Fostering Innovation, Steps to Action

CTL 20th Anniversary Blog Series: After the Event

Action Steps to Foster Innovation

Deborah Walker, Ed.D.  CTL’s President and CEO

At a September 9th convening in honor of CTL’s 20th anniversary, educational leaders and policy makers considered what is needed to invent a new future for education over the next 20 years.  Using table groups and expert panel discussion, participants suggested actionable steps going forward in three areas: equity, innovation and systems change.  A few weeks ago I posted the first follow up blog to the event, targeting actions related to equity (Action Steps to Achieve Equity). This second-in-series blog focuses on innovation, although of course all three themes are interrelated and aimed at providing the best possible education for all students.  The two table groups for innovation were led by Buddy Berry, Superintendent of Eminence Independent, a District of Innovation, and David Cook, Director of Innovation and Partner Engagement for the KDE.  Discussion points included recognition that there is not a recipe for innovation or checklist to follow, but rather thoughtful consideration of current context and what it will take to reach a desired end.

Innovation graphic

By graphic recorder Sara Thompson (

If you’ve read the blogs we posted in advance of the event, especially the one authored by former Danville Independent Superintendent Dr. Carmen Coleman (Innovation in Danville, KY Schools) you’ll recall that Danville educators started with the question, “What does a Danville diploma mean?” They proceeded to define what skills and abilities they wanted to develop in their students, and then imagined new structures to help them make their vision of schooling a reality.  Likewise, participants at the 20th anniversary event noted that the point is not to innovate for innovation’s sake, but to develop new approaches that will yield desired results.

Actionable steps emerging from table group discussions:

  1. Open up learning to students both outside the school day and school building.20th event crowd
  2. Use project-based approaches that engage students and shift from teacher-led to student centered classrooms.
  3. Infuse learning with design thinking so that students are developing, testing and refining solutions to real world problems.
  4. Bridge the gap between K-12 schooling and higher education and taking into account what businesses need from graduates.
  5. Have schools emphasize both content and non-cognitive skills, so that students can meet demands of higher education and workforce.
  6. Empower districts to take risks associated with innovating and work to educate boards of education to understand the intended impact from reforms.
  7. Develop a common language enabling people to tackle collaboratively issues related to school transformation.

Following table discussions was a panel of experts including: KDE Education Commissioner Dr. Terry Holliday, former Commissioner and current Executive Director of the Center for Innovation at UK Gene Wilhoit, KY HS Teacher of the Year and Hope Street Fellow Allison Hunt, Chief Academic Officer for JCPS Dr. Dewey Hensley, and President of the Southern Education Foundation in Atlanta Dr. Kent McGuire.  They noted these barriers to innovation: standardization, measurement and definitions of what is exemplary, and the overall accountability systems.  Instead of standardization, panelist Gene Wilhoit suggested that we need to replace our factory model of schooling with one that allows us to experiment, to try different approaches to reach agreed upon ends.  Panelist Allison Hunt encouraged teachers to be less compliant and to innovate to improve their practice.  Dr. Terry Holiday suggested that measurement gets in the way of innovation and to encouraging a positive narrative about education, a narrative that Dr. Kent McGuire added needs to lift aspirations and promote a larger ambition for the role of education in the U.S.  Finally, Dr. Dewey Hensley posited that innovation must reach the student’s desk and change the trajectory of his/her life.

Watch for additional follow-up blogs to CTL’s 20th Anniversary Education Forum and Celebration.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about action steps for equity and/or innovation, so please post a comment.

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