop attitudes and behaviours about using technology responsibly?” We scheduled a time to meet with our Parent Association to find out about their concerns and got some terrific input on a wide-ranging list of topics:
    • home-school communication systems
    • reliable news sources
    • touch-typing
    • note-taking
    • homework
    • social media
    • screentime
  2. Find patterns – We looked at their responses and determined which topics our group could assist with as well as who else in the school needed to know the details about each category. We thought that we could do something to support parents and their children with developing responsible attitudes and behaviours regarding social media and screentime.
  3. Design Principles – We knew that we wanted our “solutions” to:
    • ensure that communication is effective – that there is a seamless connection between home and school messages
    • improve technology skills of both parents and students
  4. Make Tangible – We did a Crazy 8s brainstorm, shared and combined ideas and   proposed 3 ideas to our Division Heads:
    • At this fall’s information evening we want to add a brief focus on technology. We feel it would be a good time to share why and how we use technology in the classroom as well as our expectations/rules regarding phones, laptops and iPads at school and why they are as they are. We also want to ensure all parents know that although students bring home leased devices they are free to set strict rules about technology use in their home.
    • We want to book a speaker for students about digital citizenship (e.g. privacy, screentime, etc.) and have age-appropriate breakout sessions to follow up. For younger students, we would start with in-class provocations about the topic and follow this with the speaker. The same speaker could also work with parents in the evening in a similar way. If we cannot find someone who caters to our needs, we would be willing to host this ourselves.
    • We want to create a video series of students teaching adults how different social media platforms work, when they use them and how they might help with schoolwork. These could be purely digital or, if we can schedule it, they could be done live and recorded for others.
    • After hearing and approving our plans, our division heads also suggested a Saturday Conference-type of event for parents that could address our curriculum more broadly (not just technology).
  5. Iterate relentlessly – on April 20 we will start to plan all of this more specifically. I am sure that there will be MANY variations on these plans!

I’m excited to see where all this takes us and am ready to continue ensuring that ideas flow between teachers.

Scott Lewis. WD40 Display. 2015. CC-licensed (BY) via Accessed April 7, 2017.

11 comments to “Greasing the Wheels of Innovation”
  1. Lara –

    This is an inspiring blog post full of a ton of great ideas as well as some real success with your action plan! Thank you for sharing.
    Your newsletter is impressive with the amount of content that it shares. Have you gotten any feedback from teachers about it since you sent it out? And how can I get on your mailing list??
    The work you are doing at your school inspires me in particular as I will be taking on a role similar to yours next year. I would love to connect further and pick your brain!


    • Congrats on your new role! Let’s chat at the F2F. I’m sure that I could add you as a newsletter subscriber… Nice to know that it looks useful to you!

      Feedback is a funny thing… I had great feedback on the first issue and crickets on the second. But one thing I have learned in this role is that teachers want options. A few years ago we offered lunchtime sessions for teachers to learn about new tools and only a few teachers took advantage of it over the course of the whole year. Yet when we surveyed teachers about what they liked about everything we were doing, there was strong support for those lunchtime sessions from the majority of teachers. I likened it to living in Toronto. I may never GO to the opera but knowing that I COULD makes all the difference.

  2. @ljensen Talk about a four part action plan! MOOC – Newsletter – E-portfolio – Parent Council –

    That great thing about these ambitious projects is that you can see a nice through line between them all. Communication and Clarity is at the heart of all these projects and you have expertly leveraged design thinking to help you in your journey towards the right e-portfolio for your school. How far along are you with that? What platforms are you testing that meet your design criteria? Have you narrowed down a few tools?


    • You have no idea how pleased I am that this throughline is apparent to anyone but me! Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

      Our ePortfolio timeline is to make a decision by June. We are still narrowing our criteria and have spent a lot of time delving into the strengths and limitations of each platform. We are trying:
      SK-1: SesameHQ
      2: Edublogs (via the EasyBlog Jr app)
      3-4: Freshgrade
      5: Powerschool
      There are certainly benefits to each and the biggest question is the built-in electronic gradebook and assessment of student work electronically… Is this age-appropriate? Should students and parents see this? Is it just for teachers?. One stand-out feature of SesameHQ is their rubrics – this is how we tend to assess in Primary and only this platform makes rubric use easy. Just yesterday, I set teacher up as students in a SeeSaw class because it felt as though we would be remiss if we didn’t explore this given it’s widespread use in PYP schools. I am really enjoying the fact that we are doing this slowly, learning from one another and exploring possibilities.

  3. Your newsletters are beautiful, and I love the connection to the school ICT Philosophy. Well done!
    I’d like to see your website for sharing classroom success & innovation when you have something up. I was surprised with the success of the simple #yorklearns hashtag on twitter when we started using it a few years ago: suddenly I was able to see all sorts of amazing student experiences happening across all grades. I hope that you’ll expand and share your website beyond the primary division for that reason – it is so nice to see the experiences happening at all ages.
    See you next week!

    • I concur! The grade 6-7 ICT Integrator and I share an office and talk about everything all the time and it had always planned to share what is happening in classrooms across the whole building but you are right, it would be amazing to flesh this out all the way up to grade 12. Must talk with Ryan Archer…

    • I concur! The grade 6-7 ICT Integrator and I share an office and talk about everything all the time and had always planned to share what is happening in classrooms across the whole building but you are right, it would be amazing to flesh this out all the way up to grade 12. Must talk with Ryan Archer…

  4. Lara, your process has been such a clearly-told story that other teachers couldn’t help but benefit from reading about it. The newsletters look great (thanks for introducing me to Revue). Have you had much feedback from teachers with their thoughts on the publications? I’m also curious to hear more about your experience implementing ICT Standards now that they have been revised and finalized. Please keep posting (and I’ll keep reading!).

    • Thanks, Adam. I shared some of the teacher feedback in my response to Jen (above).

      I’m feeling a bit like the tortoise in The Tortoise and the Hare. Implementing Standards has been a slow process… At least I’ll have something to write about in the future!

  5. Hi Lara,

    I echo the above. In particular, I’d like to celebrate your idea of involving the “professional development” of your parents. This is a growing area of focus for me, about ICT and about the shifting landscape of education as well. I’ll be sure to get on those newsletters of yours!

    See you soon,

    • Thanks for celebrating! I have lots to report back on regarding supporting parents – we’re moving ahead with several plans. I’d love to hear how you are approaching this…

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