Innovation is Not an Option, It is a Must!

 By Sara Arranz April 9th, 2014 5:30 PM

As my former principal used to say: “Success is not an option, it is a must. I’ve carried this mindset with me to my current position, and I feel that I have to and I can do much more for DCPS. We need all students to be successful, and I believe that innovation is the answer.

When I went to California for my first trip as an Education Innovation Fellow, I kept the following lines from the DCPS Capital Commitment in my mind:

“Our five-year strategic plan, A Capital Commitment, provides a roadmap for building DCPS into a high-quality, vibrant school district that earns the confidence of our community. With this strategic plan, we recommit DCPS to providing every student with a safe, academically challenging, and inspiring learning experience by 2017.”

In California, we were exposed to teachers, leaders, schools, and communities who are changing their practice in order to improve results. We saw teachers who are creating well-organized and planned stations to personalize student learning. We talked and listened to leaders who are modeling teaching for their staff so that they can improve their teaching practices and reach new levels of leadership. We met with families who are involved in their schools so their investment can positively impact their children’s progress.

Been able to observe, listen, and live the innovation experience that I just described was enlightening and empowering. In fact, it was probably the best experience of my educational career. Now I am ready to see how our strategic plan at DCPS can take place in my own school.

Here are a few ways that I want to innovate in my practice to help my school achieve these goals:

1. Provide students with a safe place and develop a shared vision for our children. In our school community, both parents and educators want their children to be safe and free from harm. We want them to have a permanent family who will be there for them for the rest of their lives.

We have made a lot of progress on these goals in DCPS. Engaged parents are essential to eliminating the achievement gap, and we work with our parents to help them become powerful advocates for their children and their communities. As teachers, we can do more work directly with parents, helping them become leaders at home, in the school, and in their communities. I have seen different methods of this, and every teacher and school can find the one that fits their reality.

Ultimately, the parents in California and my parents at Cleveland have something in common: They love helping in the school because they feel they are showing their children they care about their success.

2. Keep course work academically challenging. Every student sees challenge differently and it is my job as their teacher to respond to what they need. By innovating with the methodology and personalizing the experience, I am able to teach to 20 students at their own pace. It sounds ambitious, but let me share one of my models that works: In a classroom, students rotate across differentiated learning stations on a specific schedule. Stations often include: (a) small group instruction by the teacher, (b) collaborative or independent practice, and (c) self- directed, online activities. There are programs online where students can find activities adapted to their level and follow their own progress by the offered data.

3. Utilize new online learning programs! Online programming takes us to the “inspiring” part of the learning experience that we want to achieve at DCPS. There are many companies working on these online tools, and they are creating data-based effective programs that will empower us, the teachers. A parent/care giver can educate his/herself and know more about his/her child’s learning. A teacher along with parents can present the world to his students by using the online resources available both at home and at school. This is why, again, coordination and communication with families is key.  If we are excited and responsible in how we use technology for learning, the future of education is ours to create.