Preparing Our Students for Their Futures: How We Change and Innovate Instruction, Part I

How We Change And Innovate Instruction Thumb

In the first installment of this series I outlined nine interrelated areas that must evolve to make room for future-focused innovation. The second installment elaborated on why the need to innovate is so urgent. In the third installment, I detailed what we need to innovate so that our schools become centers of future-focused learning: 1) instructional practices, 2) how we organize instruction, and 3) what we teach.

How to change? In a word: culture.

In a few more words: a culture that focuses both on the need to change and on empowerment. If we want our teams to transform schools into future-focused centers of learning and doing, they must feel empowered.

Empowerment pulls people out of passive participation and gives them the confidence to be proactive agents of change. Change does not happen to us. It doesn’t happen for us. And it doesn’t happen without us. It only happens through us. We, as educators, must make change happen. We must be the difference—between schools stuck in the past and schools innovating for life in this century.

Innovative change by definition requires some experimentation. It must leave room for trial and error. And it cannot exist without some outside-of-the-box thinking. By empowering our teams, we’re permitting them to take calculated, strategic risks knowing they have leadership’s support.

As noted earlier, our schools must mirror the real world—in this century. They must integrate technology in a way that reflects its use in the world beyond school. They must focus on teaching students how to take action with knowledge, and in unpredictable situations. And they must cultivate a love of learning so that students will want to be lifelong learners.

Creating an Innovative Instructional Organization

When changing instructional organization, there are typically two schools of thought: experimenting with the current instructional organization or radically changing the current instructional organization. Let’s compare the two.

Experimenting with the current instructional organization

Looping and interdisciplinary departments are great ways to play with how your instruction is currently organized. Looping helps educators cultivate stronger relationships with their students and therefore boosts the rigor and relevance of learning.

In traditional school settings, department chairs tend to be protectors of the past, keeping disciplines neatly isolated from each other. Find a group of teachers from different disciplines who get along and enjoy working together and ask them to begin working in an interdisciplinary department. Then give them the same group of students and a common planning period. Eventually, other teachers will want to join in. In taking this slow and steady approach, rapidly improving schools have used interdisciplinary departments to move toward relevant, application-based instruction.

Changing current instructional organization

Radical changes can include a shift to entirely project-based instruction, problem-based instruction, or academies. It is true that these models of instructional organization can be powerful vehicles to learning—can being the operative word.

The big risk with these vehicles is that too often schools jump into them without thinking through all of the ramifications. Often, people get caught up in the hope of radical change without realizing that if there isn’t an underlying strategy, the radical promise of that change is unlikely to unfold.

Looping and interdisciplinary departments are strategies.

Academies and project- and problem-based instructional organization are tactical programs. They lack an inherent strategy. If the strategy is not in place first, these tactics will likely drift aimlessly and eventually into failure. If the end goal is not first defined, educators, parents, and students will resist such radical change they see as not having a clear purpose.

Start with the end in mind. From there, the instructional organization and programs that are the best fit for your students will emerge—and with the benefit of buy-in from key stakeholders.

Remember that as educators committed to real change, we need to establish a culture that is future focused and one of empowerment. In this culture, strategic experimentation is encouraged. That said, my advice to leaders is do not mandate big experiments with the school day. Usually, it takes three to five years for these big changes away from the traditional structure to fully take hold.

Read more of Dr. Daggett's insights on innovating by empowering a culture of change. Download the complete white paper: Preparing Our Students for Their Futures: HOW We Change and Innovate Instruction, Part I


Each June, 5000+ educators come together at the Model Schools Conference to learn about these effective strategies and develop an action plan for change. The participants come with different challenges, but focus on the same future-focused question: What do our children need to know and be able to accomplish to be successful in work and life?

I invite you to explore your answers to this question at the 25th Annual Model Schools Conference, June 25–28, 2017!

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