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Staff Development and “Innovation”

Recently I had the pleasure of working on an exciting new training model with a high school district in the Chicago suburbs. After I told a few colleagues about it, they suggested posting it on the blog in case others want to try it out in their schools.

A few weeks ago, a local district contacted me for eight days of training to help educators learn more about autism and inclusion. We put together a train-the-trainer model which allowed me to work with a small group of therapists, teachers, administrators, and counselors over the course of two weeks. We discussed autism definitions, characteristics of autism, movement differences, communication challenges, sensory needs, classroom supports, and more.

At the end of the sessions, I wanted participants to walk away with not only information that could help them in their work but also tools they could use to bring their learning to other educators in the district. For this reason, I drew up plans for a FedEx day like the one described by Daniel Pink in his popular book, Drive.

FedEx days are designed for innovation and are so named because participants have to “deliver” a product or idea. As Pink describes, corporations like Google and 3M have been using this model for years; they designate a day every so often for employees to work on something that is not part of their typical work load or work day. They might propose the development of a new product, create a prototype, or design a different way of doing business in the office itself.

Since the publication of Pink’s book, the idea has taken off in many businesses and in other arenas as well-including in some schools. A blog post by Josh Stumpenhorst , a middle school teacher in the Chicago area, as one example of how teachers might use an innovation day in a middle school.

So back to my little in-service group. After introducing them to the innovation day concept, I gave them half a day to work alone, with a partner, or with a group to create a product that they would normally not have the time to create and that would help them spread the word of how to support diverse learners in their high schools. I presented them with a list of possible projects but they were free to move beyond the suggestions provided.

All of them were enthusiastic about the projects and most worked right through their lunch breaks. I spent the afternoon helping the participants gather resources, fine-tune their ideas, and polish their presentations. The last segment of the day was reserved for the presentations themselves. The variety and quality of projects simply amazed me. We had folks present a few dozen innovative products including:

  • an information card for co-teachers and support staff working in a family and consumer education class (e.g., how to give helpful cues in a cooking lesson, what are the safety rules in the kitchen)
  • an Animoto video created to teach math teachers about autism and student needs;
    n a colorful set of active learning strategy cards designed to help the English department learn new differentiation ideas
  • a PowerPoint slideshow to help paraprofessionals empower students who are deaf and hard of hearing
  • a protocol and sample video to help students with autism and other disabilities learn how to lead and participate in their own IEP meeting
  • Readers Theater scripts pulled from the autobiographies of adults with autism (to be used in a drama class)
  • a staff development presentation on active learning created for a faculty meeting;
    So, participants left not just with ideas for presenting my content to others but plans to share their own tools and strategies.

So often when I leave presentations I wonder if the learning will last. On this day, I didn’t have that question in my mind. Instead, I wondered just how far it could go.

How might you use a FedEx or innovation day to inspire inclusion in your school or district?