Innovation Alley: (R&D) + (T&L) = Innovation

Jon Mitzmacher, VP of Innovation

Welcome to “Innovation Alley”! It is my great honor and pleasure to join the HaYidion team wearing my new Prizmah innovation hat. My goals for this column—part of a larger strategy for showcasing, sharing, and introducing innovation for the field—are threefold: 1) Share a new idea. 2) Provide a concrete example. 3) Issue a charge.


What’s the big idea?

We know that one of the challenges our schools face is scarcity—time, bandwidth, resources, finances, etc. Many of our schools and organizations are rightfully invested in the here and now and lack capacity to dream the next dream, let alone bring it to life. One of the many roles national organizations and foundations currently play is to help bring what’s next to a school’s overcrowded table. Project-based learning, Maker Spaces, blended online learning, personalized learning, multi-age classrooms, tablets, design thinking: we often try to graft new ideas onto existing structures, with mixed results. Using the language of innovation, we frequently focus on the product, not the process. But what if we didn’t have to? What if schools could build capacity to own the innovation process from soup to nuts? What if individual schools were the engine of research and design?


The idea can be expressed in the formula: (R&D) + (T&L) = Innovation. In the same way that companies like Google have dedicated resources (people, finances, etc.) to do R&D together with the day-to-day work of the organization, so should schools. Imagine a school that had a dedicated budget and faculty to conduct R&D alongside their budget and faculty to perform the day-to-day work of T&L: teaching and learning. Imagine a school that decided for itself which topics to research, conducted its own R&D, developed its own prototypes, led its own pilots, implemented its new products, evaluated its new products’ efficacy, scaled products when appropriate, and produced reports on their work to the field. That would be an innovative school in action. That would be the American School of Bombay (ASB).


Who’s doing it?

Founded in 1981 as an international school, the ASB is one preK-12 school spread over two campuses in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. Its mission is to “inspire all of our students to continuous inquiry, empowering them with the skills, courage, optimism and integrity to pursue their dreams and enhance the lives of others.” The school has always been at the vanguard of 21st century learning, early adopters and adapters of a variety of cutting-edge technologies and pedagogies, but what makes it unique is its commitment to R&D as a core value and key engine for innovation.


During a late-night summer Skype, I had occasion to learn more from ASB R&D core team member and prolific education blogger Maggie Hos-McGrane. She shared with me ASB’s model for conducting R&D, which includes all the elements of a strategic innovation process, from idea through implementation. Ideas for R&D can come from anywhere on faculty, from classroom teacher to senior administration, and can range across subject, grade level and topic. Once an idea moves to R&D, task forces consisting of both R&D and T&L faculty are created to move the idea through the established steps. They do a tremendous job documenting their work, and even wrote a book for schools that want to create an R&D engine for themselves.


What’s the charge?

To locate the engine of innovation within Jewish day schools represents a profound paradigm shift worth taking seriously. I believe that viewing “innovation” as something the school does rather than something it purchases or implements increases the likelihood of ongoing school improvement. Adopting an innovation mindset may positively impact the life of the school even outside the areas where a given innovation is being implemented. It will encourage all stakeholders—students, teachers, parents, administration, board and donors—to to take ownership of the big ideas that constitute the school’s value proposition. It will foster a culture of growth, of risk-taking, and of collaboration.


How can I learn more?

Buy the book: R&D Your School: How to Start, Grow, and Sustain Your School’s Innovation Engine.

Read Maggie’s blog, “Tech Transformation.”

Watch current ASB superintendent Craig Johnston’s TEDxBandra Talk.

Stay current on ASB’s Task Force Findings.

See what new ideas ASB promotes in their “Future Forward” publications.

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HaYidion Collaboration Fall 2016
Fall 2016