As I was working through the pile of papers on my desk and my digital files a few weeks ago, I discovered several items that reminded me of the importance of student voice in personalizing learning. These visual reminders of the school year found a permanent place in my office because of how they showcase the strategies that encourage student voice.


  • The program from our second annual Richland Two Film Festival which reminded me of our screening and the standing room only crowd who came to support our students. The students who produced the films were so excited to see their work on the big screen and share with parents and other community members. Providing students with an opportunity to exhibit their work is key in encouraging them to create their best work.
  • Postcards created by Rachel Mongin’s students at Sandlapper Elementary for the Water for Shoes campaign. The students teamed up for the marketing campaign and had a successful project while also pursuing their individual passions and interests. The student social media team posted updates all year. Follow them on Twitter to learn more: @castleclassroom. Students who have an authentic and collaborative learning experience will be more passionate about sharing their learning with others.
  • Photos and video of students presenting their TED-Ed Club talks at the SC Midlands Summit. I was amazed at the poise of the students who presented in front of a crowd of 500 teachers, parents and administrators. When students are challenged, they will rise to the challenge and produce exemplary work.
  • A Hangout On Air of students from Bridge Creek Elementary participating in a Google Connected Classrooms TIME for Kids hangout with Lois Lowry. When we allow students to reach out to experts as part of the research process, their learning will be accelerated.
  • High school students in Jeffrey McMicken’s classes showcasing the work they pursued in their 20% time. One student created an original song and recorded a music video of her performance using a local recording studio to complete the production. Students become entrepreneurs when they must find a way to make their ideas a reality.

I spoke about these students at the ISTE Google for Education Teaching Theater and was honored to have a talented artist use sketchnoting to capture the stories. I brought home the sketch and have framed it to hang in my office as a reminder of the power of personalizing learning for students and helping them find their voice.

As you prepare for the new school year, take time to brainstorm with other team members about ways that you can encourage student voice during the 2015-16 school year. The challenge question is: How might we create and sustain a classroom environment where students have voice in their learning? Pick your best ideas and put them into action. I look forward to hearing how you’ve solved the challenge and seeing the amazing work that your students showcase.


The idea of innovation is popular in education right now. Moonshot thinking, often called 10X thinking, is making its way into education circles and everyone is jumping on board to come up with innovative ideas. Too often, the ideas never make it past a pilot phase because of the roadblocks that stem from systems that inhibit teachers and other staff members from scaling the idea across the organization. Over the years, I’ve watched ideas die as they’ve been taken into committee. The innovation journey is filled with pitfalls and requires hard work and dedication to get to results.

Another issue is that education as a whole hasn’t adopted a design thinking model that promotes the development of great ideas that can scale. Other industries that I’ve learned from have a process that they use to develop and nurture ideas as they scale across the organization. Eric Ries in The Lean Startup shares a process that entrepreneurs use to create successful businesses. Using a Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, teams are able to rapidly build a minimally viable product, measure results and learn from the experience to continue to grow the product.

So how do we get beyond having pockets of innovation and excellence in our organizations? In Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less, Robert Sutton provides inside accounts and research from other industries that will help your organization nurture and scale innovations.

Below are a few tips that will help you achieve excellence:

  1. Reach out to other industries in your area and talk with them about how the innovation cycle works. I recently met with someone from the computer industry who works with the agile model of innovation. The agile model is a lean startup model with specific roles for team members that enable them to move quickly with innovations. With a project structure of design, tweek, repeat, launch, and improve, teams get to results faster.
  2. Focus on bringing together the right team members. Committees talk about what to do next. Teams get work done. Foster the idea of team work and allow teams to take ownership of their work. Too much oversight is the fastest way to kill an innovation. It’s also a good idea to mix teams and allow them to learn from each other.
  3. Give the gift of time to teams. Ideas like Google’s 20% time have taken off in many industries with positive results. Teams need to have time to work together, develop prototypes, and discuss results.
  4. Remove roadblocks for teams. In the agile model, this is the scrum master role. Excessive forms and procedures are often created because of a few people who did something wrong. Flip that model and give teams freedom to tackle work without having to ask for permission.
  5. Make a list of things that you should strategically abandon in your organization. You’ll free up time and develop a focus on what’s important.

Summer is a great time to catch up on reading and explore topics that will give you insights into how to do the hard work of innovation and successfully scale initiatives. Additional books that I recommend for summer reading include:

Insight Out: Get Ideas Out of Your Head and Into the World by Tina Seelig
Work Rules: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock

Take time this summer to reflect on current initiatives and put a plan in place to take action and see your organization’s ideas scale.


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