Imagine this: as an educator, you are awarded a $100,000 grant which allows you to take time out of the classroom to research and implement a transformational idea. You can use the funds to travel to innovative schools, to attend conferences to further your learning, to hire consultants to work with your school, or any other activity that might help you in your venture. With the help of your administration and a steering committee, you work to transform your school into a place that best serves the needs of students.
Sound like a dream? It is, but it’s available to Vermont educators through the graciousness of the Rowland Foundation, which seeks to usher forth the work of innovative educators, and in turn to truly transform Vermont schools.
Recognizing that this is the exception, Rowland fellows are able to experience all of Couros’ elements to look for in today’s classrooms. A few to note:
Time for reflection:
This is the ultimate gift of the Rowland Foundation. Time to reflect on why education is the way it is, how change happens, and the true meaning of innovation is something most educators only have time for if they disregard the more pressing issue of planning classroom lessons. During the sabbatical, fellows meet five times per year and engage in reflective protocols; they blog about their experiences, successes, and insights, and they have deep discussions with others who are engaged in similar work. Wouldn’t it be incredible if we somehow built into our systems the opportunity for every teacher to take a sabbatical every few years? How might that change our schools?
The Rowland foundation literally trusts teachers every year to make choices about what to do with $100,000 no questions asked. This can be overwhelming at first. There is a sense of guilt that comes with many years of explaining where each penny of your budget is headed. But, once a Rowland fellow can let go of that guilt, the level of creativity and innovation that is possible increases exponentially. One experience leads to another; questions begin to unfold; learning about one new idea leads to a desire to know about ten more new ideas. This is another level of overwhelming that requires working through but at each turn the learning ascends drastically. While there are moments of paralyzed wonder, the ability to respond to a curiosity and have the freedom to do it in whatever way you choose is extremely liberating and leads to deep learning, creativity and ultimately innovation.
Problem finders/ solvers:
The Rowland fellowship stresses that we are engaging in an inquiry process. Unlike most learning experiences, there really is no expectation for a final or finished product. There is no paper, no formal presentation or defense. The fact that there is no expected outcome is again, liberating. It allows for experimentation, revision, or major pivots if that makes sense. In general, learning experiences have an expected outcome. But with inquiry, learning changes our thinking along the way and what made sense at the start doesn’t always make sense in the end. Learning experiences where the process is more important than the product allow for real problem solving to occur.
Opportunities for Innovation:
Because of the focus on inquiry, Rowland fellows are free to experiment. This is key to innovation, as sometimes those experiments fail. However, fellows are able to incorporate these lessons and move forward with a better plan. They are free to imagine possibilities and make progress with other stakeholders in their schools. They function as models of innovative thinking and often inspire their colleagues to follow suit.
Trust is paramount in order for any of these eight elements to work
–whether it be in a classroom with students or with professional development. Innovation happens by embracing the fact that failures happen but can ultimately be overcome with solid relationship foundations. Vermont owes thanks to the Rowland Foundation for supporting innovative teachers with the ambition and drive to transform its schools.
Frith, Caleb. Think. Digital image. Unsplash. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
Street, Jamie. “Sparklers after Sunset, by Jamie Street | Unsplash.” Back to Unsplash. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
Tietsworth, Justin. “Lead The Way, by Justin Tietsworth | Unsplash.” Back to Unsplash. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.