There was a recent article that appeared in the News and Analysis section of the November 18, 2011 edition of Science Magazine entitled, NSF Creates Fast Rrack for Out-of-the-Box Proposals. The article discusses how NSF Director Subra Suresh has launched a new initiative to support innovative or “unorthodox” ideas through a new $24 million program called Creative Research Awards for Transformative Interdisciplinary Ventures (CREATIV). These proposals need to focus on ways to “tackle complex problems (p. 883)” While less than 1% of NSF’s annual budget of $5.5 billion, the organization is hoping to use CREATIV to promote and support innovation in research science. CREATIV grants will also be approved in a different manner allowing confirmations of funding to take only 2-3 months. Under the normal protocols for NSF, funding proposals that have undergo a peer-review process may take up to 6 months.
So here is a novel idea! Instead of Race-to-the-Top grants that go to State Departments of Education and large school districts, why not make available to teachers Innovation Grants in Teaching and Learning. Since Race-to-the-Top was slightly over $4 billion dollars, 0.4 % of that would be about $16 million. A drop in the bucket when compared to how ineffective some states have been at managing their grants for RT3 resources. We need to start envisioning our teachers as knowledge generators and creative professionals whom we trust to innovate and implement unorthodox ideas that might transform teaching and learning. The time has come to reward innovation among our best and most creative teachers. They should be given the time and resources to reflect on their practice, experiment with new ideas, and implement strategies to more effectively engage learners.
These teacher innovation grants could be used to build interdisciplinary curriculum, experiment with strategies to improve teaching health and wellness, and design an action research project to improve formative assessment strategies in the classroom. It would be clear in the instructions to apply for a grant that the proposal would have to demonstrate how the teacher was going to “tackle a complex problem.” The project would have to attempt to transform some aspect of classroom instruction and student achievement. If we assume that about 1% of our 3 million teachers are truly innovative (~30,000) and only 5% of them would receive funding (~1,500), then each could be funded for about $10,000 over a 3-year period. Think about how transformative this would be if 1,500 teachers nationwide were experimenting on different aspects of teaching and learning, reporting on their findings to disseminate their work, and networking with other innovators around the country. Some teachers are doing this everyday in their spare time, but probably only a handful of them have any resources available to them to experiment.
We have to get out from underneath the culture in which only professors in higher education do research on K-12 classroom instruction. They are not in classrooms teaching, and therefore, they miss out on an important piece of the puzzle. Elementary and secondary teachers are practitioners working with children every day for most of the day. They see firsthand the results of their instruction and have the creative potential to investigate new ways to improve the learning environment.
Here is an example of an innovative physics teacher who writes the blog, Quantum Progress. This is just one of many examples of creative work going on in his classroom. Take a look at this post on student assessment practices (click here). Think of what this teacher could do with $10,000 and a little extra time to reflect, experiment and implement. What if 1,500 other creative teachers were supported to do this type of work? Wow!
As I wrote in a recent blog post, Innovation in School: How Rare Is It?, Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen write about the four discovery skills they find in innovative people.
- Innovators frequently ask questions.
- Innovators keenly observe the world around them looking for connections.
- Innovators network with others because they realize the power in collaboration.
- Innovators experiment with ideas, try them on for size and see where it takes them.
Shouldn’t innovative teachers who embody these skills have resources available to them to inform and transform their profession? I think the answer to that question is YES. In addition, these innovative teachers would could become mentors to other teachers in their schools and grow the practice.
I would encourage you to this idea pass along to others and write your politicians asking them to promote legislation that provides resources for classroom teachers to innovate. Let me know if you think this is a viable idea.