Hacking the Boston Public Schools' Innovation Incubator
By Karissa Goff, Boston Public Schools Office of Expanded Learning Opportunities
The Boston public school district (BPS) is discovering that designing the future is not just about ideas but also about making ideas happen. We wanted to build an experience that says "yes" to the unconventional, embraces ambiguity, and celebrates problem-finding possibilities. The nation's oldest public school district is giving schools the freedom to approach a problem of practice in a way that is as seemingly unusual as it is necessary: by participating in an innovative professional-development network and hacking toward solutions in their schools.
Continuing to Innovate
In September 2018, BPS launched the inaugural cohort of the Innovation Incubator, a professional-development fellowship teaching the practices of hacking and rapid prototyping through the lens of deeper learning facilitated by School Retool, a professional development fellowship for school leaders. The first of three cohorts consisted of secondary school leaders and educators representing four schools who were eager to dive into the process of hacking through deeper learning.
The first cohort finished their incubator fellowship in late November. They spent their last workshop reflecting on their experience by preparing storytelling tools that they could also use to continue to grow support for their ongoing hacks.
While they were wrapping up their workshops, we began planning and recruitment for the next two cohorts. The goal was to recruit 14 more secondary schools to participate in this experience, keeping in mind things we may have learned from the first cohort.
Hacking the Innovation Incubator
One of the main tenets of the School Retool experience is hacking, or the rapid prototyping of an idea. When we ask fellowship members to hack it means that they are going to plan a project one day and begin implementing it in the school or classroom the next day. School teams should feel comfortable reassessing their projects or programming at any point to ensure that it's the most helpful and the most impactful for their students. We thought it would be important to apply the same mindset to the planning of the Incubator's winter cohort. As we were gearing up to recruit the next round of participating school leaders and educators, we wanted to take some time and reassess some of the aspects of the experience.
In deciding what needed iteration, we considered some of the feedback from the first cohort as well as our own observations and anecdotes gathered through the workshops. Some of the key takeaways were:
Coaches needed to be clearer and more intentional with the time participants spend in their school teams and the time they spend working as individuals.
The program needed to keep the cohort more engaged with the work and with each other in the three weeks between each workshop.
School teams needed to intentionally design student-centered hacks, specifically for students furthest from opportunity.
To ensure that we meet each goal, BPS met with the School Retool coaches to decide how to best implement these changes through a series of virtual meetings and planning sessions. The approach for the first two workshops of the winter cohort was to be clear and transparent about the motivations behind each activity. We do our best to avoid introducing an activity or assignment without a connection to the material that's being covered in the fellowship.
The winter cohort of the BPS Innovation Incubator has one workshop remaining in its fellowship. Participants will spend May 9 reflecting on their experience as well as planning how they will tell the story of their experience with School Retool.
As the first year of the Innovation Incubator begins to wind down, we have begun our own process of reflection and planning for what future iterations of this program could look like. After the conclusion of the winter cohort, we will look to see how well we met our goals set at the beginning of the fellowship. We'll spend time gathering our key insights and using them to plan for the future.
Photos, from top:
- Members of the BPS Innovation Incubator winter cohort work at a prototyping table during the first winter workshop. (Karissa Goff)
- Members of the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers receive guidance from their School Retool coach, Kippy Smith. (Karissa Goff)