(The third installment in a series of three)
April 10th was like no other professional development day at Joseph Case High School.
Time didn’t matter: no one was checking when people arrived; no one check when thy went home. Lunch was determined by the team.
Pretty radical for a microcosm that operated on a bell system.
High school educators — teachers and paraprofessionals — worked on projects of their own design: to come up with something new, something they were passionate about, something that would potentially change our high school.
Two key components were in place: time and autonomy.
Thirty-two teams were formed. Thirty-two different projects proposed and accepted. Thirty-two project that came to closure with 32 scheduled presentations the next day.
Some teams looked to update and revitalize existing programs: an update on our Capstone Project, rethinking special needs summer experience, and revitalizing our advisory program to sharpen its focus to be student-centered.
Some looked at designed new courses: a foreign language conversation class, a civics and local government class, a focus on 20th century social studies topics.
Others looked at bring something new: a school store, a promotional video to compete with private and vocational school, and the additional of a new activity designed to complement our business scope and sequence.
Some teachers used the time to expand their curriculum, whether it was climate change or an interdisciplinary combination of computer and automotive science.
Still, the some of the most contemplative projects looked at the institutions of grading, how we transition students from the middle school, tapping into our passions, and correcting how our administrative software collects and distributes family email addresses.
By the next day, each group had submitted a tangible product with a common cover sheet documenting contributions to the whole. As well, groups had the opportunity to submit a handful of slides to complement their three-minute presentations later in the afternoon.
One week prior, each group had the opportunity to sign up for a three-minute slot via a link to a Google Calendar. Teachers could choose when they wanted to present in the afternoon, beginning at 2 p.m.
My assistant principal and I designed complementary Google Slides for each delivery. With the help of my drama teacher, we designed stage lighting in the auditorium that was appropriate to both delivery and having teachers support each group during the duration of the presentations.
Each group’s presentation was profound in its own way. Realistically, some were more successful than others. A few were ready to be implemented immediately; some would require some future fiscal planning if the school committed to them; some teacher simply used their time as a platform to share their passion.
Truth be told, I’m ready to move ahead with two of the ideas and will weave them into my school improvement plan for next year. The August gauntlet was indeed accepted and the outcome exceeded my expectations. As a group of innovative learners at Joseph Case High School, we demonstrated that because the adult learners take risks, we need to provide opportunities for our students to innovate as well.
Most importantly: I am proud.
I am proud that my superiors enabled me to create a situation where teachers would take risks to create. I am proud that my teachers all took a risk on these two days — and we realized that people risk-taking levels differ. And I am proud that my community of educators respected and embraced their peers’ risk-taking by bearing witness to each delivery.
This entire exercise in innovation didn’t cost anything outside the daily expense of running a school. All it took was a snow day and some sparks of inspiration from fellow educators for one high school to make the leap to become an institution of innovation.
Thanks George, Daniel, John, Chris and all the educators at Joseph Case High School for your inspiration to inspire risk-taking innovators.