Teaching faculty to think like innovators

Here's a great way to educate flexible, creative problem-solvers and innovators

The rapid pace of technological change has forever transformed the face of the global workplace. In fact, its future is unimagined; 85 percent of jobs that will exist in 2030 have yet to be created. As all brave explorers on any frontier know, survival in an uncertain world requires adaptability, resilience, and resourcefulness. Today’s educators must nurture these traits in students to prepare them to meet whatever challenges await and to succeed in a new order.

Schools are thus charged with going beyond academics and instruction in the latest technology to teach students “survival” skills, such as how to brainstorm, think creatively, design, and prototype … how to communicate, collaborate, and lead … and how to innovate. These are the skills employers are seeking as the nature of work becomes increasingly mutable.

At Dwight, we’ve been teaching these entrepreneurial skills through Spark Tank, an after-school incubator for K-12 students. They bring their ideas for new products, social enterprises, political initiatives, and non-profits to Spark Tank, where they develop them through five stages, from concept to market launch. During this process, students learn a range of practical problem-solving, design, presentation, marketing, and business skills, gaining invaluable entrepreneurial and innovation experience.

We have also taken a cue from the business world to enhance all-important faculty professional development (PD), thanks to the support of The Dwight School Foundation. With our imperative to educate flexible, creative problem-solvers and innovators, we want to ensure that all our faculty can tap into those skills and model that behavior for our students. Through our Frontier Teacher training program, we’re bringing the same entrepreneurial mindset and processes favored by startups and innovators to the art and practice of teaching.

While Frontier Teacher training has only been in effect since 2017, its results are already changing the way our teachers are thinking and prioritizing; preparing, teaching, and evaluating the impact of their lessons—and reinvigorating their own love of learning in the process.

The real innovation isn’t just in what our program teaches, but in how.

Frontier Teachers learn the skills, tools, and frameworks for design-thinking and lean-startup methodologies. They apply these methods through innovation mini-projects that tackle education challenges. Faculty go through their own design thinking iteration cycle (conduct empathy interviews, define the problem, ideate a solution, craft a prototype, pitch, and test it), becoming more comfortable with experimentation, taking risks, managing uncertainty, and “failing,” as some of the most important innovations often emerge from what is learned through “failures” rather than through “successes.”

Mini-projects targeted how to redesign assessments, how to develop ways for students to better understand our International Baccalaureate rubrics, and how to help students improve their self-assessments and reflections at the conclusion of an assignment.

During the process, faculty learned that they can make “small bets” that can help ideas, such as a new way to give student feedback, thrive without pressure to succeed immediately on a large scale. Such experiences are designed to encourage teachers to try something new before it is perfect, opening the door for potentially game-changing innovations to emerge.

Frontier Teacher training moves quickly from theory to practice, similar to the way startups work, as they’re often required to iterate new ideas swiftly in order to find a viable product-market fit. During the program, faculty are encouraged to apply Frontier methods in their classrooms, so students can begin to reap the benefits right away. Examples include:

  • re-scaffolding creative processes for students after being challenged in training to be creative under tight time constraints
  • integrating game development through design-thinking techniques and game-based learning
  • creating online course content and modules, and using screen casting as an online teaching tool to enhance learning beyond the classroom
  • introducing rapid research projects
  • using play-based learning to review vocabulary and prepare for exams
  • integrating TED Talk elements to improve students’ oral presentations and public speaking skills

This PD program included teachers across all grades and disciplines, which inspired unprecedented levels of faculty collaboration, project feedback, and sharing of ideas about what new tools and strategies to try and iterate. Beyond the formal training, teachers are continuing to share and test what they learned with colleagues akin to R&D in business, serving as mentors, and encouraging their peers to become Frontier Teachers.

With a greater level of unfettered creativity among faculty, they are unleashing that in our students at a more advanced rate; we’re seeing even more students pursuing their passion projects within and beyond the classroom than ever before.

We are reframing education at Dwight by using applied research with measurable outcomes to rethink and redesign traditional models, test new teaching and assessment methodologies, and never stop iterating so that students can become skilled transformational thinkers.

We’re proud to be on the forefront, empowering faculty on every campus in Dwight’s global network of schools to reimagine their own teaching, enabling students to shape their own bright futures, and accelerating knowledge for all.

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