On December 2, the Tech & Learning 2022 winners and finalists of the Tech & Learning Innovative Leader Awards were invited to the first Innovative District Leader Summit at the Liberty Science Center outside New York City. The event brought together some of the nation’s most innovative district leaders to collaborate on solutions to today’s challenges, including working in teams to plan the school of the future.
Taking Risks and Failing Forward
The Tech & Learning Innovation Summit took place at an ideal space for the event’s theme: the Liberty Science Center, a 300,000-square-foot learning center located in Liberty State Park on the Jersey City bank of the Hudson near the Statue of Liberty. The Science Center houses 12 museum exhibition halls, a live animal collection with 110 species, giant aquariums, a 3D theater, live simulcast surgeries, hurricane- and tornado-force wind simulators, K-12 classrooms and labs, teacher-development programs, and the Western Hemisphere's biggest planetarium.
The day kicked off with a keynote from educator, author, and international speaker Carl Hooker, who discussed how risk-taking and celebrating failure are key building blocks to drive innovation. During this interactive session, Hooker led attendees through a series of improv activities designed to help activate the creative side of their brains.
Attendees next broke into working groups to review different scenarios that could impact their districts, collaboratively discussing solutions to these challenges. During each topic discussion, attendees were asked to consider the following questions:
- Where have you “failed” as it relates to this topic?
- How did this “failure” impact this topic?
- How did this experience make a positive impact related to this topic?
- What risks have you taken to impact this topic?
- What risks might you take to impact this topic?
- In what other ways might you overcome resistance to change in your district related to this topic?
Each discussion session kicked off with a short case study presentation from some of the 2022 T&L Innovative Leader Award winners:
- Professional Development: Matt Joseph, Director of Supervision and Evaluation at Brockton Public Schools in Massachusetts shared a story about his first professional development session as principal – which “was a disaster,” Joseph said. “I was afraid to show what I didn’t know. That first PD session was just me talking about what I knew from school in sit-and-get sessions. I had to get over the fear of giving up control and learn to be myself.”
- Engaging School Communities: Mike Gaskell, principal of East Brunswick Schools in New Jersey discussed a program his school uses to reach disadvantaged children. “We created a program that makes positive connections between students/families and law enforcement,” Gaskell explained. “A suspension has no positive effect on the student – no student comes back from suspension and is reformed.” Now teachers run a mentoring program with resource officers (often former law enforcement officers) as part of the team. “By bringing students in and not suspending them, we’re holding them accountable in another, non-punitive way,” he said.
- Learning Space: Andrew Wallace, Director of Technology for South Portland Schools in Maine, advised attendees to “always have a $1 million project ready to go.” Wallace was handed that opportunity with ESSER funding, and put into place an initiative that focused on audio – not just because people were wearing masks at the time, but because studies show that many people have audio-related challenges. “Teachers wear lanyards to help promote speech intelligibility,” Wallace said. “We don’t need to make kids share their disabilities. By improving audio, everyone can improve.” The challenge, he said, is that now we are on the other side of Covid, how do we get others to continue to buy in? “You have to have to do the ‘Why’ of tech integration,” Wallace said. “You have to bring in stakeholders from the start and be transparent with the ‘Why.’”
- Changing Pedagogy: Glenn Robbins, Superintendent of Brigantine School District in New Jersey, introduced the discussion on changing pedagogy with a reflection on how to sustain the willingness to try new approaches that happened during the pandemic. He works to build psychological safety nets with his staff, and encourages them to try new things. “By building trust and respect with the staff, you can make changes,” Robbins said. “You have to support them first. Catch them doing the good things, and give them praise. The staff has to know you have their back. Once teachers understand that they can evolve, they can give students the same ability to be creative and try new things as well.”
Designing the School of the Future
After lunch, attendees were grouped into teams to answer the question: “What does the ideal future school district look like?” The teams were told that they have unlimited funds and there were no politics or state/federal mandates to accommodate.
Tech & Learning pre-assigned teams that were a mix of superintendents, technology and curriculum directors, coaches, librarians, and principals to ensure the future school plans included a balanced plan for all stakeholders.
Teams were asked to design schools that addressed questions that included:
- What are the core values of your future school?
- Where does teaching and learning take place at your school?
- How are students grouped in your future school? Will you still group students by grade based on their ages?
- How will you work with your parents & community at your school?
- On what skills does your future school’s curriculum focus?
- How will your school address learning mastery?
The resulting presentations were truly innovative. Teams went beyond the usual talking points and jargon to develop thoughtful strategic plans that included: rethinking school schedules; partnering with local businesses, universities, and parents to co-teach; developing personalized career paths for every student; creating flexible learning spaces that repurposed unused community spaces; and much more.
All of the winning teams will be highlighted in the December/January Innovation Playbook presented by Tech & Learning.
About the Regional Innovative Leader Awards
Interested in joining the growing community of Tech & Learning Innovative Leaders? Here’s how.
As part of our Regional Live Summits, Tech & Learning recognizes exceptional district administrators in select regions around the country who are leading innovation in their schools. We’re seeking district leaders who are reimagining and reinventing education by developing and launching unique and forward-thinking programs, policies, and best practices that have shown to have a positive impact and are also replicable at other districts.
All finalists will receive an invitation to the Tech & Learning Regional Summit in their region, including a two-night hotel stay at the event. The winners will be announced at the closing session of the summit. All finalists will be recognized in an issue of Tech & Learning and will receive a Tech & Learning Innovative Leader Award Seal that can be added to all district websites, etc. Winners will also be profiled in Tech & Learning magazine.
Find our list of regions for award opportunities in 2023 here. We look forward to learning more about your work!