This past spring Mount Vernon’s Upper School, in conjunction with Mount Vernon’s Institute for Innovation, launched the Innovation Diploma. Students entering the program went through an intense and varied process before inauguration day. They worked through the application, attended a group meet-up where we facilitated the Marshmallow Challenge, Cover Story, and paired interviews to generate conversation about hopes, dreams, and motivations for choosing to be part of the program. It was incredibly informative to watch students engage collaboratively on these challenges. And it is helping me create the structure and general framework. Next applicants engaged in paired interviews where we delved a bit deeper into some of their answers on their applications. We felt strongly that these interviews should not be solo, but instead paired (and in some cases groups of three students), so that we can begin working on the skill of combining ideas and building upon other ideas. Part of the foundation of this program is based on the five key skills of the Innovator’s DNA, and this practice of associating became an integral component of our application process quite purposefully. Lastly, our applicants engaged with potential Heads of Upper School to be on the interviewing side of the table. This interview was fascinating to watch them lead and ask questions to administrators who would potentially be a leading advocate for the program. We also built in time for reflection on how the process went and what changes would help facilitate stronger communication. Continuing to place value on the skills of being an innovator was so important to me. I really wanted this application process to feel different. It’s not about test scores, grades, awards, or GPA. It’s about choosing to be an innovator. Choosing to think about school differently. And these kids are already doing that. We invited them to participate in iDiplomaBingo. Already we have students who are beginning to blog and are arranging TED talk parties. Here’s an excerpt from one of these bloggers:
“Schools want to make a difference, so why not work with other schools? It’s an easy access to more minds with more perspectives and ideas on a given topic. Why is it that we don’t work with our generation in our community? The idea is for us to make a difference when we get older, so why not start making those connections when we are younger?”
She continues to explore what is a component of our mission statement by addressing what it means to be globally competitive. Her take:
globally competitive doesn’t necessarily mean working against each other. We defined it to mean teams of people working around the globe to try and fight a certain problem the best way possible.
I love her thinking. She’s an innovator, and a disruptor at heart. She’s not thinking about school in the traditional sense, and neither are we when we launched this program. She and her fellow iDiploma members are observing, questioning, networking, associating, and experimenting when nobody is telling them they HAVE to. What if we changed the way we did school so that we “invited” students to participate and let their own curiosities serve as the key catalysts for learning?