“Innovation Zone” Values: Flexibility, Autonomy, Collaboration

How might policymakers create an “Innovation Zone” in K-12 education where learning is personalized and students are motivated to reach new heights? According to a March 4 Star Tribune Commentary by a former Minnesota Education Commissioner and two current school district superintendents, creating flexibility, autonomy and collaboration for educators is key to making Innovation Zones work.

First, educators need flexibility from the rules to foster creativity of teachers and principals. That means “transforming not only instruction but also the current one-size-fits-all learning standards,” say the writers. While all students must master basic skills, with personalized learning, not all students need to meet high standards in the same areas. Personalization will provide much-needed motivation for students–and watch what happens! Students will create ways to learn that haven’t been invented yet .

Flexibility also includes measuring learning in new ways, say the writers. Testing would be focused on gathering information from multiple sources useful to teachers and students. Innovation Zones would be exempt from state tests–but focused on real accountability instead.

Autonomy in the zones is important. Schools need this. Not every detail of new models is known ahead of time. Let educators create! Autonomy requires trust to redo plans quickly without needing “permission.” Autonomy means empowering teachers to be the professional leaders they are, and giving them greater control over their work.

Finally, collaboration is important in the zones. New models of collaboration among district and chartered sectors, the business community and higher education are needed. That means less pointing fingers and more working together on behalf of our youth. Designs might be created for employers to work with high schools to design certifications for career tracks to livable wage jobs. How about schools for Pre-K to third grade? Perhaps new models of integration could be researched where diverse students and communities can learn together in new ways.

Can we research new models of school and schooling where learning is personalized and motivates students to achieve new heights? Yes. That is what the Innovation Zone is all about. The legislature need only remove the barriers and let educators and citizens take the lead.