Innovation Action Zones

Check it out! This Innovation Action approach was presented by Valley New School (VNS) leaders Jen Plamann and Nicole Luedtke at the recent Innovative Schools Network (ISN) conference in Wisconsin Dells. As described in Tuesday’s blogpost, VNS is a project-based school for 68 students in grades 7-12 in Appleton, Wisconsin, which celebrated its tenth year of innovative education in 2012-2013.

Here are their recommendations for Innovation Action steps from Low to High Impact and from Low to High Difficulty.  This should be a great place to start for anyone!

Low Impact/Low Difficulty

  • Grade an assignment on depth of revision ONLY, not final product
  • Let students choose what they want to learn for a whole day
  • Put yourself in the Hot Seat
  • Wait longer than wait time
  • Don’t grade for a week


High Impact/Low Difficulty

  • Circle up and talk with kids for 1 hour with no lesson plan
  • Ask administration if you can plan next staff development
  • Sit in a circle, somewhere outside the classroom
  • Let students teach about their passions for a week
  • Approach a project with logic other than through tradition or artificial institutional restraints.
  • Allow students to pace out a project timeline based on depth of study rather than a deadline
  • Aim for the jugular—be open to the possibilities—just try!
  • Let it go—relinquish control for a minute 


Low Impact/High Difficulty

(That’s right! Nothing here!)

High Impact/High Difficulty

  • Meet ONLY one on one with students for a whole week.
  • Schedule two visits to other schools
  • Build staff collaboration by: defining roles based on individual strengths
  • Take risk—Create problem solving situations—Build community by having kids problem solve together (Student discussion group, Mediation)
  • Let students lead tasks/projects
  • Do an overnight trip
  • Have a field trip that allows for bonding/play
  • Have another field trip that allows for bonding/play


I fear that many of us are working in the Low Impact/High Difficulty zone when it doesn’t make sense to be there. First step to innovation—clear your plate of responsibilities that are Low Impact/High Difficulty! Second step: start today to discover your own innovative steps within the High Impact/Low Difficulty or High Impact/High Difficulty zones. You’ll create possibilities immediately!