Innovation-Disruptive or Sustainable?

surfer_riding_wave_34Are you riding a wave of innovation in your school, or are you caught in the curl and drowning in the surf?  In today’s world, innovation is a buzzword that appears universally across topics and disciplines, and the field of education is no exception. Melissa shared a definition of innovation in her post earlier in November, and encouraged readers to embrace emerging technologies to enhance innovative thinking in STEM curriculum. Judi looked at innovative delivery of professional development for educators in her posts.  Advances in technology have opened the possibilities for unleashing new ways to rethink teaching and learning, and this is a good thing!  The not so good thing is the lack of time and support for professionals to incorporate these possibilities into their pedagogy. In order to bring about meaningful change that will benefit students, educators have come to realize that collaboration is a critical component that enables sustainable innovation.

Sustainable change does not happen overnight.  Educators learn from each other and are connected across the hallway, the town, the globe. Ideas need to be pondered and discussed, tools need to be sampled, lessons designed and differentiated- all with the goal of engaging students in deeper learning.  Educators also learn from students, especially by allowing them to follow their passions and interests.  Innovative learners are curious, flexible, and open to taking risks and making mistakes.  It’s hard work, but fun.  The rewards are in student success and lighting the fires of learning for both teachers and learners.

School districts implementing new initiatives don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but can tailor local plans for sustainable change by examining existing programs that have a track record of innovation for learning.  The best models promote teacher leadership and a culture of collaboration to solve identified problems and impediments to student success.  Administrators, educators, parents, and community members are all stakeholders together.

In Vermont, middle schools have an opportunity to partner with the Tarrant Institute for Innovation in Education at the University of Vermont.  Funded in part through a generous grant from the Tarrant Foundation, experienced educational leaders provide:

  • A variety of services to help schools make the transition to engaging, technology-rich teaching and learning.
  • In exchange for their substantial commitment to a new vision for teaching and learning, we offer our partner schools intensive professional development, leadership preparation and planning, and small grants for innovative technologies — all free of charge.
  • To the broader community, we conduct extensive research, evaluation, dissemination and outreach.    (

Since 2006, the partnership has grown and evolved as a model for bringing systemic change in middle school education. A variety of Vermont schools, from large inner city urban to small rural schools have taken advantage of the opportunity to develop a new vision of education within their communities.  The learning has gone both ways-from the professional development facilitators to the partner schools, and back from teacher partners and students who embrace and run with the innovations.  The leaders of the project have shared ideas and challenges in a series of articles and by presenting at local and national conferences.  Take a close look at the website to see samples of student work, and to follow the blog.  A recent blog post features the mindset of one of the Tarrant educators, Mark Olofson. Check out his reflection on the reiterative process of analyzing a new app as a classroom option for learning. It gives us a glimpse at innovative problem solving, and is very refreshing.  Even the experts question themselves and can revise their ideas!

As our educational system evolves from a 20th Century factory model, to a system that personalizes learning for students in the information age, new ideas, technologies, processes, and learning theories will continue to bring about changes to the physical and virtual frameworks of schools in the future.

Do you have some suggestions for innovative schools that you would like to share?

Social media is great way to follow the progress of innovation at many schools.  You can follow The Tarrant Institute happenings by using the Twitter hashtag @innovativeEd, Facebook site ,Instagram, and Google+

Next month, I will report on the impact of innovations from partner school participants, and look at the challenges and benefits as they continue to move towards sustainable, renewable  change.


Olofson, Mark. “Monster Physics and the importance of careful consideration.” Innovation: Education. (Weblog) Nov. 22, 2014

Image: Classroom

Inspiring Innovation with Emerging Technologies

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama emphasized innovation as the main driving force for producing the jobs of tomorrow (Obama, 2011). To ensure that the jobs of tomorrow will be in America and not overseas, Obama challenged the nation to win the race to educate our children in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Innovation is defined as “…the creation and implementation of new processes, products, services and methods of delivery which result in significant improvements in outcomes, efficiency, effectiveness or quality. The keyword in the definition is “new,” where the newness, or the perception of newness, differentiates between change and innovation” (Agcaoili, 2012).

There are plenty of possibilities in education provide learning opportunities to inspire innovative thinking, but we need to focus on finding specific ideas for promoting STEM learning. These opportunities involve students in the learning process as active agents in constructing their own knowledge, rather than just passive recipients of knowledge from teachers. Knowledge construction is also facilitated in a social context or through collaborative efforts toward shared objectives or challenges brought about by different perspectives (Pea, 1997).

In order to inspire innovative thinking we need to promote STEM learning through allowing for play and constructive learning that allows students to work together to conduct research, share their results, and perform or produce a final project. Vygotsky (1962) advocates for not only student-student collaboration, but also expert-student collaboration on real world problems.

Innovative thinking is often the forgotten piece of STEM. School librarians can respond to this gap by promoting and integrating technologies that will inspire innovative thinking in students. One such way is through encouraging the most current emerging technologies that will promote STEM learning, such as apps. Last week I presented at the NYC School Library System Annual Fall Conference on apps for teaching and learning and several of these, taken from the AASL Best Apps lists, present just such learning opportunities. The apps in the STEM category provide a way for students to construct knowledge and be innovative, as well as collaborate with each other and share in a social context. Also think about the ways that you as the school librarian can facilitate this expert-student collaboration through using technologies. STEM education provides a great opportunity for school librarians to work with teachers to create learning experiences that inspire students’ innovative thinking!




Agcaoili, K. (2012). Google apps: An opportunity to collaborate (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Dissertation Abstracts International.

Obama, B. (2011). Remarks by the President in State of the Union Address. Retrieved from

Pea, R. D. (1997). Practices of distributed intelligence and designs for education. In G. Salomon (Ed.). Distributed cognitions: Psychological and educational considerations (pp. 47-87). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Badging for School Librarians

TEKS_AASL_Alignment_Badge_unitag_qrcode_1_sizedMy online learning from the Library Journal webcast entitled “Participatory, Continuous, Connected: Top Trends from Library 2.014” Continued…

Susan Hildreth, Director, Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), shared her excitement about “radical change” in library services. She emphasized the role of libraries in communities and meeting the 21st-century needs of library users and soon-to-be users alike. She began her talk referring to initiatives related to STEM, STEAM, and STREAM (various efforts to promote science, technology, reading engineering, the arts, and math learning and careers).

In addition to sharing some of the exciting projects IMLS is currently funding, Ms. Hildreth talked about her views on the role of libraries in makerspaces and badging. When thinking about virtual professional development for school librarians, I am most interested in badging, which Ms. Hildreth describes as making informal learning visible. Two challenges she cited in badging related to who decides the criteria for a particular badge and how are various levels of competency part of the process.

To share one school librarian example, the Texas Learning4Life Implementation Team crowdsourced the TEKS Alignment wiki that aligns the Texas Essential Skills (TEKS) English language arts and reading standards for K-12 learners with the American Association of School Librarians Standards for the 21st Century Learner.

After standards were aligned, we formed a Lesson Plan Peer Review Committee and began soliciting exemplary lesson plans for publication on the site. As of this date, thirty-nine lesson plans have gone through a peer review process and have been published. A number of the librarians coauthored their lesson plans with classroom teachers and specialists and ALL lesson plans are based on coteaching (a school librarian and classroom teacher working simultaneously with students). Each contributor earned a badge, which they can display on their library Web site and include in their monthly newsletters, annual reports, and on their résumé.

Making this kind of informal learning formal is one way for school librarians to show they are continuing to develop their lesson planning and collaboration skills while on the job. This badge carries meaning to those who have earned it, and hopefully to those with whom they share it–principals, district-level librarian supervisors, and classroom teacher colleagues.

Yes! to virtual professional development in all of its many manifestations. This is an innovation from which we can all benefit.

And I highly recommend following Ms. Hildreth on Twitter (@IMLSDirector), reading more about the IMLS focus especially if you are considering a grant proposal to fund an innovation, and following the IMLS blog.

Building a Culture of Collaboration blog readers: Check out the Library Journal webcasts and Library 2.014 archives for outstanding opportunities to explore —  from topics about which you are passionate to ones about which you are clueless! Taking full advantage of online professional development is an innovation that meets the needs of time-strapped librarians and educators who have a desire to engage in participatory, continuous, and connected professional development.

Image: Badge from the TEKS Alignment Wiki

Online Professional Development: A Key to Adult Learning

mouse_keyThis month the Building a Culture of Collaboration bloggers will share their ideas and experiences related to innovation. This week, I will be sharing two examples of virtual professional development.

Library 2.014 was the 4th-annual virtual conference hosted by the San José State University (SJSU) School of Information; this year it was held in real time on October 8th and 9th. Presenters from around the world shared their work in this free global forum. Attendees could have participated on the actual conference days or view recordings and YouTube video archives after the event.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a Library Journal webcast  entitled “Participatory, Continuous, Connected: Top Trends from Library 2.014,” moderated by Michael Stephens, SJSU assistant professor. I was most interested in learning about the top trends identified during this year’s conference. In the webcast, Samantha Adams Becker talked about emerging digital communication formats; Ayyoub Ajmi described one academic library’s experiences using Google Glass; and Susan Hildreth shared do-it-yourself (DIY) learning opportunities that are taking hold in libraries and museums.

Dr. Stephens framed the 3-part webcast with this concept: “Library of Classroom.” He and the speakers challenged librarians to conceive or reconceive of the libraries as physical and virtual continuous experiential learning spaces. This concept aligns perfectly with my philosophy and experience of school libraries.

Ms. Becker shared highlights from the NMC (New Media Consortium) Horizon Report – Library Edition 2014. (These reports are targeted to different constituencies; you may be interested in the K-12 Edition as well.) Ms. Becker talked about removing books to make space in libraries for face-to-face social gatherings and group learning. The Texas Woman’s University Pioneer Center, located in the Blagg-Huey Library on the Denton campus, is a great example of that concept.

Ms. Becker shared a collaboration between Wikipedia and the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), which librarians may be especially interested in exploring further. She also talked about embeddable technologies—planted under the skin. An implantable GPS is already being tested. The youth in my community will be delighted to learn that implantable ear buds are not a pipedream!!!

These were just some of the innovations and trends Ms. Becker shared from the Horizon Report. Check it out!

On Thursday, I will share some of the innovations Susan Hildreth, Director, Institute of Museum and Library Services, talked about and what Texas school librarians are doing with the concept of badging. Please tune in again.

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