May 4, 2017

The Future Is Now: Metrics of Innovation in Schools

By Transcend

What a difference five years makes. In 2012, my colleague Keith Evans and I had collaborated on a list of made-up, outside-the-box (and somewhat tongue-in-cheek) metric terms to measure the true effectiveness of his school. Some of these are Keith’s and some are mine; I honestly cannot recall who came up with each one.

Most of these ideas at the time were regarded as quirky or funny. Now, many or most of these ideas are very much in the mainstream of what we are seeing evolve as a “deeper learning” experience, one that prepares children for life in the 21st century.

organizational velocity (OV) — a calculation of the average speed at which a worthy new idea travels the path to implementation (N.B. a notoriously sluggish pace in most academic environments)   

In the last 20-plus years, organizations that have stayed ahead of the curve in their respective industries have been those that think, design, create, try, fail, iterate, and try again faster and with more intention than their competitors. Given the relatively rapid acceptance of how deeper learning experiences are growing in priority, many school administrators are beginning to realize that the risk of a high OV number might be more dangerous than the risk of inertia.

curiosity index (CI) — a measure of whether a student is more curious upon graduation than at enrollment, measured by time spent asking/answering questions

This index is a predictor of curiosity growth, calculated by the ratio of time students spend in class to the time spent answering questions. A CI number of >1 is a mark of an intellectually curious learning environment. Virtually unheard of five years ago, the amount of time students spend asking and answering questions in class is now a fundamental element of a deeper learning school model.

obsolescence ratio (OR)  the ratio of “legacy” practices to new methods employed in the leadership and organization of the school

This metric is sometimes measured by the number of familiar experiences a parent has in navigating the school with two children at least five years apart. What has changed over those five years, and what remains the same? We do not suggest that change purely for the sake of change is always good; schools have some traditions and practices that define who they are and represent timeless methods of teaching and learning. Even a subjective tracking of obsolescence would help a school to understand if they need to have this conversation, and perhaps some areas of focus where they can start.

anti-tech innovation tracker — the number of changes in classroom instruction without the use of a new technology, used to measure a teacher’s creative intelligence

Through the 1990s and 2000s, using new technologies in the classroom was a goal in and of itself. Increasingly, we are in agreement that deeper learning is the goal, and technology provides just one set of tools. We are now asking ourselves to be more creative in creating student-centric learning options, which may or may not include the use of anything electronic.

faculty and staff performance discussion event horizon (FSPDEH) — percentage of faculty and staff performing at or above the expected standard

Many school communities, both public and private, have become fixated on student performance as a function of the quality of the teachers. Teachers are arguably the most critical factor in successful learning outcomes, but not to the exclusion of other critical needs.  Every school system has (or should have) a very public standard of what is acceptable performance by their faculty and staff.  If 90% or more are exceeding this standard, leadership and the community should move on to more productive conversations about where and how we can continue to seek improvement. If the answer is less than 90%, the performance and quality of the faculty and staff becomes the topic of the first objective in the strategic plan.

strategy corruption quotient (SCQ)  the inverse correlation between the size of a strategic plan and the quality of the strategic thinking behind it

Many school strategic plans are convoluted with dozens of goals and sub-goals which turn into checklists that make boards and parents feel good and drive teachers crazy, are soon forgotten, and disperse whatever limited attention and resources of any school to the point of paralysis. Thus, the higher the SCQ, the more time a school might waste treading water and getting nowhere. School strategic plans should advance a clear, cohesive, sustainable vision of how this school is different or better than any other school that a family might think to attend.

silo scale (SS)  the ratio of time spent working alone versus collaborating, time that could yield substantial dividends for students

Once upon a time, many educators and other professionals thought of silos as grain storage bins. Now, we almost universally understand that silos — of classroom, subject, grade level, job title — prevent us from connecting with others in diverse communities that foster innovation. The silo scale therefore gauges the likelihood that a school will create, or even contemplate, a steady stream of innovations that will bolster the overall student experience. 

coordinates of the intellectual campus — metric modeled on GPS technology to measure the extent to which the physical boundaries of a campus define the boundaries for learning

Scoring well here would include an abundance of learning “on the ground” by traveling off-campus locally and globally. This metric would also account for new ideas and perspectives brought to the physical campus by community resources as well as the use of rapidly-evolving technologies that explode the very idea of campus boundaries. In 2012, video teleconferencing, which involved major investments in hardware, software, and training was the example we used. Now, just a few years later, every student and teacher has Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangout at their fingertips. A few years from now, they will be engaging with anyone, anywhere, in virtual worlds.

The F=A paradox — the measure of that portion of the curriculum where the greatest risks and failures are given the greatest reward

We say that failure is the best way to learn. But defining success in traditional schools has been exactly the opposite of this. Failure was perhaps tolerated (maybe even encouraged) in a few classrooms taught by teachers who “are just a little different from the rest of us,” but orienting a school in this direction was considered intolerable until recently. It still is in many schools, despite growing acceptance that innovation only thrives in an environment that celebrates and embraces failure.

Real change over a five-year window represents light speed for many schools. Schools that have started to adopt some of this language and thinking, if not formal metrics like these, are pulling away from schools for which this thinking continues to be alien or absent. Standing pat, or even slow movement, is the same as moving backward. Some school leaders understand this and are willing to engage in what was recently viewed as quirky.  In a rapidly changing world, the boundaries between quirky and mainstream slam into us as fast as the next mind-blowing technology, a single election cycle, or the opening of a new, more innovative school across the street.

What will become the new normal in schools in 2022? And what are your ideas for school change metrics? Share them on Twitter using #TranscendEdu!

By Grant Lichtman – author, speaker, leader, and a member of Transcend’s Yellow Hats League


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