Continuous Innovation Best Practices and Resources

What tools, practices, and resources help continuous innovation in schools?

I'm Jennifer Orton, the High School Instructional Technology Facilitator at Lincoln County R-III School District in Troy, MO. As an Apple Learning Coach and Apple Distinguished Educator, I'm passionate about how iPad can transform the learning environment for all learners.

There are so many ways to continuously inspire innovation. One thing I know after 13 years in this role is that change takes consistency and time. In most cases, innovation doesn't happen overnight and very rarely happens perfectly. Therefore, my best advice is to just go for it, and then keep going! A few favorite practices from my district are listed below.

Group of teachers standing together looking at an iPad.

Develop a Vanguard Team

Our Vanguard team is the cornerstone of innovation in our school district. This team of teachers was selected through an application process to meet regularly throughout the school year to learn about Apple's 5 Elements of Learning and how pairing them with iPad in the classroom creates an engaging, student-centered learning environment. They are the ones asking, "What's next? How do we use these tools to empower our students?"Our goal is to provide them with learning experiences they can't wait to take back to their classrooms. The best part of it is that they share with their peers! So while the team may be small in comparison to the size of the district, the impact they are having on teaching and learning is huge!


Screenshot of a technology newsletter sent out bi-weekly.  Highlights an iPad use and a tech tip.

Celebrate Risk and Nudge Success

Ask any teacher and they will say one thing they always need more of is time. I've found that sharing small, easy to digest bits of information can have a major influence on innovation. To do this, I send out a newsletter bi-weekly (see picture above) that celebrates a teacher who incorporated iPad into their lessons. In addition, I give a small tech tip that will help teachers save time, improve workflow, or engage students in new ways. I created the newsletter in Canva and download it as an image to email teachers. Embedding the image directly in email, no download required, makes it quick to access. The bite-sized information makes it easy to process. I also always include a link to my calendar so they can book a time with me to talk more about any of the topics.

screenshot of Numbers spreadsheet form with blanks for teacher name, building, type of coaching, and notes.

Coach in the Moment

Some of the most innovative lessons I've helped teachers with happened spontaneously. Just like we tailor education to meet students where they are, I do the same for teachers. Whether it's in the classroom, hallway, or during PLC meetings, I'm there to support them. I use a Numbers document on my iPad to keep track of our discussions and schedule follow-ups. Check out the screenshot above for a glimpse of my process. The data collects neatly, allowing me to track progress and plan reflective questions for further innovation. I've included a template for download below (Note: The form will only work in Numbers on iPad).

Yes, And...

These are only a few strategies that work for me. I would love to know what works for you! Share in the comments below: What is your go to tool, resource or practice that supports continuous innovation in your school or district?

#leadership #leadershipconversations

Other Posts in the Leadership Conversations Series — Continuous Innovation


9 replies

February 23, 2024

I am Donald Sorah, Associate Professor of Music and Technology Ambassador at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise, a small liberal arts college in southwestern Virginia. As an Apple Learning Coach and Apple Distinguished Educator, I am thrilled to teach at an Apple Distinguished School with 1:1 iPad deployment to all students, faculty, and staff. The decision made by our Chancellor to adopt iPads in the fall of 2019 has transformed teaching and learning. As we continue to inspire faculty to integrate iPads, we seek advice on effective methods of professional development. I am eager to learn from each of the leaders who contribute to this conversation. 

First of all, I would like to commend Jennifer Orton for her great work in Troy, MO (posted above). I was able to learn about the Vanguard team from Jennifer and some of her colleagues last year. It takes a team, and they’re providing great professional development and educational opportunities for learners. Her tips on celebrating risk and nudging success are so important in encouraging innovation.

Our institution is currently pursuing three areas for supporting faculty and continuing our innovation efforts.

  1. Apple Badge Workshops: We hold one hour-long workshop each month led by our instructional designer or a member of our Digital Leadership Team (comprised of innovative faculty and staff) where attendees explore one iWork application and collectively work through the quiz questions to earn their Apple Badge before the conclusion of the workshop. 
  2. Techo Tuesdays (under development): As one of the action items from the Apple Learning Coach program, I developed a lunch and learn drop-in session to be held once each month in which there is no true agenda; a time for anyone to join the conversation to share innovations or ask questions and learn new skills. We’ve only held two thus far and they haven’t been well attended, but I am hopeful participation will increase with time. (Note my crude attempt at a logo. Everyone can create, right?)

A painting of a taco with Techo-Tuesdays written on it.
My crude draft of a Techo-Tuesdays logo. 😆

  1. Technology Innovation Showcase: This event was a product of participation in the Apple Learning Academy, a major portion of my Take Action Plan that was presented at the conclusion of the Academy. It is based on the Showcase presentations delivered at Apple Distinguished Educators Institute. During our welcome back to school faculty convocation in January, faculty recognized for their innovative use of technology presented brief three-minute presentations sharing their work. At the conclusion of the showcase, attendees could participate in a gallery walk to speak with each presenter to learn more.  
    Presenter standing at a lectern with a large projector screen behind. Technology Innovation Showcase is displayed on screen.

There has been recent discussion of seeking grant funding to support a faculty mentor program where select faculty could receive stipends for coaching colleagues interested in new innovations for a stipend. I’m hopeful that this program will become a reality for us soon.

I look forward to learning for each of you as we share and learn how we might improve our efforts to support colleagues and students. 

February 23, 2024

Jennifer’s newsletter and Donald’s Techo Tuesdays are golden! Thank you both for all the ideas and ways to move forward with professional learning innovation.

February 25, 2024

Excellent. Great job, Donnie!

March 04, 2024

I am Mary Kemper, Executive Director for Instructional Leadership in Coppell ISD in Coppell, Texas. It is very important to me to show our staff that we value them as part of our district team. And, by listening to them, seeking their input, and providing opportunities for them to collaborate, we are demonstrating this belief. I model and encourage our campus leaders to innovate their staff meetings as quality time with their staff. Below are a few ways you might consider re-thinking your staff meetings.

First, as you plan each staff meeting, consider the purpose of the items on the agenda. 

What do you want your staff to do?

If the purpose of the meeting is to Consume/Hear Information

Ask yourself as the leader: How might you check for understanding?

One strategy to consider: Best Summary

Break your staff meeting content into 10-minute chunks/sections of information. After each section, ask the staff to summarize what they learned in one sentence on a notecard. Groups of staff members then review the cards from their group and prepare to share the one best summary aloud. Clarify any misunderstandings that arise during this process. Give awards for the best summary each time.

If the purpose of the meeting is to Learn Content

Ask yourself as the leader: How might you move toward implementation?

One strategy to consider: Recipe Cards

After learning new ideas, ask the staff to write how and when they will implement strategies from the meeting on recipe cards. Groups of staff members then share their commitments with each other. Collect these recipes of implementation and return each to the appropriate staff member some time after the meeting as a reminder of their commitment.

If the purpose of the meeting is to Learn From Each Other

Ask yourself as the leader: How might you encourage your staff to learn from each other?

One strategy to consider: One Question Rotation

Given a specific topic, ask the staff to write one question they would like to ask their colleagues. Divide your staff in two groups. Ask one group to stand in a large circle, facing outward. The other group should find a partner and stand facing their partner as an outer circle. The outer circle will ask their question to their partner, then the partner will answer. Set a timer for one minute for each question/answer, then rotate. Once the round is complete, ask the staff to switch roles.

Example: Topic - Meet the Teacher

Questions: Do you create handouts for families? How do you arrange your classroom? Do you share a link to your presentation with families? Do you send out a welcome email? What is one thing you did once during Meet the Teacher that you will never do again? What do you wear? 

If the purpose of the meeting is to Discuss a Relevant Topic

Ask yourself as the leader: How might you guide the discussion toward the selected topic?

One strategy to consider: Tabletop Discussion

Given a specific topic, write 3-4 questions that prompt discussion. Print them out and place them at the tables. Encourage each group to review the questions, select one, and discuss. As time allows, or after a set number of minutes, ask staff to move on to another question.

Example: Topic - Intervention

  1. What barriers exist for your students to access intervention resources/materials? In what ways might you increase accessibility by removing/minimizing those barriers?
  2. What is your greatest need regarding intervention?
  3. Self-reported grading can have a very positive impact on student learning. What ideas do you have to support students to reflect on the progress of their learning related to intervention?

If the purpose of the meeting is to Change Mindset

Ask yourself as the leader: How might you guide your staff to build empathy for their learners/families?

One strategy to consider: Empathy Map

Ask your staff to individually use sticky notes to brainstorm what someone in a certain situation says, does, thinks, and feels. Then, work together to look for commonalities in their contributions as they group the sticky notes together. This activity challenges staff to grow their empathy for others. 

Example: What does an educator who struggles with enrichment say/do/think/feel? What does an educator who struggles with intervention say/do/think/feel?


Empathy Map
Empathy Map

I hope one or more of these ideas inspire you to re-think and innovate your staff meetings as educational leaders.

February 23, 2024

Excellent ideas, Jennifer! Thank you so much for sharing. Yes for Coach in the Moment! It's all about the moments anyway. Just like we teach students -- why wait when the moment is live. One way we keep continuous innovation going is the we-have-this-idea-and-need-help-thinking-it-through sessions. Just made that up right now. But the concept is timeless. When an idea bubbles up and then somewhat sticks, it is important to meet teachers where they are. Go to them, carve out time for them to articulate what is spinning in their minds. 

February 25, 2024

This is great! Lots of great takeaways! I love the 'celebration of risk' and you have some great organizational ideas I plan to employ. Thank you.

February 26, 2024

Jennifer - the downloadable coaching tracker is so helpful! I am constantly looking to improve on my tracking of interactions, coaching, and progress of teachers, and think that this will be a tool that I can add to my toolbox! Thank you so much for sharing!

February 27, 2024

Thanks for sharing the work you are doing in Lincoln Co. RIII Jennifer! What a great post of concrete thoughts and ideas on how you continue to lead teaching and learning in your district. I love that you all have embraced the 5 elements of learning and your quick, easy to digest tech tips are fantastic as well. A steady slow drip of innovation is a must and by creating the Vanguard teams and your coaching methodology (and Numbers tracking document) you are helping make learning engaging and personalized for the students! Love it!

March 04, 2024

Such incredible examples, Jennifer! I love your Coaching Tracker - such a great way to track various points of a coaching cycle. Thank you for sharing the template!

Maximum file size: 400MB

Insert a video

Insert an image

Insert an image

125: 125
220: 220

This action can’t be undone.

Error Message

Are you sure you want to continue? Your changes will not be saved.

This post contains content from YouTube.

If you choose to view this content, YouTube may collect and process certain personal data. You can view YouTube’s <a href="" target="_blank">privacy policy here<span class="a11y">(opens in new window)</span>.</a>

This post contains content from YouTube.

You have rejected content from YouTube. If you want to change your consent, press the button below.