EduCon 2.3 Panel Discussion – Can Schools Support Student Innovation?

Photo courtesy of Kevin Jarrett

Sunday morning at EduCon 2.3 at SLA begins with a panel discussion about the ability of schools to support student innovation.

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Zach Chase, English Department, SLA leads the discussion about schools supporting innovation. Standing room only ~ this unconference was booked full weeks ago.

How do we foster student innovation?


Photo courtesy of Kevin Jarrett

Sam: feeling the pulsing energy from this conference. Why isn’t every education conference in a school? We should go into the classroom and be in the location. Best way: create the optimal environment for learning–to reflect deeply on and decide what the core characteristics of profound learning. Ground what we know is powerful learning in your experience, in/outside of school. Core attributes: most power learning environment is challenging, engaging, revelant to learner, experiential and supportive. We gain support and clarity by knowing we are doing this together.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Jarrett

Kathleen: feels like she has found a new tribe that is teaching her this weekend. Student innovation perplexes Kathleen because she isn’t found of the innovation word and student seems another word for learning. From a different perspective, the students, what does it take to get really good at something. What are students are really good at, how did they develop that thing, what was difficult, how they got past the hard thing, and who they looked to for exemplars. When they felt their strength, what made them want to push on to something else. Simultaneously, students took these same questions to adults. Research on expertise development shows that both adults and students follow the same process to becoming highly accomplished. Across fields and educational levels, people go through the same process to expertise development. How students innovate depends on where they are in their journey to expertise, to feeling confident and supported in the endeavor.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Jarrett

Karl: liked seeing some of his teachers in the audience. Like Kathleen, Karl struggles with the phrase. It begins with listening, saying yes, and connecting to students’ passions. The more we can move out of their way by not rubricing them to death, they will be innovative. We need to get out of their way.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Jarrett

Linda: students’ innovation = having the skills to pursue their passions. Creation, building, playing, collaborating. The job of the principal is to make time for teachers to be innovate, think deeply, explore their passions, have funding to pursue the result of collaboration. Linda is terrified by current educational policies, the “race to the top,” to what? Linda doesn’t like the competition. Creativity is the language of play. The country is in a schism between have and have not. Poor kids of color do not have the language of creativity. Every urban school must have the arts in them and it must be taught the same sequential integrated way that core subjects are. Shame on your if you don’t, because you will not change the world just by being right brained.


Photo courtesy of Kevin Jarrett

Chad: a practicing scientist in public and private spheres of influence. Private sector: knowledge, skills, and abilities are the key concepts. See something outside the box. The vertex where these things converge is the creative mind. Artists and scientists share that creativity. Problems and solutions. Ways to think about the problems. The “good” schools foster the creative mind and give students the abilityto thrive in their sphere. Don’t choose their sphere but empower them to choose. Schools need to create safe spaces to foster creativity.

How much are we building new things?

Photo courtesy of Kevin Jarrett

Sam: not surprised that the scientist on the panel is a musician as well. The core proposition of creating a democratic learning environment is hitching your star to the most commonly held goal. Look back and look forward. We are an aspirational nation, not to say we have lived up to it. Who holds self-evident truths? Who are Americans? Your standing in the civic order is not by kinship or ethnicity but trying to live up to the original aspiration goal. You look back to reorient what the goal is and forward to get to the goal. What we have to do in the classroom: making sure students have the skills to pursue their passions, what Linda mentioned. We have to clearly articulate the common goal, the mission statement, the aspirational goal of the school. Allow the educational community to develop a voice; you succeed if as a community you think through understanding, motivation, and skill sets and each person–students and teachers–examines this daily. And that is the key thing progressive educators get wrong. We don’t look at understanding in democratic communities. We want to empower our students but abdicate our authoritative responsibility as a moderator. If we abdicate our responsibility, we are long on freedom and short on responsibility. Freedom with responsibility in the classroom is the right focus for looking back and looking forward.

In talking about learning, at what point when students get good do they begin to create?

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Kathleen: we are our students’ coaches, so we are positioned to answer the question about where that student’s thinking lies in the world of thinking in a continuum. The coach has the sense of where extraordinary and new is happening. Coaching and motivation: how do you instill it? If you ask anybody how they first wanted to do something, they will tell you their motivation began with value. Where does the value come from? Either a relationship, an emotional spark/event, very often from a relationship with an adult or someone admired or your feeling inside yourself that you might be able to do the thing itself, given opportunity and someone to support your first steps. You do not have to admire the activity, but rather want to be with the person doing the activity, followed by the expectation that you can do it. All this comes back to the people in our lives. Technology is not the most important thing but the person who can show you how to use the technology in a warm friendly mentoring way. We are all here for the relationships, connecting Twitter (and Facebook) meetings with f2f. Begin to think of where relationships and opportunities for step-by-step empowerment are. Find the person for the next step for motivation and innovation.

In the classroom, what are the ways innovation is encouraged?

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Karl: 23 years teaching, 1st year back after a 14 year hiatus. Teaching algebra requires a defined set of skills with standards-based grading. Opportunities for mastery but not tons of opportunities for innovation. The content-delivery part of class Karl is delivering by offloading out-of-class instruction, so the defined part of class can continue with space for ownership (RICO–Linda’s book). It is a work in progress, but goes back to opening the classroom and pointing the students in the right direction.

Arts ask us to create. How do find the balance between skills and creation?

Linda: believes math and science are the most creative subjects. In math students do an angle dance, harder than you think and not soft. Ask students to connect and express the theory through the arts. Look back at the nexus of math/science and the arts and see how two disciplines can solve the problem of where we’re at. Kids need to know on whose shoulders they stand. Make connections to who has come before them, be able to cite them, and then ensure students deliver something new.

What’s the first big hurdle in delivering content in unserved populations and how do you overcome that hurdle?

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Chad: had to deal with confrontations with other people’s expectations since he was an African-American. Black and brown students will live up to your expectations, whether the environmental signals or good or bad. They will respond to it. If by teenagers the system has lowered their expectations of themselves, they will be combative because of the assumptions that come with a minority inside the majority. The minority who has survived that majority’s climate has a major challenge from both communities. So, it’s about creating your own intellectual framework and the physics of your reality. From the perspective of African Americans and Latinos, they have had to respond to an environment that has not been friendly; demystify the processs and give them the tools for self-esteem. There is no special way to teach Black kids; algebra is fundamental and Arabic, not Black. Let these students inside the framework. Empower them. Ratchet up the expectations for students, and begin engagement in elementary school that is open, positive, and challenging.

Educators feel frustrated by a lack of freedom because they exist in a system that is not that free. So, for educators who feel stifled, how do you create systemic change?

Chad: Eliminate the gap and construct the environment for teachers to come along with their students. Teachers should work alongside of real engineers and change the high school level. Prepare them so they can PBL.

KJarrett’s Photo

Linda: From STEM to STEAM in Boston, focusing on the arts. Ask for forgiveness, not permission. Change must come from within. Charters will challenge public schools, but fighting from within is critical. When you get the math teachers on your team, change will happen because they have summer opportunities to work with professionals (where the money is) to create change.

Karl: disagrees as a math teacher. Education is local and global; the big suburban high school isn’t going away. Teachers need more freedom. They often approach that by going under the radar and we get good at that.

KJarrett’s Photos

Kathleen: change comes from within and control is the policy-making paradigm. Disrespectful from policy makers but sometimes from adults in school. Use Dan Pink’s expression and flip it. Change the adults’ relationships to learning from students by asking them questions. Likes “tell me more” in classroom discussions of understanding students’ existing strengths and difficulties. Involve the students in a discussion of what supports are lacking. 1:1 access is lacking in so many schools. We need to connect our students with accomplished adults for supports within our networks. It’s a small personal thing that can make a huge difference in a student’s life, whether they get to and stay in college. Get political. If we don’t say, “this is impossible for poor kids,” then we are not active citizens if we do not tell policy makers to change. By high school, we cannot be blind to schools who are not SLA and as citizens we should not put up with this.  It’s up to us to make it happen.

Sam: what matters most is starting with the individual and not see ourselves as passive victims. Become actively involved in changing our profession. Read Parker Palmer’s Courage to Teach. We tend to our own sense of integrity and ourselves, but Palmer says good teaching is subject centered as the Great Thing. The art of teaching is to put the Great Thing in front of students and have them consider that. We get better by reflecting and connecting.

Photos by Kevin Jarrett

Bumper Stickers

Sam: Start anywhere and follow it everywhere.

Linda: Love your students better more everyday.

Karl: We are the system; stop blaming the system.

Chad: Build the spaces you wish your kids to live, work, and play and make it a beautiful place.

Kathleen: Ask a student what does it take to get really good at something.

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Continuing the Discussion

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