Teaching Innovation Challenge – how we help foster innovation within education

This year, we introduced an exciting new program called the Teaching Innovation Challenge into our Adopt-A-School program. The intent of the program is to support teachers and help enable them to bring their teaching to the next level.  Teachers and co-teaching pairs developed new curriculum, tried experiments, and generally had a go at raising their own standards and adding innovations to their schools.

I’m proud to be a part of the Adopt-A-School Program and to lead the Teaching Challenge Initiative.  As the son of two teachers, this program has afforded me an outlet to help schools in a way that my day to day business role could never do.  Growing up I saw how my parents struggled in the face of shrinking school budgets and an atmosphere of uncertainty within inner city schools.  In fact, my father ended up leaving the teaching profession entirely.  I’ve always wanted to give back in some way beyond just writing a check.  The AAS program and this contest have helped make that a reality for me.  Our long-term goal is to help other businesses form public/private partnerships that will help change the world.


The Problem: Wanted to give teachers more opportunity and incentive to innovate on curriculum + ways of teaching that engage students from the bottom up vs. the top down.

The Idea: Create a competition. Teachers submit ideas and then create a project or lesson.  The senior leadership at each school judges the teachers and teaching pairs with criteria for top innovations.

The Prize: The teachers behind the top two best innovations from each school win a trip to visit the other school as part of an all-expenses paid trip to the other city.

Each school held its ceremony and announced winners a week ago.  The engagement level we saw from teachers at both schools was inspiring – as were the outcomes!  You can see some of the innovations created by teachers at Netley here:

Netley Winners

Claire created a program that uses singing to improve children’s behaviors and language skills.  With 50% of school population having English as a second language, many of Claire’s students often had language and behaviors difficulties.  Her discovery was that those same children could sing brilliantly.  She developed a way to use singing to help develop and improve children’s language skills.

Michelle created a program that helps parents support children with homework.  When Michelle joined Netley last fall she noticed that she was having very little interaction between herself and parents (even at pickup).  This often correlated with children who were not able to complete their homework effectively.  She came to know that parents were not able to help their kids even though they wanted to do so.  She created an invitation only class that helped bolster confidence.  Michelle says the reason she changed schools this year was to find an environment that encouraged more innovation.


PS119 Winners

 Lou and Nicole created a visual literacy project.  Their three-part mini-unit uses image analyses to enhance visual literacy.  Students are given the opportunity to discuss and examine an image in a small group and determine the image’s correct placement on a visual timeline. Student observations, inferences, and questions guide students to the conclusion.  The lessons are designed for fourth or fifth grade students, may last up to 90 minutes, and will leave students with the skills necessary to systematically deconstruct any image they see.

Jennifer created a rainbow sight word obstacle course.  Designed for Special Education/kindergarten students to help prepare/check for understanding before reading and spelling assessments, Jennifer’s lesson is tailored to the academic level as well as the physical abilities of her students to maneuver through an obstacle course. This obstacle course incorporates multiple types of learning and engagement, such as kinesthetic, academic (ELA), social-emotional, audio, and visual.


A Proud Moment: Many teachers said to me that they would try what other teachers did. The assistant head told us that Netley has been innovative in past, but it was always TOP -> DOWN.  This challenge got teachers to bring innovation BOTTOM -> UP.  The teachers were also massively appreciative of both the ceremony and the after party – many said they never do things like party and hardly get a chance to talk to one another in that kind of setting. I’m very excited to take next steps and have exchange happen.

Updates as of 5/23/17:

Follow the teachers on their exchange trip #Adoptaschool #thisisnxj

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