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CILD: Sparking Innovation

Last April, we held a screening of the documentary, Most Likely to Succeed at the School of Education. The opening scene of the film features a parent-teacher conference with a fourth grade student, Scout. The teacher lectures Scout about the importance of working harder on her math homework so that she won’t fail any more math quizzes. Her father (and the film’s director) Greg Whiteley, in a voiceover says, “I know that face. That face is saying, ‘This is bullshit. This whole thing called school is bullshit.’”

At 10 years old, Scout has already figured out that school is mostly about jumping through hoops. The sad reality is that too many of our students do not have opportunities to experience joyful learning or to pursue their passions and interests in school. Yet, research suggests that we must do exactly that to help students prepare for the future. As Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith, the authors and producers of Most Likely to Succeed, put it: “To make real progress in preparing all students to succeed in the twenty-first century, schools need to tap into the passion of students, help them develop critical skills and decisive life advantages, and inspire them (p. 50).” As the film points out, parents aren’t the only ones concerned about preparing their children for a rapidly changing world. Business leaders are looking for employees who can collaborate, solve problems, and communicate effectively—skills they find lacking in many applicants (e.g., here and here).  But, these skills aren’t only about getting a good job.  Emphasizing problem solving, collaboration, and critical thinking (what the Hewlett Foundation calls deeper learning) in schools also helps to motivate and engage students.

Innovation isn’t easy
After the screening of Most Likely to Succeed, we facilitated a discussion with audience members.  The film’s central theme—that schools need to change—definitely resonated with the crowd. But, the one question we heard repeatedly was “how do we do this work in an educational climate that focuses almost exclusively on increasing student scores on standardized tests?” Testing, and teaching to the test, has become so engrained that it can be difficult to imagine another way of doing school.  We’ve both taught at the high school, and university level, so we know, first hand, how hard it is to change educational institutions. If innovation were easy, K-12 schools and universities would probably have already put into place some of the strategies we know from research lead to more meaningful and positive outcomes for kids (see the American Institutes for Research deeper learning portal).


We know that whether you’re a teacher or educational leader, change is hard. Taking risks – even small risks – can feel overwhelming. We’ve all experienced the challenges that come with change. We might have run into bureaucratic constraints or we might simply have lost steam. We might not be working in a culture that supports and values innovation. Or, we might not even know how to determine whether or not our innovations are making a positive difference in the lives of our students.

This, in part, is why we’ve launch the Center for Innovation in Learning Design (CILD) at the William & Mary School of Education.

What is CILD?
We launched CILD in Spring 2016 to bring together researchers and practitioners to explore, prototype, and test innovative learning designs. As co-directors, we have launched several projects that explore deeper learning in K-16 schools and classrooms, and we’ll be writing more about these projects in the coming months.

This Web site and blog will serve as a clearinghouse for projects, resources, and stories of innovation in practice. Over time we will build out the site to include profiles of innovation projects at W&M, including CILD Faculty Fellows, related research, and blog posts and innovation spotlights that explore different aspects of innovation in education, book reviews and other resources. Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@WM_CILD) and Instagram (WMCILD), and YouTube. We look forward to sharing this journey with you.