Teachers all know the feeling: sitting in a musty library after school, the students long ago whisked home on busses, and the entire school staff crowded into one room for the what is often the two most dreaded words in education: professional development. Eyes glazed over, you sit and stare at a PowerPoint presentation that contains all the information the speaker is lecturing about, which - ironically - includes things such as “differentiation” and “active learning.” You wonder why, if engagement and personalized learning are so important to students, you find yourself lacking the same treatment in your own development.
Daydreaming, you begin to imagine a room of teachers crowded around whiteboards, sketching and diagramming out their ideas to big, bold questions about Kansas City schools. They are asking questions like, “What are things we can do to stay relevant with content in all classes?” and “How do we bundle our school’s strategies into one ‘package’ and make it our school brand?” No idea is too crazy, no source of inspiration too far-fetched for these groups of educators as they develop themselves into innovators who can create the future of education.
Such is the scene you would have found at The Lean Lab when North Kansas City High School (NKCHS) staff members gathered on Monday for “professional development.” The dreaded look was already on their faces as they walked in: the tradition of empty, one-size-fits-all trainings had jaded some of them into thinking this was going to be two hours that could have been better spent grading, lesson planning, or napping.
But something changed when NKCHS staff began to question one another about the structures in their school -- team morale, content creation, curriculum, 504 plans. Through an initial Listening phase, NKC educators came together to candidly discuss big challenges that frustrated them, but ones that had never perhaps been fully voiced or even heard. They identified these common problems at their high school by sharing stories, asking questions, and distilling down to root causes.
Then, NKC educators came alive with creativity when they were asked to Imagine all the possibilities to address the problems they had uncovered. Forget budgets, barriers, guidelines, and standards - these teachers began to think outside the box and dream -- dream big. Teams began sharing ideas for “hotdog church” sponsorships, a “rogue,” student-centered curriculum, student shadow programs, and new staff positions.
Their creativity was then put to the test as they attempted to build physical representations of their ideas to Prototype and Test their solutions. Using nothing more than plates, magnets, clips, tape, paper, and pipe cleaners, NKCHS teachers pushed one another to clarify their ideas, explaining, building, taking apart, rebuilding, and refining their prototypes. Teams then went a step further and rotated through to other groups, asking for feedback in two tests in order to Iterate their solution and make it better.
Teachers must see themselves as creatives, innovators, and artists who do not complacently accept curriculums, school designs, products and services, but actively build them.
Finally, the whole staff came back together to share what they had developed in a Pitch. Each team presented the problem they had identified, the creative solution the group had created to address it, and their plan to implement the idea at North Kansas City High School.
At The Lean Lab, we believe that in building the future of Kansas City schools, teachers are the most valuable piece in shaping that future. Therefore, we believe in giving them the time, space, resources, and framework to explore BIG, BOLD questions that keep them up at night. If we are to confront the systemic issues that plague our city’s schools, we have to change not only how teachers develop, but also the perceptions of how teachers view their development. They must see themselves as creatives, innovators, and artists who do not complacently accept curriculums, school designs, products and services, but actively build them.
At the end of the pitches, NKCHS staff walked away with 5 prototypes of solutions to tackle larger problems faced by their school:
1. A newly-created role for a 504 plan coordinator to address special needs students and increase capacity for classroom teachers
2. A need for a common “language” to build the culture of North Kansas City High School and identify its branding
3. A career-development framework to layer over any course to ensure teachers source content that is relevant to students’ interests
4. A teacher-to-student shadow program that allows teachers to “see” through the eyes of their students
5. A school community organization, complete with staff highlights and retreats, a reward system, and incentives to engage in school activities to increase school morale and pride
The work of North Kansas City teachers is evidence that when we give teachers the autonomy to lead their schools, we see solutions that respond to their students’ and communities’ specific needs. Staff at North Kansas City still face a long hill as they continue to test, iterate, and refine each solution, but more than anything, the Innovation Workshop for Education was created specifically to remind educators of the power they have to lead the future of Kansas City education. As one NKC teacher put it, “Actually getting to discuss issues with colleagues and brainstorm solutions instead of just problems was the most valuable part.”
Community-driven solutions -- this is what innovation looks like if we hope to close achievement gaps, meet the growing needs of an ever-changing workforce, and build the future of Kansas City schools.
Use code InspireKC to gain free admission to The Lean Lab's October Innovation Workshop for Education to learn how you can build the future of schools.