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ED Spotlight: Leading Change Through Micro-Innovation

In this series, Teach For America - Appalachia ED, Josh Sparks shares his reflections on leadership in education.

Ed Spotlight

By The TFA Editorial Team

November 25, 2016

In organizations and schools today, there is great potential for innovation. I'm not talking about an innovation that changes the organization or school as we know it. I'm talking about a small change that could possibly lead to dramatic results—these innovations are know as micro-innovations. Micro-innovations allow people in organizations to change something small that could lead to something greater. At Tide, for instance, they decided to package their detergent in PODS. This led to an increase of 500 million dollars in revenue. A small change with a big return.

When I think back to my time in the classroom teaching with some of the most amazing teachers out there with some of the most dedicated students ever, I think we were a pretty innovative bunch. First and foremost, one innovation at Gallup Middle School was that all teachers had two, yes two, planning periods that were held sacred (aka never taken away). One was a personal planning period in which we were expected to plan our lessons and prep our materials. The other planning period was a time-wide planning period where it was expected we meet each day of the week to: 

  1. Hold student success meetings with parents
  2. Plan cross-collaborative lessons
  3. Create team-wide initiatives
  4. Talk about behavior management systems across the team

Because of this dedicated time we had for collaboration, my team and I created responsive and structured interventions for individual students and our team of 140 students. We learned from and with each other to really impact student outcomes. And, I must say that the proof is in the pudding—our proficiency rates were significantly higher than other schools who did not have this structure. This is a clear example of a micro-innovation that empowered teachers to do great things for kids and we say significant results.

I would challenge each person, whether in a formal leadership role or not (because we're all leaders in our own way), to think about what innovations could you conjure up that would pay significant dividends in your professional practice! Feel free to share those here!

Josh Sparks (New Mexico ’08) is a native to Eastern Kentucky and leads the Teach For America - Appalachia region. He attended Berea College, received an M.Ed. at the University of Kentucky, and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership at the University of Kentucky. He writes about education and leadership on his blog, Education in a Reverie.